The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has already warned Americans of a likely COVID-19 outbreak, but fighting the outbreak may require more than just disinfectants, diligent hand-washing, and specialized masks. Enter robots?
“Extreme cases make us rethink how we do things,” says Dr. Robin Murphy, Raytheon professor of computer science & engineering at Texas A&M University. The 2014 Ebola outbreak in Texas, the first in the U.S., led to years of study by Murphy and others on emergency response and the integration of robotics with medicine to help limit pathways for a highly contagious disease to spread. “A hospital lost a whole wing temporarily. Two ambulances were infected,” she recalled.
Still, she says, not enough has changed. Wild ideas from the world of robotics capture attention, but healthcare experts like Murphy are focused on more basic automated solutions, like seeing robots perform routine medical work for contagious patients, without replacing or eliminating healthcare workers, to free up medical staff so they can spend more time on direct care, as well as reduce risk of their exposure.
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