Singapore made its tryst with the future as the first robot masseuse named Emma has started work. It specialises in back and knee massages as it mimics the human palm and thumb. Patients are also happy that it provides a massage that is almost indistinguishable from a professional one.
Using the robot masseuse in chronic pain management has the potential of creating low-cost treatment alternatives in countries where healthcare costs are high, and where aging populations have a growing demand for such treatment.
Emma, short for Expert Manipulative Massage Automation, started work at the NovaHealth Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinic, working alongside human colleagues - a physician and a massage therapist.
The robot is armed with a touch screen and a fully articulated limb with six degrees of freedom. Mounted at the end of the limb are two soft massage tips made from silicon, which can be warmed for comfort. Emma also has advanced sensors and diagnostic functions which can measure the exact stiffness of a particular muscle or tendon.
The data collected of each patient is then sent to a server in a cloud, where an Artificial Intelligence (AI) computes the exact pressure to be delivered during the massage procedure.
The AI can also track and analyse the progress of the patient, generating a performance report that will allow a physician to measure a patient's recovery using precise empirical data.
Emma has been developed by AiTreat, a start-up incubated by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore).
Albert Zhang, alumnus of NTU and Founder of AiTreat and NovaHealth, said, “The company's technology aims to address workforce shortages and quality consistency challenges in the healthcare industry.
He added, “By using Emma to do the labour intensive massages, we can now offer a longer therapy session for patients while reducing the cost of treatment. The human therapist is then free to focus on other areas such as the neck and limb joints which Emma can't massage at the moment.”
Inderjit Singh, Chairman of NTUitive, NTU's innovation and enterprise arm, and a member of NTU Board of Trustees was also present during the launch of Emma. He said, “There is great potential for Emma to be of service to society, especially as the population ages. The massage techniques of experienced and renowned TCM physicians can be reproduced in Emma, giving the public easier access to quality treatment. I look forward to future studies which could improve the efficacy of such massages, using herbal ointments containing modern ingredients that improve wear and tear, such as glucosamine.”
Dr Lim Jui, Chief Executive Officer of NTU Innovation and NTUitive, said, “Tapping on disruptive technologies such as robotics and AI to improve everyday life is what Singapore needs to keep its innovative edge. To remain competitive in the global arena, start-ups will need to tap on emerging technologies in order to create a unique product that can tackle current challenges, similar to what AiTreat has done.”.
He added, “We are proud to have guided Albert Zhang in his vision to bring affordable healthcare solutions to the market for Singapore, which can alleviate some of the chronic pain problems which our elderly faces.”