Robots often find themselves in dangerous situations, and their distinct lack of biology makes them perfectly suited for battling infectious disease. Next month, a simulcast workshop will determine if and how they will join the West African fight against Ebola.
Certain robots have already been dispatched at the U.S. hospital in Dallas, Texas, but where those robos were tasked with zapping any and all germs, these machines would have a much more hands-on approach. Computerworld reports that scientists are considering telepresence robots to replace interpreters, autonomous vehicles to help deliver medicine and even decontamination robots that could disinfect and even bury the dead under the most tragic of scenarios.
Of course, developing completely new robots takes time, which is something scientists and medical professionals don't have, so this first wave of robots would be a hacked together option to at least bring some relief to the countries battling the disease. Taskin Padir, an assistant robotics professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, details some of the options:
One idea is to use a wheeled robot with two attached sprayers to decontaminate equipment or areas where the disease has been found...Another of Padir's ideas is to set up a telepresence robot that could be used to move around a field clinic, allowing health care workers to see and interact with patients from the safety of a remote location. It would not replace direct human contact, but it could add another level of interaction with the patients.
Padir, along with many other professionals, will participate in a teleconference on Nov. 7 to decide what needs to be done and how to send help as quickly as possible. Texas A&M professor Robin Murphy, who wrote a book about robots in disaster situations, details a lot of the difficulties in providing robotic care. For one, burying the infected would be much safer using robots but would clash with burial customs and is also perceived as inhumane.
Murphy believes there are actually two important questions to answer: What do we do now and what do we do in the future. Unfortunately, it's too late to develop advanced robotics for the current Ebola outbreak, but hopefully it will help scientists be prepared for the next time Ebola, or any other deadly virus, inevitably returns. [Computerworld via Engadget]