How COVID-19 is Speeding Up Our Robotic Needs in Hospitals

Robots can reduce exposure to COVID

Robots in hospitals can be an invaluable tool for medical workers

Since the spread of COVID-19, hospitals across the country are expanding how they use robotics to increase social distancing and reduce the number of staff that has to deal closely with patients. Robots in hospitals are also being used to perform roles workers cannot do at home.

Robots don’t cough, sneeze, or shake hands, so they can’t actively spread coronavirus around a hospital. That means, in addition to ultraviolet cleaning, most of the jobs they’ve been doing help minimize contact between potentially infectious humans.

Since the pandemic hit, robots in hospitals are delivering food and medicine to isolated patients, transporting test samples for diagnosis, and acting as receptionists. Robots in hospitals have also been monitoring patients, sanitizing hospitals, making deliveries, and helping frontline medical workers reduce their exposure to the virus.

Here are some other examples that illustrate breakthroughs in automation and how the impact of robotics in healthcare is just the beginning:

Making Testing Safer

To speed up COVID-19 testing, a team of Danish doctors and engineers is developing a fully automated swab robot. It uses computer vision and machine learning to identify the perfect target spot inside the person’s throat – then a robotic arm with a long swab reaches in to collect the sample. all done with swiftness and consistency that humans can’t match.

Virus Fighter

After six of its doctors became infected with the coronavirus, a hospital in Italy tightened its safety measures. It also called in the robots. The machines use lidar to navigate autonomously and each bot carries an array of powerful short-wavelength ultraviolet-C lights that destroy the genetic material of viruses and other pathogens after a few minutes of exposure. Since originally introduced in early 2020, there is a spike in demand for UV-disinfection robots as hospitals worldwide deploy them to sterilize intensive care units and operating theaters.

Automation for Mundane Medical Tasks

In hospitals, clinics and medical facilities, an ideal role for robots is taking over repetitive chores so that nurses and physicians can spend their time doing more important tasks. At a large hospital in China, a robot drives down the hallways, enforcing face-mask and social-distancing rules and spraying disinfectant. In a hospital near Austin, Texas, a humanoid robot fetches supplies and brings them to patients’ rooms. It repeats this task day and night, tirelessly, allowing the hospital staff to spend more time interacting with patients.

Helping Nurses and Doctors Help Themselves

More and more, nurses and doctors are using robotics as avatars to check on their patients around the clock while minimizing exposure and conserving protective equipment. These robots are equipped with cameras and microphones and can also access patient data like blood oxygen levels and vital signs. Telepresence robots, originally designed for offices, are becoming an invaluable tool for medical workers treating highly infectious diseases like COVID-19, reducing the risk that they’ll contract the virus they’re fighting against.

The Phoenix Children’s Hospital has had two telepresence robots since 2018, but since the pandemic hit and the machines have become more valuable, they’ve ordered two more to supplement their fleet. The robots are now in use every day and the feedback has been enthusiastic.


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