Co-contributor: Ms. P Soni Reddy, CSIR Senior Research Fellow, University of Kalyani, India
The global outbreak of new pandemics like Covid-19 poses a serious threat to the safety and sustainability of humanity on the earth. The fight to save mankind gets extremely difficult when the disease is highly contagious and spreads like wildfire through person-to-person interactions. Social distancing and sanitization have emerged as two important aspects of combating such disease. However, implementing these preventive measures in densely populated countries like- India and China is a herculean task. To make this task easier robots have emerged as the new humanitarian hero in the present Covid-19 crisis.
Robots and Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle (UAV), commonly known as Drones, offer some key advantages in pandemics like Covid-19:
- Enable quick and easy reach to any difficult to reach location.
- Provide a swift means of transportation for the delivery of emergency items.
- Perform all operations with minimum person-to-person interactions, thereby effective in restricting the transmission of the viral disease.
- Provide good area coverage in a short period.
Several innovative ways of engaging robots in the fight against the present pandemic situation can be seen throughout the world.
Robots for crowd surveillance
One of the most difficult tasks in combating the pandemic is to encourage people to follow the norms of social distancing strictly. It is really difficult to monitor crowds in densely populated remote areas. In this regard, Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle (UAV), commonly known as Drones, with its ability to quickly reach remote areas compared to other modes of transport makes the job of patrolling quite easy. The option to monitor and control the crowd remotely makes it even more appealing in the current pandemic situation.
Robots for broadcasting safety message
The law enforcement agencies are finding drones equipped with facial recognition and loudspeakers an incredible tool for scanning public places, monitor the crowd, and broadcast safety messages. These drones can easily help police officials in locating areas where people are not following the rules of social distancing properly. The facial recognition feature allows in easy identification of people venturing outside without wearing masks. The integrated loudspeaker allows in broadcasting important safety messages or announcements. Safety guidelines like stay at home, follow social distancing, use a face mask, pay attention to the sanitization directions, etc can be effectively conveyed in a short period over a large area compared to traditional broadcasting techniques.
Robots for monitoring health
One of the key symptoms of Covid19 infection is high fever. Therefore, people with elevated temperatures have a high probability of being infected by the Covid19 virus. The most simple and effective method of screening Covid affected individuals is by measuring body temperature.
“Pandemic Drones” are being deployed in many parts of the world that can identify individuals with flu-like symptoms. Drones equipped with infrared cameras are found to be effective for accurate measurement of body temperatures through thermal imaging. Integration of specialized sensors, computer vision (CV), and facial recognition system along with image processing algorithms in drones allows measurement of temperature, respiratory and heart rates of individuals. In addition to this, these drones can also effectively monitor people displaying flu-like symptoms in public places and critical areas like- hospitals, nursing homes, airports, offices, etc. The “Pandemic Drones” have shown high accuracy in the measurement of heart and respiratory rates within a range of 10 meters.
Robots for telemedicine
Hospitals and critical care units across the globe are struggling to cater to the exponential surge of patients. Limited healthcare staff and critical care facilities have pushed researchers to come up with innovative solutions for the effective handling of incoming patients. Robots powered with artificial intelligence (AI) tools have shown prospects in classifying the patients into critical, mild, and new infection cases by analyzing their CT scans. This analysis would help in identifying patients requiring immediate critical care facilities. These robots can also be used to keep track of the patient’s health condition.
Similarly, robots equipped with testing kits can collect patient’s test samples and deliver them safely to the lab without the fear of any further contamination during the process. Robots powered with 5G are also being used to allow health care staff and doctors to interact remotely with the patients and gather their health statistics. This remote presence, also known as “telepresence”, of doctors before the patient provides the much-needed protection to the health care staff, the front-liners in this fight against the deadly virus.
Robots for delivery of emergency items
The contagious nature of the coronavirus has forced everyone to minimize person-to-person interactions. Lockdown across the world has led to a shortage of staff for delivering emergency supplies like- medical supplies, patient test samples, and essential food items. “Contactless delivery” is the main challenge here. During such testing times remote-controlled robots are a blessing.
Drones and autonomous vehicles are being operated to deliver critical medical supplies like– medicines, testing kits, protection gears, etc to the hospitals. Similarly, drones are also being used to collect Covid patient test samples and deliver them to the testing unit. Robots are actively used to deliver essential items to the quarantine centers including food to the patients. They are also used for collecting trash from hospitals and quarantine centers treating infected patients for safe disposal.
Robots for sanitization
Ground and aerial UAVs have been actively used across the world for sanitization of public areas, especially the Covid affected areas, healthcare centers and quarantine units to curb the spread of the infectious disease. Remotely controlled, ground operated, robotic tanks, sprayers with caterpillar tracks are being used in disinfecting streets and public spaces like- rail and bus transport stations, parking lots, housing complex, construction grounds, etc. These robots have been reported to operate at a speed of 7 km per hour covering an area of approximately 40,000 square meters in disinfectant mist.
Drones loaded with liquid disinfectants are also being used on a large scale for sanitization applications. Drones with the capacity of carrying about 15 liters of disinfectant can cover about 20 kilometers per day including round-trips to the control center for replacement of battery and disinfectant. Such coverage under within the period is difficult to match by any human conducted sanitization activity under pandemic circumstances.
Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) method typically used in water purification has been innovatively clubbed with robotics for fighting against Covid19. The highly concentrated short-wavelength UV-C light also known as “germicidal UV” kills all microorganisms (including virus and bacteria). UV lamps equipped self-driving robots are being effectively used in the sanitization of critical health care units and hospitals within a short period (approximately within 10 minutes). These robots can be remotely controlled using an app. UV robots loaded with a disinfectant sprayer can perform different types of sanitization activities based on the requirement.
The path ahead
As the ice at the Arctic and Antarctic melts the fear of many unknown deadly virus outbreaks looms over the world. But does that mean we should lose all hope? In the fight for survival against the present pandemic the world has found its new technological hero- Robots. Covid19, in all its negativity, has opened new areas for path-breaking innovations
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