There is a robot learning to be a nurse in the School of Nursing. And that’s not even the most interesting robotics project on Duke’s campus!

Duke’s newly formed Robotics Group showed off a wide range of projects underway March 28, during the first annual Duke Robotics Student Symposium. More than 25 speakers from four different universities and one industry-leading company took turns giving TED-style talks.


Assistant professor of nursing Ryan Shaw (Right) explains the robotic nursing platform to visitors during Monday’s robotics student symposium.

The day kicked off with a look at work being done at Aurora Flight Sciences which included videos of planes designed for human pilots being flown autonomously by the company’s “C3PA” hardware and software.

Faculty from Duke, NC State, NCCU and Clemson then took turns describing the work of their own labs, before breaking to visit the robotic nurse-in-training.

Kris Hauser, one of Duke’s new robotics professors, described the hurdles they’re working to overcome on the robo-nurse, such as pressure sensors that are too easily broken by robotic hands, flexible gears to ensure human safety that also make it impossible to know precisely where a limb will move, and human operators struggling to control multiple appendages in three dimensions in real-time.

Still, Hauser and his funders from the NIH hope that the robotic platform could eventually be used to treat patients in areas with dangerous disease outbreaks or in rural outposts with too few doctors.

The day wrapped up with Duke students talking about their own projects, with no shortage of interesting topics: Medical devices programmed to automatically zap tumors with lasers; tarantula-like robots designed to scale sheer faces of artificial and natural rock; drone systems developed for monitoring elephants in African refuges.

And, of course, the work being done to ensure tomorrow’s autonomous cars don’t run into one another — or anything else for that matter. Learn more about these projects here. 

The day’s take-away message? Despite our short history, there’s a ton going on in the Duke Robotics group.

Ken KingeryGuest Post by Ken Kingery, Pratt School of Engineering