Today in the chart

Moxi: The Not-A-Nurse Robot Created to Help Nurses Love Their Jobs

If you want to create a robot to anticipate a nurse’s needs, you must dig deep to understand how a nurse thinks. That’s exactly what Andrea Thomaz did when she created Moxi.


Andrea Thomaz, a renowned social robotics expert, was in the middle of a hospital shift theorizing how to create a breakthrough in healthcare technology. It wasn’t enough to chitchat in boardrooms and surf the internet; she needed boots on the ground. After all, if you want to create a robot to anticipate a nurse’s needs, you must dig deep to understand how a nurse thinks.

Among the many takeaways she had throughout her over 150 hours of training with healthcare staff? The nurse she followed on one particular shift brought a hot coffee to work that morning, and eight hours later, after walking thousands of steps, it was cold and untouched. 

By combining her new understanding of the nursing profession and her skills in machine learning and robotics, Moxi the robot was born.

Robot School

In a different way than humans, machines can learn. Thomaz, the creator of Moxi and the CEO and co-founder of Diligent Robotics, never plans on Moxi replacing actual nurses. Still, Moxi did have to undergo rigorous training to be able to perform clinical tasks. Thomaz has a Ph.D. from MIT and a B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from UT Austin, is a Robotics Professor at UT Austin, and is the PI of the Socially Intelligent Machines Lab.

She explains that for Moxi to help nurses, she has to learn:

  • Hospital floor plan and layout. Initially, Moxi spends the most time learning the layout and flow of the specific hospital she’s in. “It’s a learning process…Being able to reach out and press a button to open a door, use the elevator, or scan a badge, all of those are things the robot learns after it arrives in its location,” Thomaz shares.
  • Scheduling and flow. Then, Moxi starts to learn scheduling. For example, Thomaz says that if a facility has a lot of medications that need to move to and from the pharmacy at a particular time of day, Moxi will learn to hang out in those areas at those times.
  • Hospital-specific needs. From there, Moxi learns hospital-specific tasks. “It’s about letting end-users teach robots how to do whatever they want,” Thomaz says. Currently, Diligent Robotics staff teach Moxi through demonstrations, but in the future, Thomaz plans on hospital staff being able to train Moxi to do what they need. 
Moxi’s Can-Do List

The most important question is: What can Moxi do? There are a lot of possibilities, Thomaz describes, but here are some of the skills that Moxi excels at right now.

  • Running lab samples.
  • Getting warm blankets, water, and other supplies to patients.
  • Sending supplies from staff to staff, with the ability to pass along a note.
  • Getting discharge medications from the pharmacy to the patient directly.
  • Getting telemetry boxes to patient rooms.

Thomaz noticed during her time shadowing nurses that a lot of the time, nurses were working below their scope. They spent time, energy, and thousands of steps per day moving supplies to and fro and dealing with failed technology, like a broken tube system. Diligent Robotics hypothesizes that nurses spend up to 30% of their time on non-value-added tasks. Moxi’s primary purpose is to reduce the burden of having non-clinical tasks on the nursing staff. 

Thomaz never plans on Moxi performing clinical tasks like:

  • Doing any patient education.
  • Comforting a patient through a difficult situation.
  • Administering medications.
  • Performing procedures like catheter care, IV insertion, or wound management.

What about documentation? Thomaz agrees that she also spent much time on the floor with nurses who spent much of their time documenting. “We’ve talked about this a lot. When we asked nurses, ‘What’s the worst part about your day?’ They answered ‘documentation’. But you don’t really need a robot for that,” hospitals could invest in dictation services. She does plan to have Moxi integrated with EHRs in the future to document its own actions. For example, when Moxi brings a nurse a telemetry box, Moxi could put it into the EHR when it is brought into the room. 

The Friendly Robot

Thomaz didn’t stop at creating a sterile, lifeless robot. She prides herself on bringing a little joy to a nurse’s day. 

Moxi features:

  • Heart eyes that blink and change shape.
  • Changing headband colors to indicate what stage of a task Moxi is on.
  • A drawer to put supplies or notes into.

Once Moxi works on the unit, Thomaz says she sees nurses greet Moxi, and Moxi has learned how to take selfies with them. The staff dress Moxi up for holidays, and most teams find her to have a warm and comforting personality. Thomaz has even had nurses mention that Moxi had given them a hug when they asked and that they’ve used Moxi as a sounding board to dish on frustrating workplace situations.

Adding a Bot to the Staffing Matrix

Moxi is a leased service to the hospital, so it’s not an upfront all-in cost. Thomaz says the best way to inquire about getting Moxi on your unit is to approach your unit supervisor with data on your time on non-nursing tasks.

Can you show that you spend significant time walking down a long hallway to run supplies? Or do you have to leave your floor multiple times daily to track down that cursed bladder scanner? Thomaz suggests you start there to show that Moxi will provide relief for the nursing staff. 

Once management is on board, they can go to the Diligent Robotics website to book a demo to learn more. Thomaz says it’s only a matter of weeks before Moxi can hit the floor running.

What’s Next?

By advocating for healthcare technology that supports nurses rather than replaces them, nurses may finally experience relief from burnout and high employment turnover. With the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, anything is possible.

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