Smart Robots Aid Overworked Medical Staff During Pandemic

Hospitals in India are deploying robotic assistants to help overworked doctors and nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Artificial intelligence enables the robots to connect with and help care for isolated patients. 


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Image credit: BCCL

COVID-19 has upended life in a multitude of industries, but healthcare has been one of the most dramatically impacted. The sheer number of patients has increased so much in some areas that hospitals have transformed parking garages to accommodate patients. Healthcare workers have been working extra hours to address the increase in patient care. Patients are typically isolated from family and friends, who are barred from entering the hospital because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Hospitals in India are among the hardest hit, as the country had more than 10 million COVID cases in January. As hospitals in India were congested even before COVID-19, they are even more so now, and some infected patients are being turned away due to overcrowding and insufficient staff. 

Recently however, robots have stepped in at several hospitals to lend a hand. One of those is Mitra, a fully autonomous robot from start-up Invento Robotics, based in Bengaluru, India. Packed with artificial intelligence capabilities, the robots were initially designed for use in financial services, including banks. The company pivoted when COVID-19 emerged, and Mitra robots have been brought into some hospitals in India to aid medical personnel and interact with patients.


Robotic Assistants for Screening

Using computer vision, facial recognition, and natural language processing technologies, Mitra can recognize human faces and address people entering the hospital. It can ask screening questions, take temperatures, answer questions, and direct patients to waiting areas. Mitra can also traverse patient floors to take patient readings or vitals and remind patients to take medicine.

The robot stands about five feet tall and has a touchscreen tablet on its chest that can hold a charge for up to 10 hours. Mitra can move its head, shoulders, elbows, and fingers, enabling it to gesture, point, and hold a thermometer.

The tablet can provide a much-needed link between ill patients and people who are unable to visit in-person due to COVID-19 restrictions. Mitra can provide a secure video connection between patients and family members at home. It also enables remote consultations with specialists, such as dieticians or psychologists, who are unable to access the COVID-19 wards.

The robot is capable of autonomous navigation to within one centimeter of a given destination and can detect and avoid objects in its path. Mitra uses speech recognition and contextual support to engage with patients in multiple languages. It can be integrated with third-party applications and IoT technologies to expand its capabilities. Invento also developed a female version, Mitri, and a version that carries a built-in tray.

Healthcare worker interacts with person on robot's screen

Image credit: Mitra

The facial recognition technology allows the human-like Mitra to recall the names and faces of patients, so they can be connected to the appropriate doctors or family members. "It may sound ironic, but we are using robots to bring humanity to hospitals," says Balaji Viswanathan, CEO of Invento Robotics.

Autonomous Caregivers

Other companies are making robots to aid healthcare workers as well. Asimov Robotics’ human-like Sayabot uses autonomous navigation, machine vision, cameras, and speech synthesis capabilities to handle patient intake screening at hospitals. It can take temperatures, dispense hand sanitizer, and remind people to wear masks and to remain six feet apart.

Robot cleaning outside of facility

Image credit: Asimov

Providing additional services is Asimov’s KARMI-Bot, an autonomous table-like robot that navigates through isolation wards to bring food and medical supplies to patients. It can dispense medicine, initiate telemedicine calls, and disinfect the items used before leaving the ward. The company’s Sevabot transports medical supplies and blood samples between the patient areas and the lab.

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb, the use of robots can bring some relief to overworked medical staff, protecting patients and staff alike.

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