Spot Robot for assisting medical staff fighting Coronavirus

Coronavirus pandemic has compelled mankind to look into various innovative ways to encounter the destructive effects of COVID-19. As the novel virus hit the masses and the world seemed to be coming at a halt, heads were automatically turned to the latest technologies to help humanity in these trying times. The leading technology of Artificial Intelligence is also deployed to assist the medical staff and the government officials alike in every way it could. China is the first country that started using Artificial Intelligence in the form of drone supplies, robotic nurses, and also in drug research and development. One such robot helping in telemedicine and remote inspection is Spot robot.

image via Greg Howarth

Spot robot is developed by Boston Dynamics. The company formerly owned by Google and now by a Japanese company SoftBank. The robot is already engaged in numerous fields including construction, oil mining, public security, and even entertainment. It was in April that the Spot robot stepped in hospital as an assistant to the medical staff fighting coronavirus.

The purpose of deploying robots for telemedicine is simple and straight forward. To reduce the contact between patients, potential patients, and the medical staff. Using a robot as a meditator the doctors are able to remotely communicate to the patients from a safe place.

According to Boston Dynamics, the company was inquired by the hospital if a robot could be used in assisting the doctors and nurses as the number of medical staff being affected by the COVID-19 was increasing. They wanted robots to minimize the medical staff’s exposure to the virus.

The Spot robot was finally deployed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard University. This mechanical medical assistant is helping in telemedicine and telepresence. It is operated in high risks areas and makes communication possible between the patients and the doctors through a screen mounted on it. Due to this setup, daily exposure of at least one individual to the coronavirus is prevented.

Spot robot

For every intake shift completed by a teleoperated robot shift, at least one health care provider is able to reduce their interaction with the disease”, according to the Boston Dynamics. 

The screen on the Spot robot helps doctors to diagnose the patient from a safe distance. They can ask questions and listen to the patient. They can move Spot around to have a better look at the patient. This procedure automatically decreases the number of doctors required on the ground and the required safety kit.

The company statement says “Today marks the second week of Spot’s presence at a local Boston hospital, Brigham and Women’s, where the robot is being deployed as a mobile telemedicine platform, enabling healthcare providers to remotely triage patients. We’re listening to their feedback on how Spot can do more but are encouraged by their reports that using the robot has helped their nursing staff minimize time exposed to potentially contagious patients.

Spot robot

This use of a Spot robot in high-risk situations has encouraged Boston Dynamics to increase the utility of the robot. The company now aims to further equip Spot with features to measure a patient’s body temperature and breathing rate. Once this is achieved then Spot robot can also help in sites outside of the hospitals. It can be used to disinfect areas through UV light. Although robots are already used for these purposes especially in China where they were used to sanitize hospitals etc. Boston Dynamics aims to deploy the Spot robot outside hospitals and in areas otherwise unsafe or unreachable.

According to Boston Dynamics, “We’ve also applied externally-developed logic to externally-mounted RGB cameras to capture change sin blood vessel contraction to measure pulse rate. We are evaluating methods for measuring oxygen saturation… By attaching a UV-C light to the robot’s back, Spot could use the device to kill virus particles and disinfect surfaces in any unstructured space that needs support in decontamination — be it hospital tents or metro stations, We are still in the early stages of developing this solution, but also see a number of existing mobile robotics providers who have implemented this technology specifically for hospitals.

Another encouraging news is that Boston Company is making the software and hardware of the Spot robot open source. You can get the development code on the GitHub page. The company wants the robot makers to benefit from it and says that robots can be converted to triage workers through this open-sourced code.

Spot robot

Our hope is that these tools can enable developers and roboticists to rapidly deploy robots in order to reduce risks to medical staff,” says the company. “With the deployment of our first healthcare-focused robot, we’re open-sourcing all of our work to empower any mobile robotics platform to leverage the same hardware and software stack that we’ve developed to help frontline healthcare workers.

We are all worried right now about the safety of our frontline fighters. The medical staff is no doubt the real heroes saving humanity and risking their own lives in doing so. Seeing Artificial Intelligence helping the medical staff by literally saving them from the virus exposure is indeed great news. Once these robots such as Spot are given more capabilities to help the doctors and nurses through advanced options of interacting with the patients, the situation will improve more for the on-duty medical staff.

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