A robot masseuse is now treating patients in Singapore. A robot named Emma (Expert Manipulative Massage Automation) uses an articulated robot arm with silicon massage tips to help the human massage therapists at the NovaHealth TCM clinic treat patients.
Developed by AiTreat, a start-up incubated by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), Emma specializes in back and knee massages. The silicon tips mimic the human palm and thumb that, according to NTU Singapore, provide “a massage that is described by patients as almost indistinguishable from a professional masseuse.”
The robot also has a suite of sensors and diagnostics to measure the stiffness of a patient’s particular muscle or tendon. The data collected for each patient is sent to the cloud where artificial intelligence (AI), the company says, computes the exact pressure to be delivered during the massage procedure. The AI can also analyze a patient’s progress that enables physicians to measure a patient’s recovery.
Emma is placed in a customized room that has two massage beds. Located in between both beds, Emma can massage one patient while the physician does other treatments like acupuncture or cupping for the second patient to, hopefully, maximize the clinic’s productivity.
This is the third Emma robot developed, but it’s the first to be used in the real world. The current model is a third more compact than the original version, plus it offers a wider range of massage programs.
Emma massaging a patient autonomously while a physician treats another patient. (Image Credit: Nanyang Technological University)
Albert Zhang, founder of AiTreat and NovaHealth, led the development of Emma. He said Emma will address the manpower shortage and issues of consistency. “Emma is designed to deliver a clinically precise massage according to the prescription of a qualified TCM physician or physiotherapist, without the fatigue faced by a human therapist,” said Zhang.
Emma could also open up low-cost treatment options in countries with an aging population and high healthcare costs. NTU Singapore said a conventional treatment package for lower back pain, consisting of a consultation, acupuncture and a 20-minute massage, would typically range from $60 to $150. Meanwhile at NovaHealth, according to NTU Singapore, a patient could get the same consultation, acupuncture but with a 40 minute massage done by Emma and human therapist, all for $68.
“By using Emma to do the labor-intensive massages, we can now offer a longer therapy session for patients while reducing the cost of treatment,” said Zhang. “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.”