Medical scientists and robotics experts are teaming up to consider the possibility of using robots to battle the Ebola outbreak. Workshops have been planned for November to discuss the many ways that electronic devices could stand in for humans to make the fight against Ebola safer.
According to Computerworld, the conferences are set for November 7, and will bring together medical teams, robotics researchers and developers, and academics. They’ll be hosted by universities and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Medical teams and caregivers to the ill are exposed perhaps more than anyone else to the disease, and there are a number of ways robotics could minimize this exposure:
Robots used to move and bury bodies, for instance, would reduce human contact at one of the times when Ebola is the most contagious. The WHO warns that mourners who come into contact with deceased loved ones may play a role in spreading the virus, and if a safe and respectful way can be determined for limiting that contact, it could help slow the spread.
Telepresence, a robot on wheels with a camera and screen, could allow medical teams to interact with patients while limiting physical contact. While doctors would still enter isolation areas for medical care, they would be able to do some checks from outside it, limiting the risk of being infected with the disease.
Telepresence is also being considered as a way to let patients have interaction and visits with family and friends without a risk of spreading the illness further.
Already in the works is a robot to spray disinfectant. It can be used to decontaminate infected areas, as well as to spray medical equipment. This would allow areas to be decontaminated before uninfected humans have to enter them, again minimizing human contact with the disease.
There is currently no cure for Ebola (and the FTC is warning consumers against anything sold under the claim that it’s a cure), but two vaccines are in the works. In the meantime, the WHO says that safe and timely burials of Ebola victims, and containment of the ill, are two keys to bringing an outbreak to an end.[photo credit: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection]
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