Robotics in the time of COVID-19 is performing hand in hand, preventing the spread of the contagious virus.
The advent of robotics technology has influenced and continues influencing every aspect of work and life. In the time of crisis induced by COVID-19, the technology is already delivering improved capability, making it an effective resource in combating the pandemic. Prior to the crisis, robots primarily designed to augment human tasks. Ironically, that capability can be seen today as they help boast humans’ ability in the response to the contagious virus. This also gives a wakeup call to the robotics community that are increasingly developing robots to check human body temperature, and disinfect public places such as airports, hotels, and obviously, hospitals.
Even they are used for delivering foods, medicine and essential things. Robots can also be useful in assisting people to manage such a crisis effectively as they can lower human-to-human contact and provide a front-line tool. During the Ebola outbreak in 2015, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation organized workshops. They identified three broad areas where robotics can make a difference – clinical care such as telemedicine and decontamination; logistics include delivery and handling of contaminated waste; and reconnaissance e.g., monitoring compliance with voluntary quarantines.
These applications are still being explored in the COVID-19 pandemic, with introducing a new area, continuity of work and maintenance of socioeconomic functions. The pandemic has certainly disrupted worldwide economic activities, as well as open the areas of new technological development. In the field of clinical care, for instance, from research, disease prevention and diagnosis to screening, patient care and disease management are among areas of opportunities.
For example, Open Source Medical Supplies (OSMS) is a company that performs research and disseminates open-source plans for medical supplies. The company provides a curated open-source design library and guidance to support local groups in effectively organizing fabrication and distribution efforts to meet the local demand of COVID-19 supplies. Formed in March 2020, OSMS has brought together a global network of more than 70,000 makers, fabricators, community organizers, and medical professionals working together to meet the unprecedented challenges of medical supply causing by the outbreak of COVID-19.
Robotics can be an effective tool in diagnosis and screening. It has the ability to perform temperature measurement in public areas and ports of entry, limiting the spread of the virus. While screening systems usually use automated camera systems to screen multiple people simultaneously in large areas, embedding these thermal sensors and vision algorithms onto autonomously operated mobile robots can boost the efficiency and coverage of screening.
From macro- to micro-scale robots, these new generations of robotic systems could help navigate high-risk areas by continually screening and sterilizing high-touch surfaces. These robots can free up medical staff in healthcare centers to stay away from patients with infectious diseases by connecting them from far away with their patients, verbally and visually.
Moreover, the outbreak of COVID-19 has given the pace to the development of robotic systems that can be rapidly deployed with remote access without the need of traveling to areas that are under high-risk of the contagious virus.