An empathetic robot: Android Kunjappan ver 5.25 and Mabu

Sometime back I watched “Android Kunjappan ver 5.25” – a Malayalam movie. It’s about an aging father and a son who wants to go overseas to pursue his career. The father has his own set ways. He makes his own food. He will have his chutney, only if it is ground in an ammikallu (a traditional mortar and stone grinder). His son is caught between his dreams and responsibilities. The son arranges a caregiver for his father and moves on reluctantly to join a tech company making robots. After many failures in getting a good caregiver, he brings a robot to take care of his father. You can imagine the drama between an old stubborn man and a robot. Slowly an emotional and emphatic bond develops between the man and machine.

As the story unfolds, you can observe the many opportunities to provide emotional value to users in a product like a healthcare robot. Apple products are a great example of this, right from its packaging it tries to provide a joy of ownership for its customer. The value of it can’t be justified or understood from the functional features. The technological foundation for a healthcare and caregiver robot already exists – from conversational AI, wearable health monitors (ECG, Blood oxygen), IoT, and autonomous navigation all exist. Catalia HealthPfizer, and Kaiser Permanente have built a bot (called Mabu) and are running a pilot. They seem to be on the right path, with emphasis on care & emotion in their interaction with users. This robot can help patients to adhere to treatment, help monitor key parameters, connect with a health care professional, etc. It can even make eye contact with its users for a more empathetic connection. Though it can’t grind chutneys in near future, a caretaker robot may one day reduce the anxiety of the children and provide better care for their senior parents. 

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