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Unlike in the west, robots are being wholeheartedly embraced in countries such as Japan, China and South Korea. But who’s using them for the betterment of society?


The lines between artificial intelligence, robotics and biology are increasingly blurring.

More and more, machines are doing human jobs, be it monitoring the environment, undertaking manual labour or even nurturing us. Yet how much we’re willing to let robots do these tasks is partly down to culture.

Credit: Ioannis Oikonomou


More and more machines are doing human jobs, yet how much we’re willing to let robots do these tasks is partly down to culture

Companies in Asia using robots to make lives better

In Japan, robots are much more easily assimilated into society than in the west. Many suggest this is because of Shintoism, the religious belief where there’s no spiritual distinction between animate and inanimate objects.

Elsewhere in Asia, researchers are developing robots that can teach, heal and feed – all of which are being enthusiastically received.

We take a look at what’s to come.

AI making up for doctor shortage

PereDoc
Chief Physician Wu Chongchong at the Imaging Department of 301 Hospital / Credit: PereDoc

Country: China

Sector: Healthcare

Company: PereDoc

Feature: Speed up lung scanning process

A Beijing hospital is using AI to help treat 10,000 outpatients daily. Its algorithm is based on a neural network trained on hundreds of thousands of previous scans and is designed to highlight potential malignancies at a much faster rate.

As well as improving patient outcomes, it’s proving to be an effective way of alleviating China’s doctor shortage. Currently, there are only 1.5 doctors for every 1,000 people in the country, compared with 2.5 for every 1,000 people in the US.

“What we’ve developed is a big data cloud computation system where through the combination of medical data and a self-learning AI algorithm, we can improve the efficiency and accuracy of imaging diagnosis. This can help doctors identify abnormalities faster and with higher accuracy, and patients can get their results back sooner,” says company spokesperson Selina Feng.

“A normal case may take a radiologist 10-20 minutes to go through 200 to 400 CT scan images. Using PereDoc Intelligent Medical Imaging Diagnosis Platform with our hardware, PereBox, it only takes 10 seconds to generate a result with abnormalities marked with an accuracy rate as good as a senior radiologist, or even better.

In 2017, an AI-powered robot in China took the national medical licensing examination and passed, making it the first robot to do so.

IoT to produce more sustainable and affordable protein

Rural Vietnam

Country: Vietnam

Sector: Agriculture

Company: Cricket One

Feature: Feeding the world with sustainable protein

Cricket One uses shipping containers equipped with IoT technology to breed crickets, which it sees as a sustainable source of protein. The containers are leased out to farmers and only fed with agricultural leftovers. Once the crickets have grown, Cricket One buys back the container and processes the crickets into protein for human and animal consumption.

Their hope is to make a positive impact on climate change, global food security and create jobs for local farmers in rural areas of Vietnam.

“At the end of the day, we are just not a protein supplier but also trying to create jobs, eradicating poverty but also to stop them from burning waste.”

Bicky Nguyen, co-founder, Cricket One (via Startupbootcamp)

Blockchain to decentralise healthcare data management

(Left to right) Dr Eunsol Lee and Dr Allen Wookyun Kho, co-founders of Medibloc / Credit: Medibloc

Country: Korea

Sector: Healthcare

Company: Medibloc

Feature: Uniting multiple hospitals’ records

Though not quite based on AI or robotics, Medibloc’s blockchain-based medical record database has the potential to dramatically transform the healthcare sector and ignite further innovation in other technologies.

Medibloc works by storing a patient’s medical record on a blockchain. Only the patient has the private key that can access this data. But because the medical records are distributed across the chain, all participating parties, from the GP and specialist to the insurer, can access the data at any time. The result is a centralised database allowing for greater interoperability and simplified information flows.

“Today, people also realize that their data are often times exploited without knowing. The public is keen on getting their rights back. MediBloc team believes this is the perfect timing to begin unprecedented disruption in the healthcare industry.”

Dr Allen Wookyun Kho, CEO Medibloc (via Chipin)

AI for breast cancer screening

(Left to right) Geetha Manjunath (CEO) and Nidhi Mathur (COO), Niramai / Credit: NIRAMAI

Country: India

Sector: Healthcare

Company: Niramai

Feature: Non-invasive breast cancer screening

The Bengaluru-based company is using AI for early breast cancer detection. The core technology they have developed is called Thermalytix®, which  uses machine learning algorithms to analyse thermal images for accurate breast cancer screening.

It’s a low-cost, non-contact, non-invasive and radiation-free solution that can easily be operated by a clinician. And because it doesn’t doesn’t require heavy equipment, it’s ideal for use in smaller towns where affordable healthcare remains a challenge.

 

“Our method of breast cancer screening can detect tumors five times smaller than what clinical examination can detect. With our solution, women of all age groups can undergo frequent screening without any side-effects.”

Nidhi Mathur, COO, Niramai (via Yourstory)

Robots caring for the elderly

Country: Japan

Sector: Aged care

Company: SoftBank Robotics

Feature: Companion for games, exercise and conversation in elderly care

Pepper, a humanoid robot, is being used in nursing homes across Japan to help care for the elderly. Central and local governments have helped fund implementation, with the view that these robots will help tackle the country’s aging population challenges.

 

“They can assist with power, mobility and monitoring. They can’t replace humans, but they can save time and labour. If workers have more time, they can do other tasks.”

Atsushi Yasuda, Director of Robotic Policy, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (via Reuters)

Companies using robotics and AI in Asia

Credit: Ioannis Oikonomou


Robotics, AI and connectivity are augmenting communities, freeing up people’s time and helping to fix many of the world’s challenges

Technology shouldn’t be feared by society, especially considering its potential to do good. Robotics, AI and connectivity are augmenting communities, freeing up people’s time and helping to fix many of the world’s challenges.