Tag Archives: Tampere University of Technology

Adopting robots into a health care system, Finnish style

The Finns have been studying the implementation of a logistics robotic system in a hospital setting according to an August 30, 2017 news item on phys.org,

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland studied the implementation of a logistics robot system at the Seinäjoki Central Hospital in South Ostrobothnia. The aim is to reduce transportation costs, improve the availability of supplies and alleviate congestion on hospital hallways by running deliveries around the clock on every day of the week. Joint planning and dialogue between the various occupational groups and stakeholders involved was necessary for a successful change process.

This study is part of a larger project as the August 30, 2017 VTT press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, makes clear,

As the population ages, the need for robotic services is on the increase. Adopting new technology to support care and nursing work is not straightforward, however. Autonomous service robots and robot systems raise questions about safety as well as about their impact on care quality and jobs, among others.

VTT has studied the implementation of a next-generation logistics robot system at the Seinäjoki Central Hospital. First steps are being taken in Finland to introduce automated delivery systems in hospitals, with Seinäjoki Central Hospital acting as one of the pioneers. The Seinäjoki hospital’s robot system will include a total of 5–8 automated delivery robots, two of which were deployed during the study.

With deliveries running 24/7, the system will help to improve the availability of supplies and alleviate congestion on hallways. Experiences gained during the first six months show that transport personnel expenses and the physical strain of transport work have been reduced. The personnel’s views on the delivery robots have developed favourably and other hospitals have shown plenty of interest in the Seinäjoki hospital’s experiences.

From the perspective of various occupational groups, adoption of the system has had a varied effect on their perceived level of sense of control and appreciation of their work, as well as competence requirements. This study by VTT, employing work research approaches and a systems-oriented view, highlights the importance of taking into account in the change process the interdependencies between various players, along with their roles in the hospital’s core task.

Careful planning, piloting and implementation are required to ensure that the adoption of new robots runs smoothly as a whole. “As the system is expanded with new robots and types of deliveries, even more guidance, communication and dialogue is needed. Joint planning that brings various players to the same table ensures that the system’s implementation goes as smoothly as possible, making it easier to achieve the desired overall benefits”, says Senior Scientist Inka Lappalainen of the ROSE project.

VTT’s study is part of the Robots and the Future of Welfare Services project (ROSE), running from 2015 to 2020. The project investigates Finland’s opportunities for adopting assisting robotics to support the ageing population’s independent living, wellbeing and care. There is also a blog post on the topic: http://roseproject.aalto.fi/fi/blog/32-blog8.


Intermediate results of the project are presented in the publication Robotics in Care Services: A Finnish Roadmap, providing recommendations for both policy making and research. The roadmap is available on the ROSE project website, at http://roseproject.aalto.fi/ or http://roseproject.aalto.fi/fi/blog/29-roadmap-blog-fi.

The roadmap has been compiled by the project consortium comprising Aalto University, the project’s coordinator, and research organisations Laurea University of Applied Sciences, Lappeenranta University of Technology, Tampere University of Technology, University of Tampere and VTT.

 Photo: a logistics robot at the Seinäjoki Central Hospital (photo Marketta Niemelä, VTT)

To make it easier for those without Finnish language reading skills, I have a link to the English language version of the ROSE website. In looking at the ROSE website’s video page, I found this amongst others,

This reminded me of an initiative in Canada introducing a robot designed for use in clinical settings. In a July 4, 2017 posting, I posed this question,

A Canadian project to introduce robots like Pepper into clinical settings (aside: can seniors’ facilities be far behind?) is the subject of a June 23, 2017 news item on phys.org, …

There’s also been some work on robots and seniors in Holland (Netherlands) and Japan although I don’t have any details.

Designing nanocellulose (?) products in Finland; update on Canada’s CelluForce

A VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Oct. 2, 2013 news release (also on EurekAlert) has announced an initiative which combines design with technical expertise in the production of cellulose- (nanocellulose?) based textile and other products derived from wood waste,

The combination of strong design competence and cutting-edge cellulose-based technologies can result in new commercially successful brands. The aim is for fibre from wood-based biomass to replace both cotton production, which burdens the environment, and polyester production, which consumes oil. A research project launched by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Aalto University and Tampere University of Technology aims to create new business models and ecosystems in Finland through design-driven cellulose products.

The joint research project is called Design Driven Value Chains in the World of Cellulose (DWoC). The objective is to develop cellulose-based products suitable for technical textiles and consumer products. The technology could also find use in the pharmaceutical, food and automotive industries. Another objective is to build a new business ecosystem and promote spin-offs.

