How are robots helping in healthcare?

Jon Lawson

The robotics market has been marching on with the current pandemic accelerating interest in using the technology in the healthcare arena. 

According to a recent report from MarketsandMarkets with the snappy title ‘Clean Room Robot Market with Covid-19 Impact Analysis by Type (Articulated, SCARA, Collaborative Robots), End User (Aerospace, Electrical & Electronics, Food & Beverage), Component (Robotic Arm, End Effector), and Region - Global Forecast to 2025’ the size is expected to grow from US$4.8 billion in 2020 to US$8.5 billion by 2025. 

Key drivers for this are a desire to remove humans from places were they may cause contamination. According to the report a person can shed 600,000 particles of skin per hour which could contain any number of micro-organisms. Also there is a desire to prevent people from having to inhale strong cleaning materials such as isopropyl alcohol. 

Little wonder then that companies are seeking to gain a place in this lucrative market. For example Avidbots has just launched Neo 2, an autonomous robot floor scrubber platform. The company has observed a doubling of orders since the pandemic hit the US.  

It is powered by the Avidbots AI Platform and features 14 sensors, giving 360 degrees of visibility to aid obstacle avoidance. It’s designed to operate with minimal human intervention, moving at speeds up to 1.35m/4.43 ft per second, doing the floors freeing cleaning staff to focus on other areas. Soon the company is planning to extend its abilities with the capacity to disinfect high-touch 3D surfaces.

Taking the temperature 

It’s not just cleaning. MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have joined forces to evaluate the efficacy of using a robot to test a patient’s vitals. “In robotics, one of our goals is to use automation and robotic technology to remove people from dangerous jobs,” says Henwei Huang, an MIT postdoc worker. “We thought it should be possible for us to use a robot to remove the health care worker from the risk of directly exposing themselves to the patient.” The robots are controlled by a handheld device, and also carry a tablet that allows doctors to ask patients about their symptoms without being in the same room.

Using the Boston Dynamics dog-like robot as a platform, with four cameras, it has successfully checked skin temperature, breathing rate, pulse rate and blood oxygen saturation in healthy patients from a distance of 2 meters. The next stage of the research is to test it on patients with Covid-19 symptoms.

• Want to know more about how learning from animals can make better robots? Click here.