Using Mobile Robots To Protect Healthcare Workers, Published April 23, 2020
Mobile robots play a vital role in removing people from dangerous environments. We have spent the last six weeks building and testing a payload and application architecture that would enable our robot, Spot, to help reduce exposure of frontline healthcare workers to the novel COVID-19 virus.
We developed the payload, hardware, and software for this application so that they are generalizable and able to be deployed on other mobile robotic platforms with APIs and capacity for custom payloads.
Today, we are sharing the results of our initial work deploying the robot with Bringham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts and we are open-sourcing the hardware and software designs used to get these robots into the field. Our hope is that these tools can enable developers and roboticists to rapidly deploy robots in order to reduce risks to medical staff.
Application development on Spot
Starting in early March, Boston Dynamics started receiving inquiries from hospitals asking if our robots could help minimize their staff’s exposure to COVID-19. One of the hospitals that we spoke to shared that, within a week, a sixth of their staff had contracted COVID-19 and that they were looking into using robots to take more of their staff out of range of the novel virus.
Based on these conversations, as well as the global shortage of critical personal protective equipment (PPE), we have spent the past several weeks trying to better understand hospital requirements to develop a mobile robotics solution with our robot, Spot. The result is a legged robot application that can be deployed to support frontline staff responding to the pandemic in ad-hoc environments such as triage tents and parking lots.
Today marks the second week of Spot’s presence at a local Boston facility, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where the medical team uses the robot as a mobile telemedicine platform, allowing healthcare providers to remotely triage patients. We’re listening to their feedback on how Spot can do more but are encouraged by reports that using the robot has helped their nursing staff minimize time exposed to potentially contagious patients.
Open-source healthcare robotics toolkit
With the deployment of our first healthcare-focused robot, we’re open-sourcing all of our work to empower mobile robotics platforms to leverage the same hardware and software stack that we’ve developed to help frontline healthcare workers. Below you’ll find an overview of how we are using (and plan to use) mobile robots to combat the spread of COVID-19.
None of the services below are reliant on Boston Dynamics hardware or software. In many instances, we imagine wheeled or tracked robots may be a better solution for these applications.
Specifically, we have already been in close contact with Canadian field robotics firm Clearpath Robotics, and their CTO Ryan Gariepy has affirmed that they too are actively working to assist robotics developers and researchers around the world in their efforts to support our healthcare workers and maintain our critical infrastructure. He further noted that this crisis serves to underscore that in the end, it is the application that should be front and center, and users should not have to care about the details of robot mobility.
For more information, including detailed documentation and files of CAD mounts and IRB applications, click here. If you’d like to work with us or are interested in using these robots on your site, please fill out the contact form at the bottom of the page. We will continue to update this page and the resources on our GitHub as developments are made.
What we’re doing now: Telemedicine
With current protocols at local hospitals, patients suspected to have COVID-19 are asked to line up in tents outside to answer questions and get initial assessments for temperature. This process requires up to five medical staff, placing those individuals at high risk of contracting the virus. With the use of a mobile robot, hospitals are able to reduce the number of necessary medical staff at the scene and conserve their limited PPE supply.
Through an iPad and a two-way radio mounted on a robot’s back, healthcare providers can video conference with patients as they remotely direct the mobile robot through lines of sick individuals in the tents. With this configuration, doctors are able to speak with patients from afar, possibly even from their own homes. For every intake shift completed by a teleoperated robot shift, at least one healthcare provider is able to reduce their interaction with the disease.
What we hope to do next: Remote Vital Inspection
To further assist healthcare providers in triaging sick patients, the robot will need to support collecting additional vital sign information.
In order to provide this service, we need to figure out how to remotely measure:
- Body temperature
- Respiratory rate
- Pulse rate
- Oxygen saturation
We have been in dialogue with researchers who use thermal camera technology to measure body temperature and calculate respiratory rate. We’ve also applied externally-developed logic to externally-mounted RGB cameras to capture changes in blood vessel contraction to measure pulse rate. We are evaluating methods for measuring oxygen saturation.
What we hope to do next: Disinfection
By attaching a UV-C light or other technology to the robot’s back, Spot could use the device to kill virus particles and disinfect surfaces in any unstructured space that needs support in decontamination - be it hospital tents or metro stations. We are still in the early stages of developing this solution but also see a number of existing mobile robotics providers who have implemented this technology specifically for hospitals.
We hope our fellow mobile robot providers, existing customers, and medical professionals will be able to use this information to leverage mobile robots to take people out of harm’s way during this critical time. Together, we can improve conditions for healthcare workers and essential personnel around the world, save lives, and fight COVID-19.
More details and reference designs will be made available as we complete testing and validation.
Click here to access our COVID-19 GitHub repo and learn more.
If you’d like to work with us or are interested in using these robots on your site in response to COVID-19, please fill out this form, and a member of the team will be in touch. For media inquiries, please email email@example.com.