Boston Dynamics’ Spot steps in to triage COVID-19 patients

Whether it was first the cancellation of conferences, the slew of device cancellations and reveals, or the way that many technology giants have stepped up to the plate, COVID-19 has proved a turning point for the consumer technology industry. Now, as the virus spreads further across both developed and emerging markets, Boston Dynamics – the firm best known for developing Spot, the robot ‘dog’ – is literally set to pounce into action.

In a new release to the press, the company has announced that Spot – which has perhaps been most depicted closing doors, performing feats of agility, or hauling a box truck – has been used by healthcare workers to triage patients in Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Moving forward, learnings Boston Dynamics has gained from the endeavour will be open-sourced – allowing other robotics firms and manufacturers to take advantage of software and adaptations best used in front-line healthcare work.

Spot was put into action after numerous hospitals enquired about using robotic assistance after healthcare workers contracted COVID-19.

As Boston Dynamics noted, 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.”

At present, Spot is being used to conduct doctor-to-patient tele-interviews; as Boston Dynamics notes, “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.”

The firm hopes to move towards conducting remote vital inspections in the future – saving healthcare workers’ potential exposure to COVID-19. In order to do so, the firm plans to explore a multitude of tests with both hardware and software focus; collecting vitals such as a patient’s body temperature, respiratory rate, pulse rate, and oxygen saturation. In order to do so, Spot will need to be equipped with thermal camera technology as well as RGB cameras.

A further goal for the firm will be to introduce remote disinfections, where it is hoped that Spot may be able to destroy virus particles thanks to an affixed UV-C light on its frame.

While the company has yet a ways to go to achieve either goal, the firm noted that it is “encouraged by reports that using the robot has helped their nursing staff minimize time exposed to potentially contagious patients.”

What are your thoughts? How would you react to being treated remotely? Be sure to let us know your opinion in the comments below!