With embattled countries facing a health crisis of global proportions, thousands of robots and drones are being deployed in hospitals, on the streets, and in airports around the globe to combat the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the COVID-19 illness. Healthcare professionals and businesses are finding innovative ways to use robots and drones to help patients and those in quarantine. Let’s explore some of the ways robots are being used to combat the coronavirus.
Examining and Interacting with Patients
Health professionals are using telehealth technology to perform basic diagnostic functions and minimize person-to-person contact. At the Providence Regional Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, a quarantined man who tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from China was evaluated using a robot. The robot is guided remotely to examine the patient using a stethoscope so staff can evaluate and communicate with patients without exposing themselves to the virus.
Doctors and nurses are also using temi robots with thermometers and cameras to help them perform diagnoses from a safe distance. temi, from Shenzhen, China-based Robotemi, is 3 feet (1 m) tall with a touchscreen, a built-in sound system, and an autonomous navigation that allows it to move around while avoiding obstacles. The company also added a tray to carry food and drink to patients under quarantine, and the small robot allows patients to communicate with loved ones. Similarly, the Vici robot from InTouch Health has an HD screen and camera, which allows a doctor or a nurse to interact with a patient and examine them without having to come in contact with them.
Delivering Medicine, Food, and Supplies
On city streets in China, JD Logistics is delivering medicine to hospitals and food to people in quarantine with mobile vans that operate autonomously and can navigate through traffic. The first delivery of supplies to the Wuhan Ninth Hospital took place earlier this month. Robots such as one named Little Peanut from Keenon Robotics are delivering food and medical supplies to quarantined people. Hospitals have been using robots for the last several years to perform autonomous deliveries of medicine, linens, supplies, and other items. One example is the TUG robot from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Aethon that ferries medical supplies throughout hospitals and hotels. A hospital in southern China is using robots to deliver medicine and collect bedsheets and trash.
(Source: China Daily)
An army of disinfection robots is en route to hospitals in China to help combat COVID-19 on surfaces in hospitals. The shipment is from Denmark-based UVD Robots for Sunay Health Supply in China. These self-driving robots autonomously kill viruses and bacteria with powerful concentrated UV-C light.
Honor Health hospitals in Scottsdale, Arizona are using similar robots to kill viruses in patient rooms and the ICU with UV light so powerful that people must leave the room during the 4-minute cycle. The robots are from Xenex, a San Antonio, Texas-based company that uses pulsed xenon UV-C light to clean rooms at facilities with suspected cases of the Wuhan coronavirus.
Los Angeles, California-based Dimer has offered one of its GermFalcon disinfecting machines to an airline at the Los Angeles International Airport for free to disinfect planes arriving from China. The machine fits in the isle with wings that extend over the seats to deliver high doses of UV light to disinfect surfaces.
(Source: InTouch Health)
Using Drones for Remote Diagnosis, Delivery, and to Enforce Quarantine
Drones are being used to help perform diagnoses from a distance to detect people with fevers using thermal imaging technology. Some drones are being used to patrol streets to enforce quarantines. Others carry loudspeakers used to remotely give information and instructions to civilians and to direct people to go back inside their homes.
Disinfecting Streets with Remote-Controlled Tanks
Unmanned drones and robot tanks from Shanxi Tianyi Technology have been seen on the streets of Taiyuan in northern China. They are being directed by staff wearing hazmat suits to reportedly disinfect 50,000 square meters (538,195 square feet) in an hour. The tanks are sent twice a day into gated communities where there have been confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Cooking Fast Food for Medical Staff
Robots in Wuhan have been whipping out 36 meals every 15 minutes for medical workers battling the coronavirus outbreak there. Qianxi Robotic Catering, a subsidiary of Country Garden, donated the culinary robots to provide meals for overworked healthcare staff. The robots can hygienically feed at least 120 people per hour, 24 hours a day.
Developing a Vaccine
Numerous drug companies around the world are scrambling to develop vaccines or treatments for the coronavirus, and robots could be useful to accelerate the development process. Lab robots are sometimes used to perform tedious tests, evaluate results, restock supplies, and carry out other repetitive tasks to relieve staff to focus on higher level research duties.
Stimulating Future Robot Sales
Across China, hundreds of millions of workers are returning to factories to produce cars, electronics, and other products. One clear long-term impact of the coronavirus outbreak will likely be the increased use of robots and automation for manufacturing, logistics, and other industries to avoid shutdowns in the future. Omdia | Tractica expects this experience to further stimulate the growth of the robotics industry for the next 5 years at least.