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Hero, a robot buddy for kids

‘Hi, I am Hero. What's your name? What is your favorite color? Are you going on an adventure? I would like to tell you a story and you can help with that.’ These and many other statements are made by Hero, the social robot that tours in the stem cell transplant department of the Princess Máxima Center from April 9. The hero is still in a feasibility study to test whether he is doing well and to find out what children, parents and healthcare professionals think about Hero, but expectations about the robot are high.

Most kids can't wait to talk to Hero. Hero is a prototype and has yet to ‘grow’ and learn a lot. Within the research project, he is now entering the clinic to see if he can be a companion for children. And whether Hero reduces anxiety and stress, because that is also part of the Máxima Center's multi-year strategic plan.

Get started
Kelly Engels-van Bindsbergen, PhD student of psychosocial oncology for children, is working on Hero and his feasibility study. She says: ‘Before Hero can be a buddy and go to the treatment room to support children and reduce anxiety and stress, we have to start at the beginning. In this study we investigate the feasibility of the robot and the first experiences of children, parents and professionals with Hero. ‘The 60 cm large robot will therefore do an ‘internship’ in the Tafel/Brug department where children are admitted for a stem cell transplant. The children who want to participate in the study can meet Hero three times.

Favorite pose
Kelly: ‘The first time the robot and child will get to know each other. Hero tells you what he will do, how you can talk to him, so how he works. For example, he talks and asks about the child's favorite color, his pets and brothers and sisters. If children want to see him a second time, they will make a story together. Hero tells a fantasy story, and the children influence the story. It is very interactive: children can choose songs, record their own voice and let Hero take on all kinds of poses. The third time, Hero can be in an unpleasant procedure or treatment, and he will tell the story made together for support and distraction.’

PhD research
Hero's internship in the stem cell transplant ward is the practice of feasibility research and lasts approximately four months. ‘We are very curious if this will work! And especially what the children, parents and our employees will think of Hero. In total we hope that 12 children, aged 4 to 12 will want to test Hero. We will announce the results as soon as possible. Expectations are high, especially after we have tested the robot on children at school. They really liked him and helped improve the robot to what it is today,’ Kelly says enthusiastically. And to stay in Hero terms, Kelly ends with, ‘Maybe see you soon. Hero sends you his best regards!’