Researchers seek to combine Finnish design competence with cutting-edge technological developments to utilise the special characteristics of cellulose to create products that feature the best qualities of materials such as cotton and polyester. Product characteristics achieved by using new manufacturing technologies and nanocellulose as a structural fibre element include recyclability and individual production.

The first tests performed by professor Olli Ilkkala’s team at the Aalto University showed that the self-assembly of cellulose fibrils in wood permits the fibrils to be spun into strong yarn. VTT has developed an industrial process that produces yarn from cellulose fibres without the spinning process. VTT has also developed efficient applications of the foam forming method for manufacturing materials that resemble fabric.

“In the future, combining different methods will enable production of individual fibre structures and textile products, even by using 3D printing technology,” says Professor Ali Harlin from VTT.

Usually the price of a textile product is the key criterion even though produced sustainably. New methods help significantly to shorten the manufacturing chain of existing textile products and bring it closer to consumers to respond to their rapidly changing needs. Projects are currently under way where the objective is to replace wet spinning with extrusion technology. The purpose is to develop fabric manufacturing methods where several stages of weaving and knitting are replaced without losing the key characteristics of the textile, such as the way it hangs.

The VTT news release also provides statistics supporting the notion that cellulose textile products derived from wood waste are more sustainable than those derived from cotton,

Finland’s logging residue to replace environmentally detrimental cotton Cotton textiles account for about 40% of the world’s textile markets, and oil-based polyester for practically the remainder. Cellulose-based fibres make up 6% of the market. Although cotton is durable and comfortable to wear, cotton production is highly water-intensive, and artificial fertilisers and chemical pesticides are often needed to ensure a good crop. The surface area of cotton-growing regions globally equates to the size of Finland.

Approximately 5 million tons of fibre could be manufactured from Finland’s current logging residue (25 million cubic metres/year). This could replace more than 20% of globally produced cotton, at the same time reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 120 million tons, and releasing enough farming land to grow food for 18 million people. Desertification would also decrease by approximately 10 per cent.

I am guessing this initiative is focused on nanocellulose since the news release makes no mention of it but it is highly suggestive that one of the project leads, Olli Ilkkala mentions nanocellulose as part of the research for which he received a major funding award as recently as 2012,. From a Feb. 7, 2012 Aalto University news release announcing the grant for Ikkala’s research,

The European Research Council granted Aalto University’s Academy Professor Olli Ikkala funding in the amount of €2.3 million for research on biomimetic nanomaterials. Ikkala’s group specialises in the self-assembly of macromolecules and how to make use of this process when producing functional materials.

The interests of Ikkala’s group focus on the self-assembled strong and light nanocomposite structures found in nature, such as the nacreous matter underneath seashells and biological fibres resembling silk and nanocellulose. [emphasis mine] Several strong natural materials are built from both strong parallel elements and softening and viscosifying macromolecules. All sizes of structures form to combine opposite properties: strength and viscosity.

The research of the properties of biomimetic nanocomposites is based on finding out the initial materials of self-assembly. Initial material may include, for example, nano platelets, polymers, new forms of carbon, surfactants and nanocellulose.[emphasis mine]

– Cellulose is especially interesting, as it is the most common polymer in the world and it is produced in our renewable forests. In terms of strength, nano-sized cellulose fibres are comparable to metals, which was the very offset of interest in using nanocellulose in the design of strong self-assembled biomimetic materials, Ikkala says. [emphases mine]

Celluforce update

After reading about the Finnish initiative, I stumbled across an interesting little article on the Celluforce website about the current state of NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose aka CNC [cellulose nanocrystals]) production, Canada’s claim to fame in the nanocellulose world. From an August 2013 Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Spotlight series article,

The pilot plant, located at the Domtar pulp and paper mill in Windsor, Quebec, is a joint venture between Domtar and FPInnnovations called CelluForce. The plant, which began operations in January 2012, has since successfully demonstrated its capacity to produce NCC on a continuous basis, thus enabling a sufficient inventory of NCC to be collected for product development and testing. Operations at the pilot plant are temporarily on hold while CelluForce evaluates the potential markets for various NCC applications with its stockpiled material. [emphasis mine]

When the Celluforce Windsor, Québec plant was officially launched in January 2012 the production target was for 1,000 kg (1 metric ton) per day (there’s more in my Jan. 31 2012 posting about the plant’s launch). I’ve never seen anything which confirms they reached their production target, in any event, that seems irrelevant in light of the ‘stockpile’.

I am somewhat puzzled by the Celluforce ‘stockpile’ issue. On the one hand, it seems the planning process didn’t take into account demand for the material and, on the other hand, I’ve had a couple back channel requests from entrepreneurs about gaining access to the material after they were unsuccessful with Celluforce.  Is there not enough demand and/or is Celluforce choosing who or which agencies are going to have access to the material?

