It’s not often a random encounter results in something like this. An award for ‘significant achievement in Medical and Service Robotics’ for IBM AI Cloud Services.

Our award

But one year after I happened to meet with Dr Alessandro Di Nuovo, quite by chance at the Robotics Lab at Sheffield Hallam University, we won this awesome award. And more importantly, the value of IBM AI Cloud Services (Watson) had been recognised in the field of Robotic Cognitive Assessment screening.

To start at the beginning, I was giving a lecture on Cognitive at Sheffield Hallam University, about this time last year. It went pretty well and there were lots of questions and thoughts about how Watson API’s could be used in lots  of interesting ways. Afterwards, along with a number of students, developers and researchers we decided to go next door, & drill down into specific applications for Watson.

Next door.

In particular one project kept bubbling to the surface, and that was the Sheffield Hallam Cognitive Assessment Robot project.

The project sounded like it could have a hugely positive impact on people’s mental well being world-wide.  The aim of the project was to try and address a rapidly growing problem, that is predicted to become one of the most prevalent & debilitating illnesses world-wide.  At its core, the issue is that we have an increasingly aging population, which can be susceptible to cognitive impairment illnesses (such as dementia). Many cognitive impairment illnesses can be treated, but if the illness is detected in its more advanced state, then treatment can be much less effective. So, to catch cognitive impairment  illnesses like this early enough for more effective treatment, we need to be able to perform cognitive screenings at scale. Unfortunately there are simply not enough mental health professionals.  And often, by the time the illness is detected, it can be quite advanced, and thus treatment far less effective. It’s clear we need a better way to scale mental health screenings.

The solution that Sheffield Hallam Robotics Lab is working on, is to create a robotic mental health technician. Effectively a robot that can walk the patient through a set of cognitive tests, assess the results,  and then if necessary, notify a human technician to initiate a face to face consultation and further testing. This means that the small number of medical professionals we have, can focus on those who need help urgently, rather than spend time screening volumes of people who may not.

The aim is to have a robotic medical health technician in every doctors surgery, to allow easy, cheap and simple access to cognitive screening.

It occured to me that this application could be a great fit for Watson. Most particularly, the API’s which would enable the robot to hear, talk, converse, see and perform the cognitive test analysis. A few short minutes later, I was demoing Watson & NodeRED to Dr Alessandro Di Nuovo and we worked through a few scenarios that Proved the Concept that Watson would also be a great fit for this application.

This was the start of a great relationship, where I would provide consultancy & help around Watson, and Sheffield Hallam would demonstrate the effectiveness of Watson to Business Partners & Clients, most recently at HealthXL and again at our Business Partner L3C’s excellent event at the Royal Institution of Great Britain  to hundreds of Tech Influencers, where I was also fortunate enough to be invited to speak as well on the topic of A.I and Innovation

The Royal Institution of Christmas Lecture Fame 

This demonstration of the effectiveness of Watson in the Medical industry culminated in a co-authored research paper submitted to The International Federation for the Promotion of Machine Science, where it won an award, recognising Watson, and the work done by Sheffield Halllam for ‘a significant achievement in Medical and Service Robotics’.

Next Steps

Our robot friend called ‘ CATHI’ needs to undergo clinical trials before it can be commercialised. But I’m confident it will pass with flying colours. And I have to admit, the prospect of having this little Watson robot in every doctors surgery,  helping people to overcome the challenges of cognitive impairment illnesses, is something that I’m going to feel very proud of for a long time

CATHI and the Sheffield Hallam research team

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