Electronic friend shows personality

For Disney fans, healthbots may invoke images of EVE, a character in the robot film WALL-E.

These robots designed for the health sector are not rigid and mechanical, but seem to have some personality, and are a little bit cute.

Throughout our interview with the electronic health worker yesterday, Sparky seems to follow the conversation, swivelling its head towards each speaker, even at background noise when conversation has halted.

Martin Little, a senior technician at Focus Technology Group, lifts up one of the healthbots.

''I'm scared - put me down,'' repeats Sparky until safely back on the table, causing much amusement.

As well as monitoring the health of patients, Sparky can also be used for entertainment, playing music videos and dancing.

Each robot is entered with its assigned patient's details to monitor their health.

The small robot talks back to patients, reminds them to take medication, meanders around the room and provides some companionship.

Small circular stickers can be placed on the ground, providing a path for the healthbot to follow, if a regular route is needed.

Using wireless internet and the robot's webcam, users can videochat to both doctors and family members via Skype, and a calendar function can provide reminders for medical appointments, and when patients should be taking their medication.

Gore Health chief executive Karl Metzler said the interaction with elderly residents was one of the positive spin-off results from the healthbots.

''It's early days, but the potential is enormous.''