How Medical Technology is Keeping the Coronavirus at Bay
The Spread of the Coronavirus
With more than 95,000 confirmed cases in over 80 countries and territories worldwide, the coronavirus is spreading quickly. Although the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global emergency, it has yet to be classified officially as a pandemic. In response, the medical tech and robotics industries are already stepping up with some inventive solutions to treat symptoms and combat the virus’s spread. Sweeping quarantine procedures are already in effect, and, when combined with cutting edge medical technology, many lives can be saved.
What is the Coronavirus?
COVID-19 emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has since spread throughout the country and internationally. The virus is believed to originate from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market where unlicensed wildlife was illegally traded. Symptoms include fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Generally, only one in five cases is severe and the average healthy person can expect to make a full recovery. Those at the highest risk are the elderly, young children, and the immunocompromised. Most cases are still concentrated in mainland China where around 3,000 people have died. Travel bans and quarantines have helped to contain things, but medical experts are now utilizing advanced robotics to safely and remotely administer medicine and treatment.
In Washington state, doctors used a robotic telehealth machine to interact with the first documented coronavirus patient in the United States. The man was admitted to the special pathogens unit built during the 2015 Ebola crisis that remained unused until the COVID-19 outbreak. The unit is housed away from other patients and is outfitted with its own air filtration system and features only one entrance guarded by a security checkpoint. All visitors require a full-body protective suit including an air-purifying respirator helmet. Doctors have administered treatment remotely through a mobile robot equipped with a camera, microphone, stethoscope, and an array of sensors. The machine allows natural conversation between the doctor and patient and eliminates the risk of transmission while providing care. “The nursing staff in the room move the robot around so we can see the patient on the screen, talk to him,” says Dr. George Diaz, Providence Regional Medical Center chief of infectious diseases.
At the Guangdong Provincial People’s Hospital in Guangzhou City, autonomous robots have been implemented to safely and remotely deliver drugs and supplies to coronavirus patients. Each robot can be loaded up with medicine and programmed with a destination. They can get around unaided, even opening doors and operating elevators on their own. A single robot is able to carry enough supplies to make three deliveries at a time, drastically cutting down on treatment waiting times while eliminating the risk of transmission to hospital staff members. These robots can even collect trash from quarantine zones for safe disposal, and retrieve bed sheets and linens for proper cleaning.
Robotic Pathogen Hunters
On top of making deliveries to minimize exposure or deliver telehealth services, specialized robots are now being used to sterilize environments where the virus has been present. Xenex, a Texas-based robotics company, is rolling out a new machine that obliterates pathogens by pulsing xenon ultraviolet-C light onto contaminated surfaces. The robots are already at work in a few medical facilities, and the company is currently talking with China to get them exported overseas as quickly as possible. Each machine is able to sterilize a hospital room in as little as five minutes and could play a massive role in minimizing the spread of the virus.
A similar company based out of Los Angeles, Dimer UVC Innovations, has offered up its germ-killing robots to three US airports in order to combat COVID-19’s proliferation. The machine, dubbed GermFalcon, fits into an airplane and rolls down the aisle like a beverage cart while projecting massive doses of ultraviolet light onto highly-trafficked seats and surfaces. The GermFalcon costs a whopping $100,000 per unit and is currently in use on all incoming flights from China at Los Angeles International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and John F. Kennedy International Airport as a part of their emergency response plans.
Safe Supply Deliveries in Quarantine Zones
Doctors and medical professionals aren’t the only ones using robots to interact with coronavirus patients. For two weeks over 300 travelers are quarantined in a hotel in Hangzhou city, Zhejiang province in China. After two passengers on a flight from Singapore began exhibiting feverish symptoms, all 335 people on board were quarantined to individual hotel rooms. To minimize contact with quarantined individuals and reduce the risk of transmission, autonomous robots have been deployed on all 16 floors of the hotel to deliver meals and other items. In a short video shared by the state-run press agency Xinhua on Twitter, the delivery robots cruise down hotel hallways loaded up with food and supplies saying, “What’s up, everybody? Cute Little Peanut is serving meals to you now. Get pleasure from your meal. If you happen to want the rest, please message the employees on WeChat.” Quarantined patients are seen retrieving their meals before swiftly returning to their rooms.
While the coronavirus does pose a serious threat, the average person is likely perfectly safe. COVID-19 spreads easily but has a low fatality rate across the board. With governments, health organizations, and medical experts working together, the spread can be curbed and better treatment solutions will be offered. “In the battle against Covid-19, emerging technologies have stood out by making immense contributions in an unexpected, creative and amazingly responsive way,” remarked Lu Chuanying, Secretary General at Shanghai-based Global Cyberspace Governance. Proactive measures are already being taken and the virus is not currently spreading widely in the United States. Through not only advanced technologies but also sheer human ingenuity and determination, the coronavirus can and will be contained.
At Lithios we value outside opinions. This blog was written by one of our guest bloggers.