Vivian Chu developed the AI software for a hospital robot called Moxi, which has already been tested in four Texas hospitals. During those trials, Moxi worked 22/7—with two hours off a day for charging—picking up supplies such as syringes with its gripper hand and then dexterously moving its arm to drop them into the tray in its base. After that, it would roll down the hallway, taking care not to bump into people, and drop the supplies off in drawers outside patients’ rooms. Moxi can also complete other repetitive tasks such as delivering lab samples and removing soiled linen bags, easing the workload of hospital staff and freeing up more time for them to spend with patients.
Chu’s graduate thesis focused on robots that can combine different kinds of sensory information from their surroundings—visual, auditory, kinetic—to guide their actions when they encounter a new situation. For example, one of her robots automatically adjusts the force it applies when pulling on a drawer handle if it learns that the drawer is already half open. Chu hopes to add similar functionality to future versions of Moxi. “It gives you that richness and robustness to be able to learn about the world,” says Chu, the chief technology officer of Diligent Robotics, which she cofounded in 2017.
Growing up in a three-generation household in the heart of Silicon Valley, she experienced firsthand how her family struggled to take care of her grandparents as they aged, and that’s where Chu wants to use her robotics expertise in the future to make a positive impact. She hopes to give elderly people staying in nursing homes “the tools to be able to age with dignity, age with grace, [and] be more independent for longer.”