Due to the rise of the global coronavirus pandemic, robots are increasingly being employed as helpers, taking on often dull, difficult and dangerous tasks and thus reducing humans' exposure to COVID-19.
Across the world, robotics companies are teaming with health care providers and government officials to develop technological solutions for dealing with the global health crisis. In China, where the coronavirus was first detected, robots with tank-like tread have rolled down streets spraying disinfectant. In at least one hospital in South Korea, robots are being used to check patients' temperatures and dispense hand sanitizer. In Tunisia, authorities have deployed robots to ensure people are obeying the lockdown.
In the United States, two of the principal ways in which robotic technology is being used to fight the pandemic are to disinfect hospital rooms and to act as a telemedicine portal, allowing doctors and health care workers to communicate via video conference directly with patients without unnecessarily exposing themselves to the highly contagious virus.
One of the U.S. companies which is working to meet the COVID-19 challenge is Texas-based robotics company Xenex Disinfection Services, whose robotic units are designed to disinfect hospital emergency rooms and patients' rooms with germ-zapping ultraviolet light.
Although other robotics companies have developed units that use UV light as a disinfectant (Pittsburgh International Airport recently partnered with Carnegie Robotics to become the first airport in the U.S. to deploy robots with UV technology to clean floors). The companies are saying that their robots are the one and only thing to effectively deactivate the COVID-19 virus.
The company, currently based in San Antonio, began operations about 10 years ago in Houston, where it was working with the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center to develop a robot that could reduce the probability that a patient coming into the hospital would pick up an infection from the hospital environment itself.
Over the past several weeks, Xenex has been working to ramp up its manufacturing capacity in San Antonio to meet the rising demand for its disinfecting robots. The company has been adding staff and recently added a second production line.
While other technology companies, such as VGo and InTouch, have built robots with built-in screens that serve as the doctor's stand-in in health care settings, what sets Spot apart is its four-legged design, which allows the robot to move about easily in different settings, such as the triage tent set up outside the hospital.
Researchers are working to increase the robot's diagnostic abilities, enabling it to check the patient's temperature and measure his or her respiratory rate.