Before the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown were even issues, robotics was at the forefront of technology development. In some ways, this global virus has struck at a good time as robotics are advanced enough for us to be able to take advantage of these machines and now, we see robots being used across the world to help combat the pandemic.
During the pandemic, deployment of many robots has been within the hospital setting. They are capable of assisting with many different jobs, freeing up staff to work even more effectively. We have seen robots used to disinfect the wards, autonomously, which means there was no need at all for any human staff to be involved. Not only will this save time, but it also means fewer people are going into wards as the requirement for cleaners has dropped. It also means that cleaning can be scheduled immediately, should an area become contaminated without having to scramble for staff to do it. 7500 square metres of space can be disinfected in just a few hours.
Robots have also been utilised for various services such as ordering meals and delivering food to patients, without the need for any human interaction. It does not stop there; robots are also able to transport medicines, blood tests and more to the correct places all around the hospitals. Again, this saves a member of staff rushing blood urgently for testing and minimises even staff interaction. The technology has been utilised in Italy to create a robot nurse known affectionately as Tommy. He can also monitor vital signs being given off from the devices in the room and alert staff when they need to be involved. Again, this removes the need for anyone to enter the room to check vital statistics. The technology also enables the patients to send messages to their doctors.
The use of robots is only limited by the imagination of those who develop them. In Denmark, a robot named Robert has been assisting the physiotherapy department with mobilising any patients. Of course, patients who have been put onto a ventilator require substantial physiotherapy once they are better app as their body will have atrophied slightly. Alongside this there is a range of other patients who do not have COVID-19 but do have other issues requiring physiotherapy, without which their recovery will be slower. Again, this cuts down the amount of human contact the patient and the physiotherapist have and potentially enables the healthcare professional to work with more than one patient at the same time.
In Catalunya, a robot has been constructed to help patients who may be disabled, or elderly get dressed. Once more health professionals are freed up to deal with other more pressing cases. Of course, another prominent support service is the Coronavirus testing, and Spain is placed to have a fleet of robots who will automate the Coronavirus testing process meaning they have a capacity to carry out well over 80,000 tests each day. Over in Belgium, the robots have the capability to process the tests in much more significant quantities than ever before. This has added an extra 1000 test results available each day. Belgium has also hit the headlines for socially connecting care home residents with their families using a fleet of robots called James to care homes in the area. This scheme hopes to remove the loneliness and isolation that many older people are feeling at the moment.
Outside of Hospitals
There are also large numbers of robots working outside of the hospital to help with the virus. In Spain, robots that were previously used for 3D printing furniture have been given a quick programme upgrade and are now printing face masks to ensure demand can be met. Not only this but once produced by the robots, the masks are being donated for free to healthcare workers in Spain. Over 6000 pieces have been made and given away. In Germany, a robot named Pepper is being used to ensure that people using the supermarkets comply with the rules of social distancing. Even outside of hospitals, the use of robotics is blossoming and equally vital in the fight against the pandemic.
In Greece, robots have been helping children with their education following the closure of schools, including lessons in how to build and programme robots at home. Finally, the ability to disinfect large areas is, of course, not just limited to hospitals. So many robots are being used to disinfect spaces, including aerial robots who can distribute fogging solutions where large areas are cleaned by dropping the equivalent of liquid cleaning bombs into a room. This is more resilient than standard cleaning as areas are unlikely to be missed removing the likelihood of human error or oversight of.