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Robots go in where humans should not as Covid-19 rages

Stepping in where humans should not, robots are being used for jobs such as sanitizing hospitals and delivering food and medicines in many parts of the world and perhaps soon in India where experiments are underway to increase their role in combating COVID-19.

As health workers, researchers and governments struggle to contain the spread of the pandemic that has infected more than a million and claimed over 80,000 lives globally, robots are also being deployed for administering treatment and providing support to quarantined patients.

At a time when physical distancing has been advised for much of the whole world to prevent community spread of COVID-19, supplying essentials to homes and delivering treatment in high-risk areas such as hospitals has remained a challenge, and humans in many cases are now delegating to machines.

Recently, a field hospital staffed with 14 robots opened in the Hongshan Sports Center in Wuhan, China, where the pandemic began. The robots, supplied by Beijing-based robotics company CloudMinds, can clean and disinfect, deliver medicine to patients and measure their temperature.

In India, the Sawai Man Singh Government Hospital in Jaipur is conducting a series of trials on a humanoid robot to check if it can be pressed into service for delivering medicines, and food to the COVID-19 patients admitted there. 

Besides, Kerala-based startup Asimov Robotics has developed a three-wheeled robot that it says can be used to assist patients in isolation wards. This will include helping with things like food and medication, something that nurses and doctors have been doing so far, putting them at larger risk of contracting the virus.

According to an editorial published in the journal Science Robotics on March 25, robots can take temperature of people in public areas or at ports of entry, and can collect nasal and throat samples for testing, according to the researchers, including those from Carnegie Mellon University. In each case, the use of robots can reduce human exposure to pathogens, which will become increasingly important as epidemics escalate, they explained. For example, engineering students at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University have repurposed medical “ninja robots” designed for stroke patients to make them useful with patients who have COVID-19.

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