Robot, Hand Me a Scalpel! Diligent Robotics Adds $2.1M to Aid Nurses

Austin—Diligent Robotics is developing what it says is a new type of interactive robot that uses machine-learning algorithms to aid hospital workers with some of their busywork.

The Austin, TX-based company, which was co-founded in 2016 by a University of Texas at Austin researcher and her industry-veteran graduate assistant, announced today it has raised $2.1 million in a seed round of funding to push its technology forward. The investment was led by True Ventures; Pathbreaker Ventures, Boom Capital, and Next Coast Ventures also participated.

Diligent Robotics didn’t provide many details on the exact services its robots might take on for nurses and other clinical staff, so it may be a stretch to assume that a robot will soon be assisting a doctor on the operating table. But the company does say that its machine learning algorithms will allow the robots to “manipulate objects” and adapt to and interact with people.

“We are specifically focused on the non-patient-care tasks that are creating busywork for nurses,” wrote CEO and co-founder Andrea Thomaz in an e-mail. “So much more around logistical tasks like making sure supplies and equipment are where they need to be on a unit throughout the day.”

In December 2016, the company announced that it would be working with Seton Medical Center in Austin to study a robot they called Poli to see how the machine could work alongside medical staff, according to KVUE, the ABC affiliate in Austin. At the time, the robot could assemble and deliver supply kits, find IV poles, make safety rounds, and check maintenance stickers, according to the TV station.

A handful of other companies and researchers are working on robots that aid medical workers, including Morrisville, NC-based TransEnterix (NYSEAMERICAN: TRXC), which has a robotic assistant called Senhance; and a robot developed by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab that can make medical recommendations. Pittsburgh-based Aethon makes a robot that is good at transporting things called Tug, and a Japanese robot called Terapio can collect patient data and vital signs. There are plenty of others, too, including San Antonio, TX-based Xenex, which sells robots that disinfect hospital rooms against infection-causing germs.

Diligent Robotics contends that the key difference between its robots and those sold by other companies is the ability to perform collaborative tasks with nursing staff. The robots also have arms, the company says.

“We envision a future powered by robots that work seamlessly with human teams,” Thomaz said in a press release.

Thomaz is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UT-Austin, and co-founded the company with Vivian Chu, who is the chief technology officer. Chu was a graduate assistant in for Thomaz at the Georgia Institute of Technology before Thomaz came to Austin in 2016, and the pair founded Diligent Robotics. Chu has previously held corporate research positions and internships at IBM, the Honda Research Institute, Google, and Hewlett-Packard.

Diligent Robotics had previously received National Science Foundation grants totaling $725,000.

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow @xconholley

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