Thursday 12 March 2020

How robots, drones and AI can help combat outbreak

AI and Robots are making a huge difference in the current Corona Virus crisis

Let’s face it corona is not the first epidemic the modern times have seen, and it’s not going to be the last.  Fueled by the need to support the elderly population Singapore has already deployed technology in aiding healthcare professionals in hospitals. These ‘smart hospitals’ incorporate machine learning algorithms in managing patient visits to robots helping patients in various ways.

For example, they can help with direction, delivery of medicine and are tested to perform complex tasks such as changing linens or lifting heavy equipment. The robots are also linked to the fire alarm system to ensure the safety of the patients and can navigate through obstacles on their path. In Hubei province, the epicenter of the epidemic, a Chinese tech company Cheetah Mobile Inc is offering automated services, in the hope of reducing the burden on front-line medical workers.

Reducing the cross-infection in outbreaks.

Remote consultation is already in use which can reduce the spread. However, in growing panic over outbreak patients rush to hospitals making it difficult for medical workers. The sheer number of patients coming in through the ER would make it difficult to provide medical care to everyone in time. It can often result in medical workers working longer periods and exhaustion. During the outbreak, the actions that need to be taken for medical care, such as taking temperate and asking a set of questions for diagnosis can be a repetitive and draining experience for the medical workers.  More importantly, working with a large group of infected patients also increases the chance of cross-infection among medical workers.  If the medical workers turn to patients, it will only increase the burden on other medical workers to fill that space.

With the current advancement in robotics, we can overcome this situation by placing robots in the ER rooms. The robots can ask the questions for diagnosis, take temperature,  prioritize the cases based on machine learning algorithms, and can isolate high-risk patients immediately. Robots can then be used to dispense medicines to these patients.  Robots can be used to sterilize the room with human intervention. More so robots can be sterilized easily before meeting the next patient.  Thus, minimizing the interaction of medical workers and improving the efficiency of medical care during an outbreak. Robots don’t get tired, and they can work perform the same task consistently.

Beyond hospitals

During outbreak cities get locked down making it difficult to send supplies and medicines to the affected areas. Self-driving vehicles are being used in Wuhan to deliver medicines. Chinese e-commerce company has been using autonomous vehicles to move packages to hospitals.
Drones aka the flying robots are also being used effectively in the affected areas. Preprogrammed drones are used to sprinkle disinfectants, take thermal imaging for diagnosis in addition to patrolling the public spaces.

AI in alerting and monitoring

If you are wondering whether AI is used to monitor the outbreak situation, you are right. Metabiota and BlueDot were used to track the initial outbreak of the novel coronavirus. BlueDot's solutions track, contextualize, and anticipate infectious disease risks. BlueDot alerted the Corona virus threat even before WHO and CDC issued public warnings for the disease. It did that by monitoring online content and processing huge amounts of data using NLP.

While all these high technologies can aid us during the outbreak,  we also need to be vigilant and responsible during the outbreak. Please follow  CDC’s instructions for keeping yourself and your family members healthy, such as washing your hands and avoiding travels.

Srivatsan Aravamudan - Sri

Senior Solution Consultant

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