Hospital staff caring for COVID-19 patients face the greatest risk of exposure to the virus. A new dog-like robot designed by researchers at MIT has come to the rescue, promising to minimize face-to-face contact between healthcare staff and infected patients. The use of this agile mobile robotic technology was published in a recent study, showing just how transformative it could be for contactless monitoring of patient vital signs.
“We started to think about how we could protect healthcare providers and minimize contact with folks that might be infectious,” said Giovanni Traverso, senior author of the study. In partnership with Boston Dynamics, the team set about making Spot the robotic dog to work, guiding it to patients using a remote-controlled device.
Spot comes kitted up with a series of cameras: an infrared camera to measure the patient’s temperature, one that detects breathing rate, and others that can track blood flow, pulse rate, and blood oxygen saturation — all without having to make physical contact with the patient.
While Spot’s core technology is not new, the pandemic has presented a unique opportunity to use robots in unprecedented ways within the context of healthcare.
“I think collectively, as a community, what we’re recognizing is that there are many tools out there today from the robotics perspective, the sensor perspective, and really integrating them and really evaluating them in the field and seeing how they perform is part of the next step,” explained Traverso.
“Really, what we did here is translating a lot of the work that other people have done, but integrating it and asking the question, is this something that could work? How well does it work?” Follow-up studies are focused on improving the precision of Spot’s onboard algorithms for processing patient data and identifying the cost and feasibility of integrating robotic technologies into hospital systems.