Deep tech robotics company and National Robotarium industry resident, Touchlab, has launched a first-of-its-kind robot which gives clinicians the ability to ‘feel’ patients remotely as part of a Finnish hospital pilot.

Controlled by operators wearing an electronic haptic glove, the Välkky telerobot is equipped with the most advanced electronic skin (e-skin) technology ever developed to transfer a sense of touch from its robotic hand to users.

The 3-month pilot at Laakso Hospital in Helsinki, Finland will see a team of purpose-trained nurses explore how robotics systems can help deliver care, reduce workload and prevent the spread of infections or diseases.

Touchlab is an Edinburgh-based start-up and has recently taken up residency at the National Robotarium, a pioneering new £22.4 million research facility which officially opened its doors in September 2022.

Informed by sectoral needs, the facility works collaboratively with partners around the globe to define, develop and resolve industry challenges through the application of robotics and AI. Touchlab will benefit from the National Robotarium’s incubation facilities, state-of-the-art labs and engineering expertise.

It is hoped that Välkky will complement existing staff, freeing up people to focus on more complex nursing tasks while allowing the robot to carry out day-to-day clinical duties like measuring vital signs including pulse, temperature and oxygen saturation. It is also able to serve meals, move assistive devices and support patient care with tasks like brushing hair.

Additional applications for the technology could include nuclear decommissioning and the handling of toxic waste, helping reduce human exposure to jobs that are potentially hazardous to people’s health and wellbeing.

The National Robotarium is part of the Data-Driven Innovation initiative, supported by £21 million from the UK Government and £1.4 million from the Scottish Government. The initiative aims to turn Edinburgh into the data capital of Europe and is part of the wider £1.3 billion Edinburgh and South-East Scotland City Region Deal.

“Working with tenant companies like Touchlab, the National Robotarium continues to be a globally significant collaborative hub – bringing together academics and industry-leading companies and delivering sustainable economic benefit to the whole of the UK and beyond.”

Kirsi Ahonen is Head Nurse and project manager at Laakso Hospital. She said:

“Our long-term goal is for Välkky to assist in a variety of day-to-day ward tasks to ensure the delivery of comprehensive patient monitoring and care.

“While Välkky will initially be deployed on a smaller scale, it has the potential to help with a number of more complex jobs. This includes patient-lifting, which could help alleviate potential physical injuries for staff, and reduce the spread of infection.”

Touchlab CEO, Dr Zaki Hussein, said:

“It’s our ambition that the anonymised, real-time data gathered throughout the project will help prove that semi-autonomous robots can co-exist with and support professionals in a variety of industries like healthcare and the transition to greener energy sources.

“Having access to the National Robotarium’s state-of-the-art office and lab facilities, including its ecosystem of collaborators, industry experts and academic teams, will support us to put these findings

into action and to continue developing impactful robotics technologies that are changing our collective


Lisa Farrell is Business Development Manager at the National Robotarium. She said:

“As robotic and AI technologies continue to advance, we increasingly have the opportunity to support people in jobs that are potentially hazardous to their health or physical wellbeing. Touchlab’s Finnish pilot exemplifies that opportunity, with benefits of the trial expected to include increasing nurse productivity and, significantly, reducing the spread of healthcare acquired infections.

“Working with tenant companies like Touchlab, the National Robotarium continues to be a globally significant collaborative hub – bringing together academics and industry-leading companies and delivering sustainable economic benefit to the whole of the UK and beyond.”

UK Government Minister for Scotland, Malcolm Offord, said:

“This pioneering research into remote robotic touch technology has great potential to deliver vital assistance to health staff, improve patient care, prevent the spread of infections or diseases and reduce human exposure to hazardous jobs such as handling toxic waste.

“The UK Government has invested £21 million in the National Robotarium to foster their world-leading research and support high quality jobs, investment and growth, as part of our £2.3b pound investment to level up across Scotland.”

Neil Gray, Scottish Government Wellbeing Economy Secretary, said:

“This pioneering research is a further example of the important work conducted at the National Robotarium, which benefited from Scottish and UK Government support through the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.

“Using robots to carry out routine clinical duties can free nurses to perform more complex tasks and revolutionise the delivery of health care. Innovation and the use of ethical and trustworthy artificial intelligence can help deliver priorities in our National Strategy for Economic Transformation.”