Could Robots Help Us Fight Infectious Diseases?

In the journal Science Robotics, an international group of robotic experts wrote an editorial arguing COVID-19 “may drive further research in robotics to address risks of infectious diseases,” and urging more funding.

The Washington Post reports:

Robots already have been enlisted in the fight against the virus. In Hong Kong, a fleet of miniature robots disinfects the city’s subways; in China, an entire field hospital was staffed by robots designed to relieve overworked health-care workers. In the United States, robots played a role in the country’s first known case of covid-19. One outfitted with a stethoscope and a microphone was used with a 35-year-old man in Everett, Washington, who was confined to an isolated unit after showing symptoms of the coronavirus. He later made a full recovery. “Already, we have seen robots being deployed for disinfection, delivering medications and food, measuring vital signs, and assisting border controls,” the researchers write.

They identify plenty of other ways to use robots in the pandemic response. Robots could assist with testing and screening; already, researchers have created a device that can identify a suitable vein and perform a blood draw. Or they could take over hospital disinfection entirely, providing continuous sterilization of high-touch areas with UV light.

The researchers hope covid-19 will catalyze robotics research for the sake of public health.

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