Robots to the rescue: As the number of COVID-19 cases rise, it’s become important for health workers

May 3, 2020 1:05 AM

While human touch remains an important part of the process, artificial intelligence is stepping in, too, especially where people can't.

A robot that can sanitise floors by Milagrow; and AIIMS has deployed Humanoid ELF, which enables doctors to interact with patients remotelyA robot that can sanitise floors by Milagrow; and AIIMS has deployed Humanoid ELF, which enables doctors to interact with patients remotely

By Shriya Roy

The Covid-19 pandemic may have brought the world to a standstill, but scientists and innovators are leaving no stone unturned to aid those who are at the forefront of this fight. Countries around the world are looking at all sorts of technologies to aid the long battle against the deadly coronavirus. While human touch remains an important part of the process, artificial intelligence is stepping in, too, especially where people can’t.

To control the infection among doctors and health workers, and minimise direct contact with positive patients, AIIMS in Delhi has decided to try out a 92-cm-tall robot called Humanoid ELF in its Covid-19 wards. The robot can move on its own and can travel at a speed of 2.9 kmph. Developed by homegrown robotics company Milagrow, Humanoid ELF uses light detection, ranging and simultaneous localisation and mapping technologies to detect objects in its path, so it can avoid collision and move freely.

The robot can record all activities using its in-built 3D and HD cameras, and also enables doctors and nurses to interact with patients remotely, even aiding communication between patients and their family members via a 10-inch screen. Humanoid ELF has at least 60 sensors and runs on battery that can last up to eight hours, with an auto-charge feature. “Milagrow is very happy to support AIIMS in its fight against the pandemic and will work closely to develop more products based on the feedback. As the outbreak continues to rise alarmingly, the robots will help check the virus spread and protect doctors, nurses and caregivers from getting infected,” Rajeev Karwal, founder and chairman, Milagrow, said.

Additionally, AIIMS Delhi will also deploy Milagrow iMap 9, a floor-cleaning robot that can move independently and sanitise floors without human intervention. The robot uses sodium hypochlorite solution to kill any Covid-19 spores on floor surfaces. Milagrow’s patented Real Time Terrain Recognition Technology (RT2RT) scans all 360-degree angles and does it six times per second to make a floor map in real time. This enables the iMap 9 to perform successfully in the first attempt as opposed to other robots which take twice or thrice the amount of time.

Operational since 2007, Milagrow has been a frontrunner in the robotics space in India. It has in the past successfully launched a series of intelligent robots. Through this partnership with AIIMS, it is now looking forward to contributing to India’s endeavours in stopping the pandemic from spreading further.

AIIMS is not the only hospital, however, where robotics are being used. A Jaipur hospital is reportedly in talks with many robotics companies for a robot that can deliver medicines and food to patients in isolation wards. The district Covid-19 centre in Ancharakkandi in Kerala’s Kannur has also deployed robots to assist health workers in caring for patients. Named Nightingale-19, the robot has been designed by students of Vimal Jyoti Engineering College in Chemberi, Kannur, and can carry food and water weighing up to 25 kg at a time. It can be controlled from a distance of 1 km.

There are other companies as well working in the field. Kochi-based Asimov Robotics has also built an autonomous robot, which is going to be deployed in hospitals to assist Covid-19 patients.

Futuristic technology, combined with artificial intelligence, is helping scientists and health workers identify the symptoms of coronavirus, find new treatments and track its spread across the world. Hospitals in the US used AI-based robots that allowed doctors to communicate with patients via a screen—some were also equipped with a stethoscope to take a patient’s vitals. In China, the original epicentre of the deadly virus, hospitals are using robots from the Danish company UVD Robots that can disinfect patient rooms. The robots are remotely controlled by a device operated by a health worker.

Robot-maker Boston Dynamics, too, announced that its Spot robot is in use at a Boston hospital to help with coronavirus treatment. Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Harvard University has also been using a Spot unit for patients suspected of having Covid-19. Boston Dynamics, owned by Japanese communications giant SoftBank, is deploying Spot as a telemedicine machine.

Shenzhen-based company Multicopter is using robots to transport medical samples as well. A small robot called Little Peanut delivered food to passengers who were on a flight from Singapore to Hangzhou in China, and were placed in quarantine in a hotel.

UBTECH Robotics’ ATRIS, AIMBOT and Cruzr robots were deployed at a Shenzhen hospital that specialised in treating Covid-19 patients. The company says the robots, which were originally used for retail and hospitality purposes, were modified to perform tasks that can aid hospital workers. The tasks include providing videoconferencing services between patients and doctors, monitoring the body temperatures of both visitors and patients, and disinfecting.

Many such AI-powered robots are functional or under development in various parts of the world to make life a little bit easier for those in the health sector.

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