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Scientists want to fight the Ebola outbreak using robots

Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
October 19, 2014
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Outbreaks of lethal viruses like Ebola are bad enough by themselves, but they're made worse by having to send in aid workers -- these people can quickly become victims, no matter how careful they are. To eliminate that risk, both the White House and a trio of educational institutions are holding workshops on November 7th where scientists will discuss using robots to tackle the current Ebola crisis. The goal is to minimize physical contact whenever possible while keeping patients and families in touch. At a basic level, they'd like machines to disinfect areas and deliver supplies. Telepresence robots, meanwhile, could both let people visit patients without putting themselves in danger.

As you might imagine, scientists have to walk a fine line between moving quickly and handling outbreaks with sensitivity. Rather than build robots from scratch, the teams want to modify existing machines; they'd also like to keep humans involved wherever possible, and respect local customs for burial and grief. There's no telling how much these sessions will help, but the focus is on rolling out practical health care tools rather than high-minded concepts. If all goes well, the researchers will have robots providing safer care within a matter of weeks or months.

[Image credit: Zoom Dosso/AFP/Getty Images]

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