Coronavirus: How Robots Are Helping Fight the Outbreak

Coronavirus: How Robots Are Helping Fight the Outbreak
Courtesy of Fraunhofer / Courtesy of inTouch Health

As the deadly new coronavirus continues to spread, robots are being drafted in to help treat sufferers and minimize person-to-person contact. Medical professionals in the U.S. are using a telepresence robot equipped with a stethoscope to help take the vitals of the first person in the country to be diagnosed with the illness.

A 30-year-old man infected with the coronavirus is currently being treated in the U.S., at the Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington. Doctors and nurses outside the room are using a telepresence robot, which is fitted with a microphone and camera, to communicate with him and minimize their exposure to the disease.

This robot is called Vici and was designed by InTouch Health to bring telehealth to any location. Vici is usually used by doctors who are located away from their patients. But today, in the case of the contagious coronavirus, Vici has become an ideal and safe medical device to treat infected patients while protecting the health of the hospital’s employees.

The robot, known as Vici, was developed by InTouch Health / Courtesy of inTouch Health

The robot, known as Vici, was developed by InTouch Health / Courtesy of inTouch Health

Over 1,000 people have died of coronavirus, with more than 43,000 confirmed cases around the world, most of them in China. Over 20 other nations, including the U.S., have reported cases of the illness, which causes severe acute respiratory infection. In Guangdong, China, one hospital is now using a pair of nurse robots to deliver medicine and food to patients, as well as to collect bed sheets and medical waste. Powered by AI and capable of disinfecting themselves, the self-driving, self-charging machines are also being used to reduce the risks of transmission.

For the same reason, hundreds of people quarantined in a hotel in Hangzhou, China, who are suspected to have the virus are being served food by a robot. It is also being reported that disinfection robots, using autonomous navigation technology, are being employed to sanitize surfaces and air space in six hospitals in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicenter of the outbreak.

Korean service robot companies Robotemi and Hyulim Robot recently announced that they will jointly “utilize the service robot ‘temi’, while protecting medical staffs and citizens from the risk of new coronavirus infection, not only to prevent the spread of viruses in each local region, but also to provide smart medical and public health services to global countries at the same time“.

Currently, personal robot temi provides, without face-to-face, fever self-diagnosis, video call solution between patient-medical staff- caregiver, and meal and medicine delivery as well especially in air-isolated places of hospitals. 

Thanks to temi’s thermal camera, the general public will also be able to self-diagnose the virus infection, while quarantine staffs will check any infected person in real time and respond to an emergency center. 

SEE ALSO: How Is the Coronavirus Affecting the Tech Industry?

Assisting Staff

Robots used for other roles in healthcare currently include surgical robots, logistical robots, exoskeleton robots for rehabilitation and robotic prosthetic limbs. But Dr Birgit Graf, manager of the Domestic and Personal Robotics Group at Fraunhofer IPA, said most healthcare robots are employed in logistics. She said:

“Robots being able to manage much more complex tasks in healthcare is still some way in the future. This is because of the technology required for autonomous navigation within a hospital setting, where you have staff, patients, beds and other equipment to navigate around. Most of the robots we see in these places, such as the telepresence robots, are remote-controlled. They are there to work with staff but not completely replace them.”

The Care-O-bot 4 robot. (Credit: Fraunhofer IPA, Photographer: Rainer Bez)

The Care-O-bot 4 robot. (Credit: Fraunhofer IPA, Photographer: Rainer Bez)

Fraunhofer IPA has itself developed robots for use in hospitals and nursing homes. The Care-O-bot 4, for example, which can move effortlessly and communicate by voice, touch screen, gesture or facial expression, can assist patients and visitors, guiding them to treatment rooms and wards.

There is also an intelligent care cart, which can transport and register consumption of medical supplies, and a robotic service assistant designed to serve drinks and snacks to patients.

Ideal for Quarantine

Jeff Mills is chief operating officer of Telepresence Robots, which offers the InTouch Vita, for healthcare use. This InTouch Vita can be navigated to a patient’s bedside by doctors working remotely and in the case of the Providence Regional Medical Center, the smartphone-controlled roving robot has a camera, screen, speakers and microphones. Mills said:

“Robots like this enable medical professionals to have a remote presence and to feel as they are actually there with the patient. This not only frees up the doctors’ and specialists’ time but can be ideal in a situation where someone needs to be in quarantine. Not only can staff communicate through the robot but friends and family can as well. We are definitely going to see robots used more often in situations like this in the future. As a company, we are seeing increasing interest from healthcare providers.”

Intouch Vita Robot in hospital / Courtesy of Telepresence Robots

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