• Aytekin Aydoğan


Updated: May 26, 2020

Boston Dynamics' four-legged robot, Spot, is being used in a Boston hospital to work with COVID-19 patients.

Boston Dynamics Spot robot. Spot® robot image provided courtesy of Boston Dynamics, Inc.

Around the world, robots are being used to minimize the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, by taking food preparation jobs, performing medical intake exams, and even disinfecting entire cities.

Boston Dynamics' four-legged, dog-like robot, Spot is the latest robot to join the fight against the coronavirus outbreak. According to a statement released Thursday, Spot has been used at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston for the past two weeks.

This is incredibly important since, in the U.S., at least 5,400 nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers have contracted the disease themselves, with dozens of them losing their lives. That's the reason why this unlikely assistant will surely the doctors’ best friend.

Boston Dynamics is a world leader company in mobile robots, tackling some of the toughest robotics challenges.

Boston Dynamics is a robotics company based in Boston that is known for its designs that mirror life-like movements that resemble people and animals leading to an uncanny valley effect that may make viewers uncomfortable. Right now, Boston Dynamics, which was formerly owned by Google and is now owned by Japanese communications giant SoftBank, is deploying Spot as a telemedicine machine.

Boston Dynamics Spot robot. Spot® robot image provided courtesy of Boston Dynamics, Inc.

Boston Dynamics said in a blog post on Thursday, "Starting in early March, 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."

“Today marks the second week of Spot’s presence at a local Boston hospital, Brigham and Women’s, where the robot is being deployed as a mobile telemedicine platform, enabling healthcare providers to remotely triage patients,” the company says in a statement. “We’re listening to their feedback on how Spot can do more but are encouraged by their reports that using the robot has helped their nursing staff minimize time exposed to potentially contagious patients.”

youtube / Boston Dynamic Spot Launch

How does it work?

Spot is using a custom mount and enclosure for an iPad or similar-sized screen to be used for video conferencing between doctors and other healthcare workers and their patients.

The robotic pup is equipped with an iPad and a two-way radio which enables the healthcare workers to video conference with patients while remotely directing the robot. This way, the medics can assess the patients in isolation without being exposed to the virus.

Now, Spot has already been stationed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Harvard University. The mechanical canine works as telemedicine support, helping frontline staff in high-risk environments.

Boston Dynamics Spot robot. Spot® robot image provided courtesy of Boston Dynamics, Inc.

The Brigham Hospital has begun real-word trials last week with the patients who had agreed to be in a robotic interview.

What Boston Dynamics 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.

According to the given information on the companies web site, In order to provide this service, Boston Dynamics needs 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 the 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." the company says.

The company now has ambitious plans to expand the use of its robots to assist healthcare workers during the pandemic, and it’s also open-sourcing the hardware and software it’s using so other hospitals and robot makers may be able to do follow its lead.

“By attaching a UV-C light 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,” the company says. “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.

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