Roboticists Agree Greater Investment in Robotics Research is Needed for Robots to be Viable in Aiding Future Pandemics

Apr 6, 2020

by ASME.org

The robotics industry believes that in the future, robots could be used to preform many of the necessary, but dangerous jobs associated with a pandemic like the one we find ourselves in. However, to become a viable front-line defense, more upfront research is needed. In a recent editorial titled “Combating COVID-19—The role of robotics in managing public health and infectious diseases” leading roboticist co-authors write, “robots have the potential to be deployed for disinfection, delivering medications and food, measuring vital signs, and assisting border controls … But without sustained research efforts robots will, once again, not be ready for the next incident.”
 
There are traces of robots being used to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as with artificial intelligence in telemedicine, delivery robots, sterilization, and drones all being used in various capacities, but their use is very much in response to the pandemic, not a planned defense against the spread of a contagious virus. The U.S. found itself in a similar situation in 2015, when the outbreak of Ebola highlighted where and how robots could be useful in fighting the infection from spreading. After the outbreak, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) began exploring the possible use of robotics in fighting future infectious diseases, but most of what came out of the discussions has been placed on a back burner and not been put into action.
 
Roboticists researchers are now assessing how robots can help in the fight against COVID-19 are doing what they can to tap into current technologies to curb the outbreak, but they are going further than today, looking beyond this current pandemic to assess what research and collaboration is needed now to be more prepared to respond next time. The scientists conclude their editorial stating that, “By fostering a fusion of engineering and infectious disease professionals with dedicated funding we can be ready when (not if) the next pandemic arrives.”

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