After the outbreak of Covid-19 virus, all countries got involved in rapidly developing solutions to identify, treat and prevent the spread of the virus.
In the article published on Science Robotics Vol 5 Issue 40 “Combating COVID19-The role of robotics in managing public health and infectious diseases” signed by a group of international experts, it was asked whether robots could be an effective resource in the fight against COVID-19.
The answer is positive, since the role of robotics could increasingly be an important element in the containment of the epidemic.
In fact, robots can potentially be used for disinfection, prevention, screening, diagnosis and management of infectious diseases, and for the treatment of patients, reducing the exposure of humans to the pathogen.
In the first case, robots would be effectively useful for hospitals disinfection and for diseases prevention. Ultraviolet (UV) rays are an economical, rapid and effective way of disinfection; in fact, it would seem that UV rays are effective in reducing the transfer of the virus from contaminated surfaces (such as especially metal, plastic and glass) and they would decrease the risk of exposure to the virus for cleaning staff.
New generations of robots could also be developed to navigate high-risk areas and to sterilize the most critical surfaces.
For diagnosis and screening, robots are useful for temperature measurement in public areas and to screen multiple people simultaneously and remotely.
These robots could also be used to repeatedly monitor temperatures of in/outpatients in various areas of the hospitals, with data linked to hospital information systems
By networking existing security systems with facial recognition software, you can also retrace the contacts of infected individuals to warn others that they may be at risk of infection. It is important, however, to introduce appropriate rules to respect privacy.
Robotics and automation could also contribute to the collection, management and transfer of nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swabs. The use of a robot can in fact speed up the process, reduce the risk of infection and free up personnel for other activities.
In the treatment of asymptomatic individuals, it could be important to take a blood test to check for antibodies. This is why researchers are studying robotic systems based on ultrasound identification of the peripheral veins of the forearm for automated venipuncture.
Autonomous drones or land vehicles can be used for trasfering samples and for the delivery of medicines to infected patients when movement is not recommended.
Even on a social level, robots could potentially be used for patients who suffered a negative impact on mental health during quarantine and isolation. To address this problem, social robots could be used to provide continuous social interactions without spreading the disease. This is a stimulating area of development because social interactions require the construction and maintenance of complex patterns of people, including their knowledge, beliefs, emotions, as well as the context and environment of the interaction.
The impact of COVID-19 could drive further research in robotics to address the risks of infectious diseases, bringing more financing for research and development. With more resources and constant research efforts, robotics could certainly be a great support for humans in managing the spread of the virus.
For further information on the topic: Combating COVID-19—The role of robotics in managing public health and infectious diseases