Robots are teaming up with humans to fight COVID-19. In an exclusive interview with IEEE Spectrum, Diligent Robotics discussed how their nurse-helping robot, Moxi, is running back and forth between supply rooms, delivering medicine and other essential equipment, and helping nurses and doctors navigate an unprecedented health calamity in Texas hospitals.
Redistribution of labor — One of the strongest advantages of deploying Moxi in a hospital setting is the robot's ability to carry out repetitive chores like delivery and restocking without losing energy. Based on visual cues, Moxi can orient itself and navigate supply rooms. And because supply rooms don't undergo constant interior changes (like a mall would), Moxi has a straightforward landscape to work with.
Additionally, through perceptual cues and sensory feedback, Moxi is adept at moving around humans, be in in supply rooms, passageways, or wards.
Helping nurses help others — Grabbing supplies and restocking them may sound rudimentary, but it's essential work, and it requires labor and time — both things that medical personel have in ever shorter supply as hospitals around the world fill with patients affected by the novel coronavirus.
By letting Moxi do the bulk of these administrative chores, nurses can have more time to spend on the crucial business of patient care.
A useful friend against COVID-19 — Another advantage of using a robot during the outbreak of a virus is that it's not only immune, but unlikely to spead it. And though it does necessarily sometimes come into contact with humans, Moxi can self-clean and self-disinfect. While it doesn't have a speech interface — Diligent Robotics says it won't deploy that sort of feature anytime soon because it's chosen to focus its energy on more pragmatic functionality — Moxi's outwardly appearance is amiable, if not downright cute.
Rise of the machines — Faced with the new and hithertoo never seen demands the COVID-19 pandemic is placing on medical infrastructure, anything that can help is welcome. Robots of various sorts have demonstrated their utility and ease, with developers in China, Seattle, Italy, and elsewhere relying on all manner of robotic assistants to variously deliver food, water, medicine, and even clean patients' rooms.
Beyond the world of healthcare, robots like the autonomous, shelf-scanning Tally are helping workers restock empty shelves, place price tags on products, and spot promotions for shoppers. It's certainly not the takeover we've been warned about by popular culture and science fiction. Instead, we're witnessing an increase in human-robot cooperation. Frankly, we'll take all the help we can get right now.