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Boston Dynamics’ robot dog is chipping in to help COVID-19 patients

Spot is allowing healthcare workers to remotely triage potential cases.
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Boston Dynamics' Spot Robot triages COVID-19 patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Boston Dynamics

We’ve seen Boston Dynamics’ four-legged Spot robot navigate an office, hold the door for a friend, pull a rickshaw and haul a box truck, but its most impressive feat yet might be protecting healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, Boston Dynamics announced that its Spot robots are allowing healthcare providers to remotely triage patients at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The company is sharing the hardware and software behind this robotic telehealth approach, and it hopes other mobile robotics platforms will take advantage of the tech.

Boston Dynamics’ platform uses an iPad and a two-way radio mounted to a Spot robot. Healthcare workers can guide the robots through triage tents where patients suspected to have COVID-19 are asked to line up for an initial assessment. Doctors and nurses can speak with the patients from a safe distance, possibly even their own homes. The company’s justification for this trial is that for every intake shift completed by a robot, at least one healthcare worker can reduce their exposure to the virus and conserve the limited supply of personal protective equipment.

Boston Dynamics says it still needs to figure out how to remotely collect vital sign information, like body temperature, respiratory rate, pulse rate and oxygen saturation. It’s considering the use of thermal camera technology, and it is testing ways to measure changes in blood vessel contraction via RGB cameras. In the near future, Boston Dynamics hopes that by attaching a UV-C light or other tech to the robot’s back, Spot could be used to kill virus particles and disinfect surfaces in spaces like hospital tents and metro stations.

While Boston Dynamics is using its legged Spot robot at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, it says the system could be used with wheeled or tracked robots too. It hopes other mobile robotics platforms will leverage the same hardware and software stack to help frontline employees. It’s already in talks with the Canadian firm Clearpath Robotics to help spread the technology.

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