MIT researchers show how 'Dr. Spot' could help diagnose COVID-19

The Boston Dynamics robot has yet another use.
Ann Smajstrla
A. Smajstrla|08.19.20

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BOSTON, MA - APRIL 23: Research Scientist Hen-Wei Huang, left, talks about Spot the Robot, during a demonstration at Brigham And Women's Hospital in Boston on April 22, 2020. The demonstration featured a new mobile telemedicine platform, Spot the Robot, designed in collaboration with Brigham researchers. Spot, a Boston Dynamics robot, reduces health care worker exposure to potential Covid-19 patients and helps conserve the use of PPE. The demonstration included the robots iPad feature which visually links a patient looking at the robot with a clinician who may be steps away for easy and safe communication. Spot the Robot is currently in clinical use in the Brighams Emergency Department. (Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Boston Globe via Getty Images

Boston Dynamics’ Spot robots have been used in many creative ways, from surveying a Ford plant in Michigan to herding sheep in New Zealand. Earlier this year, the tech company announced Spot was chipping in to help coronavirus patients -- now, we’re seeing the fruits of that work. Boston Dynamics and MIT researchers say they’ve collaborated to create “Dr. Spot,” a robot that can measure a patient’s vital signs without doctor-to-patient contact.

Spot robots are four-legged and designed to nimbly navigate areas wheeled robots cannot, either autonomously or via remote control. To make Dr. Spot, MIT researchers wrote in a study that they outfitted Spot with “contactless monitoring systems,” which included radio signals and radar-based sensors to measure vital signs like respiratory rate and heart rate. Infrared cameras were used to measure fever. Dr. Spot also has a computer tablet that allows doctors to remotely speak with patients. Researchers tested Dr. Spot with volunteers at the Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Ultimately, researchers wrote that Dr. Spot can not only help to conserve PPE, but can also help curb transmission of coronavirus by keeping hospital staff and patients separate. Now that Dr. Spot has proven itself useful among volunteers, we’ll see if it’s deployed to real patients.

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