Robot manufacturer Boston Dynamics announced on Thursday that its four-legged spot robot is already being used in a Boston hospital to help treat coronaviruses. The company now has ambitious plans to expand the use of its robots to support healthcare workers during the pandemic. In addition, the hardware and software it uses are procured openly so that other hospitals and robot manufacturers may be able to follow suit.
The hospital, Brigham And Women’s Hospital at Harvard University, has been using a spot unit for remote screening of patients suspected of suspecting COVID-19 since last week. Boston Dynamics, formerly owned by Google and now owned by the Japanese communications giant SoftBank, is currently using Spot as a telemedicine machine. A custom holder and case for an iPad or similar sized screen are used for video conferencing between doctors and other healthcare workers and their patients.
"Today is the second week of Spot's presence at a local hospital in Boston, Brigham and Women, where the robot will be used as a mobile telemedicine platform to enable healthcare providers to examine patients remotely," the company said. "We listen to their feedback on how Spot can do more, but are encouraged by their reports that using the robot has helped caregivers minimize the time that potentially infectious patients are exposed."
Photo: Boston Dynamics
Coronavirus-related telemedicine is about reducing the contact between healthcare workers and people who may transmit COVID-19. The general concept is simple: by reducing the exposure of healthcare workers through the use of robots and other means of remote communication, you can keep those who are best equipped to fight the pandemic safe and ensure that they are important Can continue to work. In this special case, the spot robot carries an iPad and a radio and transmits a doctor's live feed in real time.
“With current protocols in local hospitals, patients suspected of having COVID-19 are asked to stand outside in tents to answer questions and receive initial temperature ratings. This process requires up to five medical workers, which puts them at high risk of contracting the virus, ”explains Boston Dynamics. "By using a mobile robot, hospitals can reduce the number of on-site medical staff and get their limited PSA coverage."
"By using our first healthcare-oriented robot, we are open-sourced for all of our work."
However, with the iPad and the radio, doctors can “speak to patients remotely, possibly even from home”. For each shift that a spot robot needs, Boston Dynamics says that at least one healthcare worker can reduce the potential interaction with a COVID-positive patient.
To help other healthcare workers and these companies better provide robotic or telemedicine support, Boston Dynamics publishes all files that enable the current spot setup feature.
“With the use of our first healthcare-focused robot, we offer open sourcing to enable any mobile robotics platform to use the same hardware and software stack that we have developed to provide healthcare workers to help front line, ”the company says. “None of the services … rely on Boston Dynamics hardware or software. In many cases, we imagine that robots with wheels or chains could be a better solution for these applications. "
Photo: Boston Dynamics
Boston Dynamics says there are no plans to stop telemedicine. Instead, the company is looking for ways to make its spot robots even more important in the fight against COVID-19. The company is now actively involved in the remote inspection of vital data so that spot robots can perform tasks such as temperature checks and respiratory rate calculation using thermal imaging technology. "
We also applied externally developed logic to externally mounted RGB cameras to measure the contraction of blood vessels to measure pulse rate, ”the company says. "We are evaluating methods for measuring oxygen saturation."
Below, the company is examining whether its spot robots can become tools for disinfecting areas such as transportation hubs and hospital areas, or triage tents for coronaviruses with ultraviolet light. While this has been done before – and only last month to combat coronavirus in some Chinese hospitals with machines from the Danish company UVD Robots – this would be unprecedented to the extent necessary to combat COVID-19 in public spaces. According to Boston Dynamics, it is still far from figuring out how best to try this.
"By attaching UV-C light to the back of the robot, Spot could use the device to kill virus particles and disinfect surfaces in any unstructured room that needs decontamination support – be it in hospital tents or subway stations "says the company. “We are still in the early stages of developing this solution, but we also see a number of existing mobile robotics providers that have implemented this technology specifically for hospitals.