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Are Robots The Best Ebola Doctors?

The solution to fighting the deadly disease

Are Robots The Best Ebola Doctors?

On Friday the Whitehouse and three leading robotics universities will gather in a conference to discuss the future of robots and their help in health industry. As reported by the BBC, “Robots have been working in disaster zones since 9/11. They can reach remote and dangerous locations and operate in places people can't go, including the rubble of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.”

Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts is suggesting that rather than design new robots, existing robots should be repurposed for Ebola-related tasks in an effort to save time and money.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts is suggesting that rather than design new robots, existing robots should be repurposed for Ebola-related tasks in an effort to save time and money. In fact, they have already begun to adapt a space exploration rover, Aero, to help with decontamination, by using spray tanks on the outside of the body. Aero would be activated by a remote control that was outside the contaminated vicinity. WPI is hopefully that Aero will be ready for service in as little as three months. Texas A&M and University of California, Berkeley are also involved in the project.

A growing danger in West Africa, Ebola is a medical crisis that has recently taken the world by storm. Velin Dimitrov, a robotics engineering PhD candidate, interviewed by BBC said, “We're trying to pull the workers further away from the disease. Ebola doesn't spread through air, so if you can tele-operate a robot from just outside it reduces the risk to the workers”.

Baxter, another robot being repurposed, was originally a manufacturing robot costing $26,000. Hopefully Baxter could help safely remove healthcare workers clothing. WPI assures that the robots wouldn’t be autonomous, but that the human operator would be safe from any danger and the healthcare worker wouldn’t require an additional person to be put at risk.

The criticism of the robots is that they may make the people who already have Ebola feel more distanced with the use of robots, instead of people. To combat this, the universities are suggesting the use of a telepresence, or the idea person’s face on screen, through the monitor, along with speakers and microphones, to give the situation a more human element. This is also a good solution for terminal patients who are missing their loved ones. Lastly, this also provides international support from doctors who are experts in Ebola.

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