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A Therapist Operates Emma The Robot | © NTU Singapore
A Therapist Operates Emma The Robot | © NTU Singapore
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You Can Get High-Tech Backrubs from this Robot Masseuse in Singapore

Picture of Sadali Mawi
Updated: 23 October 2017
Fancy getting a massage from a robot? What may seem like an idea reserved for a Utopian future is now made possible at NovaHealth Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinic at One Raffles Place, Singapore.

Called EMMA (short for Expert Manipulative Massage Automation), the robotic masseuse was built by AiTreat, a start-up incubated by Nanyang Technological University, where it was in a development phase for almost two years. Consisting of a mechanical arm that extends from a white machine, EMMA is able to perform massages that target a patient’s back and knee, which is part of the procedures offered in the clinic.

Precise Massages Minus The Fatigue

It is not a secret that massage therapists may experience fatigue after delivering procedures for long periods of time, and Emma was built to address that and more. “By using EMMA to do the labour-intensive massages, we can now offer a longer therapy session for patients while reducing the cost of treatment. The human therapist is then free to focus on other areas such as the neck and limb joints which EMMA can’t massage at the moment,” said Mr Zhang, found of AiTreat and NovaHealth in a news release.

For $68, patients receive five minutes of a human massage, 20 minutes of acupuncture and 30 minutes of a robotic massage prescribed by a therapist.

Soft Silicone Tips To Mimic Human Fingers

Would employing EMMA cause a loss of the “human touch”? According to an interview with property agent Ken Tay, the robot massage feeels like a “real person” and was so comfortable that he “fell asleep.”

So how does Emma work?

Equipped with a touchscreen and soft silicon tips (which can be warmed up to 40 degrees C), EMMA is able to execute precise massages prescribed by a physician following a consultation. The robot also has sensors that are able to measure muscle stiffness before and after a massage, as well as a camera that allows it to target the “acupoint” through calibration.

Emma Robot At Work
Emma Robot At Work | © NTU Singapore

Can Emma Replace Humans?

The long-standing question remains: Are robots like EMMA able to replace humans? The introduction of EMMA in NovaHealth TCM Clinic may provide room for more efficient and affordable procedures, but skilled therapists are still required to provide supervision and make sense of the data.

At the same time, robots like EMMA are still unable to deliver procedures to other parts of the body which are far more intricate. Perhaps robots aren’t able to entirely remove the human element in TCM, but its inclusion into daily procedures are a refreshing welcome, especially for existing therapists.

“There are days that humans feel a little tired or under the weather, and they may be a little reluctant to do extra work. But for Emma, once I say go, then she goes to work,” said Ms. Calista Lim, a Beijing-trained physician at the NovaHealth TCM clinic, in an interview.