IN THE COVID-19 RESPONSE, HOW ROBOTS BECAME ESSENTIAL WORKERS

As the coronavirus crisis erupted into a full-fledged pandemic in early 2020, forcing countless businesses to close, robot manufacturers found themselves in an unusual situation: Many people reported an increase in orders. Robots do not require masks, are easily disinfectable, and, of course, do not get sick.

Since then, an army of robots has been deployed all over the world to assist with the crisis, monitoring patients, sanitising hospitals, making deliveries, and assisting frontline medical workers in reducing their exposure to the virus. Many robots, in fact, require direct human supervision and are limited to simple, repetitive tasks. However, robot manufacturers claim that the experience gained during this trial-and-error deployment will make their future machines smarter and more capable. These images show how robots are assisting in the fight against this pandemic—and how they might be able to help with the next one.

At a medical centre in Kigali, Rwanda, a team of robots serves as the first line of defence against person-to-person transmission. Patients entering the facility have their temperatures taken by machines equipped with thermal cameras atop their heads. The robots, developed by UBTech Robotics in China, also use their distinctive appearance—they resemble characters from a Star Wars movie—to attract people’s attention and remind them to wash their hands and wear masks.

A team of Danish doctors and engineers at the University of Southern Denmark and Lifeline Robotics is developing a fully automated swab robot to speed up COVID-19 testing. It uses computer vision and machine learning to identify the ideal target spot inside the person’s throat, after which a robotic arm with a long swab reaches in to collect the sample—all with the speed and consistency that humans cannot match. One of the creators, Esben stergaard, puts his neck on the line in this photo to show that the robot is safe.

It’s not quite a robot takeover, but the streets and sidewalks of dozens of cities around the world have seen an increase in the number of speeding wheeled machines. As online orders continue to skyrocket, delivery robots are now in high demand. Starship Technologies’ six-wheeled robots in Hamburg navigate using cameras, GPS, and radar to deliver groceries to customers. Robots are being used in offices, stores, and medical facilities to enforce a new coronavirus code. Mitra, a robot at Fortis Hospital in Bangalore, India, uses a thermal camera to perform a preliminary screening of patients.

 

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