ETA Oct. 14, 2013: It took me a while to remember but there was a very interesting comment by Tim Harper (UK-based, emerging technologies consultant [Cientifica]) in Bertrand Marotte’s May 6, 2012 Globe & Mail article (about NCC (from my May 8, 2012 posting offering some commentary about Marotte’s article),

Tim Harper, the CEO of London-based Cientifica, a consultant on advanced technologies, describes the market for NCC as “very much a push, without signs of any pull.”

It would seem the current stockpile confirms Harper’s take on NCC’s market situation. For anyone not familiar with marketing terminology, ‘pull’ means market demand. No one is asking to buy NCC as there are no applications requiring the product, so there is ‘no pull/no market demand’.

Electricity without a current

My imagination fails at the thought of electricity without a current luckily there’s a consortium of scientists at Finland’s Tampere University of  Technology (TUT) who have no trouble with their imaginations, according to the Sept. 12, 2012 news item on Nanowerk (Note: I have removed a link from the following excerpt),

The Academy of Finland has granted €1.6 million to a consortium based at Tampere University of Technology (TUT) under the “Programmable Materials” funding scheme. The project runs from 1 September 2012 to 31 August 2016 and is entitled “Photonically Addressed Zero Current Logic through Nano-Assembly of Functionalised Nanoparticles to Quantum Dot Cellular Automata” ( PhotonicQCA).

The Sept. 12, 2012 news release from TUT which originated the news item explains the ideas and work which support the notion of electricity without current,

The key idea behind the project is the so-called quantum dot cellular automaton (QCA). In QCAs, pieces of semiconductor so small that single electronic charges can be measured and manipulated are arranged into domino like cells. Like dominos, these cells can be arranged so that the position of the charges in one cell affects the position of the charges in the next cell, which allows making logical circuits out of these “quantum dominos”. But, no charge flows from one cell to the next, i.e. no current. This, plus the extremely small size of QCAs, means that they could be used to make electronic circuits at densities and speeds not possible now. However, realisation of the dots and cells and making electrical connections to them has been a huge challenge.

Professors Donald Lupo from Department of Electronics, Mircea Guina and Tapio Niemi from Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC), and Nikolai Tkachenko and Helge Lemmetyinen from Department of Chemistry and Bioengineering, want to investigate a completely new approach. They want to attach tailor-made molecules, optical nanoantennas, to the quantum dots, which can inject a charge into a dot or enable charge transfer between the dots when light of the right wavelength shines on them. This concept will be combined with the expertise at TUT’s Optoelectronics Research Centre concerning “site-specific epitaxy”, i.e. growing the quantum dots in the right place using nanofabrication techniques, which would enable a solid-state technology platform compatible with standard electronic circuits. If this works, then someday QCAs could be written and read with light.

Project coordinator, Professor Donald Lupo says: “As far as we can tell, no one has ever tried anything like this before. It’s a completely new idea. It was our excellent inter-departmental communication that identified a unique combination of know-how that let us come up with this concept. It’s highly risky because of many technological challenges, but the potential is amazing; being able to get rid of electrical connections and write and read nanoelectronic circuits using only light would be a huge breakthrough”.

Reading the Programmable Materials page on the Academy of Finland website provided some clues for what they hope to achieve with this ‘electricity’ project is all about,

The FinnSight 2015 report published in 2006 underscores the fact that materials research is a cross-disciplinary exercise: new materials are increasingly being developed on a multidisciplinary platform. The report also urges Finnish materials research to step up its efforts to explore the more advanced properties of new materials that are still partly unknown.

Most new materials today are typically static by nature. They are composed of components that have a specific function or quality, but they do not respond to their environment as such. Programmable materials, by contrast, are composed of components that respond in a specific, programmed way to environmental stimuli and signals. Depending on the initial state or code of these components, it is possible to produce various complex, even macroscopic, structures in a controlled way.

Programmable materials represent a new emerging research field in which Finland can play a pioneering role. The programmable properties of different materials are continuing to develop with advances in such fields as nano- and biotechnology, and programmable materials may completely revolutionise applications of functional materials.

Materials programming is an emerging, all-new field of research. The aim of this programme is to work with the best international research teams and solidify Finland’s position at the international forefront of research. The strongest countries in this field include the United States, Japan, Russia, India and certain European countries. In addition, China has a strong emerging materials research field.

I threw in that last paragraph because I find their analysis of the international scene quite interesting and notice they list three of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, ans South Africa) countries as leaders in this emergent field.

Getting back to this specific ‘electricity’ project, it sounds as if they’re working on an electrical component which could be made to operate when a light is shone on it in a process that reminiscent of photosynthesis (Wikipedia essay on photosynthesis) where a plant converts light into chemical energy.