Robot manufacturer Boston Dynamics revealed on Thursday that its quadruped Spot robot is now in operation at one hospital in Boston to assist with care for coronavirus. The organization also has bold plans to extend its robotics to support healthcare staff through the pandemic, and it is also committed to exporting the equipment and software it uses so that other hospitals and device makers will follow its lead.
The hospital, Harvard University’s Brigham And Women’s Hospital, has been using a spot device for remote triage of patients accused of receiving COVID-19 since last week.
Right now, Spot is being implemented as a telemedicine platform by Boston Dynamics, previously owned by Google and now owned by Japanese technology giant SoftBank. In video conferencing between physicians and other healthcare professionals and their patients, it uses a custom mount and enclosure for an iPad or similar-sized screen.
“Today’s the second week of Spot’s operation at a nearby Boston hospital, Brigham and Women’s, where the machine is positioned as a mobile telemedicine network, enabling health care professionals to triage patients remotely,” the company said in a statement.
Telemedicine is about reducing interaction between healthcare staff and others who can spread COVID-19 in the form of the coronavirus. The basic principle is simple: by the healthcare workers’ exposure by the use of drones and other forms of remote contact, you can keep those who are better prepared to battle the pandemic healthy and ensuring that they can continue doing the valuable job. The Spot robot in this particular case holds an iPad, as well as a two-way radio, and transmits a doctor’s live stream in real-time.
This method involves up to five medical professionals, placing certain people at high risk of catching the virus, “describes Boston Dynamics.”With the use of a mobile robot, hospitals can decrease the amount of medical personnel needed at the scene and maintain their small supplies of PPE.”
But using the iPad and two-way radio means that doctors “can talk to patients from afar, possibly even to their own homes.” Boston Dynamics says that for every shift a Spot robot takes, at least one healthcare worker can reduce their potential interaction with a COVID-positive patient.
Boston Dynamics is publishing all the data that make up its current Spot configuration feature to better assist other healthcare workers and those organizations in a position to provide robotic or telemedicine assistance. In certain situations, we can see wheeled or tracked robots being a safer option for these applications.
The organization is exploring how its Spot robots will become devices for disinfecting areas such as mass transport hubs and hospital facilities or ultraviolet-light coronavirus triage tents. Although this was achieved before — and as recently as last month to tackle the coronavirus in some Chinese hospitals using Danish company UVD Robotics machines — it will be groundbreaking to do so at the scale required to counter COVID-19 in public spaces.