Lending a (robotic) helping hand during the COVID-19 crisis

Until there is a vaccine available, robots currently feature one critical characteristic that humans do not: immunity to the coronavirus. Therefore, robots are well-suited to go places where humans cannot and interact in ways that limit exposure to the virus. From disinfecting hospital rooms and bathrooms to early detection of COVID-19 symptoms and preventing loneliness during isolation, robots are offering a critical helping hand during the COVID-19 crisis.

On the frontlines

Robots are best suited for jobs that are too dirty, dull or dangerous for humans. The coronavirus is the perfect example of a job too dangerous. Enter Violet, one of the many robots deployed to be on the hospital frontlines, but unique in that it is equipped with a UV-C light that is a powerful disinfectant in hospital settings and known to be a coronavirus-killer. Its creator, Akara Robotics, is now focused on making Violet compact enough to fit in hard-to-clean areas, such as bathrooms and waiting areas. UV cleaning robots are in high demand. Other robotics firms, such as Xenex, say their sales of UV cleaning robots are up 600% compared to 2019.

Early symptom detection

Vayyar Imaging, an Israeli-based provider of 4D imaging sensor technology, is developing an intelligent care robot that can detect early symptoms of COVID-19 in under 10 seconds. As the economy reopens, the robot will be critical to restoring confidence in venturing out, as it can be equipped in any public space, such as supermarket entrances and airports.

 A cure for loneliness

In the midst of the pandemic, children and the elderly have been isolated at hospitals with limited visitation and interaction. Starting this month, a robot companion named Robin will make the rounds to ease hospitalized children’s distress, isolation and fear. It is the first robot of its kind that uses peer-to-peer interaction to help children overcome stress and anxiety. The technology analyzes facial expressions and the context of conversations, meaning it can react naturally to situations and interactions with children. In a study done by Expper Technologies, the creator of Robin, children reported a 26% increase in joy and 34% reduction in stress due to Robin’s companionship.

Isolation from the pandemic has also had a major impact on the elderly community, which has seen a spike in mental health issues and depression. This is where Stevie, also from Akara Robotics, comes in. The robot’s primary role is to alleviate loneliness and is programmed to tell stories, lead sing-alongs and build morale in group care settings.

Pediatric devices in development

Although COVID-19 has largely spared the pediatric population, it remains a serious threat, particularly as daycares, camps and schools begin to reopen. To address pediatric-specific concerns in monitoring the virus, the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation has launched a special competition focused on COVID-19-related innovation in the pediatric space. Companies such as Adipomics, MediChain and OxiWear will compete for FDA-funded grants to support medical device innovations to diagnose, monitor and treat the virus.