The incorporation of robotics into medical services is one of many ways medical facilities around the world continue to attenuate risk of the virus spreading; as the use of such tools is integral to mitigating exposure. The shortage of essential personnel, such as healthcare professionals and police, is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to implementing quarantine and other preventive measures.

As has been demonstrated with the coronavirus outbreak, during pandemic conditions, robotic solutions increase overall productivity AND safety. Let’s look at some of the ways in which this is happening.

Robot surrogates can bring diagnostic expertise to underserved communities and remote locations via “tele-presence”. Doctors are able to speak with patients and other medical professionals in distant places, sharing their knowledge. Consulting an automated system for diagnoses without having to commute–and being able to do it in real time for a fraction of the cost–is a boon to healthcare workers concerned about exposure. It also saves a tremendous amount of time.

Robots are even replacing clinicians in hospitals–helping to disinfect rooms and processing / analyzing COVID-19 test samples. This is especially important now, as deploying robots to work in hospitals helps to prevent un-necessary physical contact; and thereby reduce the spread.

After all, hospitals can be extremely infectious places. And since hospitals routinely administer large amounts of antibiotics, they can become breeding grounds for the world’s most antibiotic-resistant bacteria. HAIs (hospital-acquired infections) are therefore a serious problem. The CDC reported that there were 722,000 HAIs in U.S. acute care hospitals in 2011 alone. (Patients who are already immuno-compromised are especially susceptible to bacterial infection.)

HAIs often occur because hospitals can’t always clean rooms with 100% sterility between patients, whether due to time constraints or the simple invisibility of germs. That’s why sanitation is such a pressing concern in medical facilities.

Robots equipped with stethoscopes (and various other devices) can check a patient’s vitals. Such robots are fitted with a camera so that doctors can communicate with patients through a video screen.

Bottom line: HAIs are a widespread problem in healthcare that could be improved with robots. Hence the high demand for “smart” disinfecting robots, which can move autonomously through a facility, using high-powered UV rays to expunge all micro-organisms (thereby eliminating the danger of bacterial infection).

One success story is “Xenex”: an automated and portable germ-zapping robot. The machine is used to disinfect hospital rooms in minutes using pulsed, full-spectrum UV rays, which kill all infectious bacteria. It reduces HAIs such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) by killing the micro-organisms that cause them.

In addition, robots can be used to transport medicine, equipment, and meals around the hospital–tasks that can be a drag on efficiency AND create un-necessary exposure. Nurses are often overworked and short on time. That’s where robotic nurses come in.

Pioneering companies like Hong Kong’s EVA Robots are breaking new ground. EVA Robot created a robot that can efficiently and accurately spray, disinfect, and clean the targeted space. The AVs are equipped with a UV dis-infector, ensuring comprehensive disinfection of 150 square meters every hour per robot.

A company named Aethon designed “TUG”: an autonomous mobile robot to ferry supplies to where they are needed. This freed employees from heavy physical loads–allowing them to focus on patient care. In 2015, UC San Francisco’s Medical Center at Mission Bay rolled out 25 TUG robots to improve their transportation operations. They are programmed with the hospital’s floor plan, and are also equipped with a variety of sensors to ensure they can navigate their surroundings without bumping into people or objects.

Procuring and distributing vital equipment and medicines is especially crucial during the coronavirus pandemic and other extreme situations. Drones make it possible to deliver blood, vaccines, and other medical supplies where they are needed most. Nigerian startup, Arone is a drone-based medical supply-delivery service. Vital supplies can thereby be delivered to remote people faster and safer. Arone’s medical supply drones provide an eco-friendly delivery solution, while offering aerial logistics services for clinics, hospitals, laboratories, and medical distribution centers. (AV navigation software uses computer vision and AI for flight planning, obstacle maneuvering, and reporting when a parcel has been delivered.)

In the advent of the dire pandemic exigencies with which the world is now familiar, these solutions have become more important than ever. Those at the forefront of this exciting new frontier of AI and medicine are making cutting-edge technology a reality…a development that will benefit the entire world.