A dog robot helping fight COVID-19? Now there's a headline you don't read everyday.
But in a world with the novel coronavirus, abnormal has become the new normal.
And staff members at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital would know. Right now, they're using a robot dog to help fight this pandemic.
What is the Boston Dynamics robot dog doing in a hospital?
If there are three letters we see all the time amid this outbreak, they are PPE. Personal Protective Equipment, including masks, gloves, and other coverings, is vital for protecting COVID-19's spread among doctors, nurses, and patients. But shortages can be a big problem.
What happens when hospital staff can't safely treat the people who need help? Enter the robot dog named Spot.
Developed by Boston Dynamics, Spot is a mobile robot designed to keep people out of dangerous situations. While not originally developed for hospitals, Boston Dynamics noticed a demand:
"Starting in early March, Boston Dynamics 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."
This includes using Spot as a tool who walks a computer tablet up to the car of a patient arriving for screening. Medical staff can talk through the tablet to see the driver without ever getting close to them; this helps limit exposure.
They had to make some major changes to the dog, outfitting it for hospital use:
"We developed the payload, hardware, and software for this application so that they are generalizable and able to be deployed on other mobile robotic platforms with APIs and capacity for custom payloads."
The result? Spot just started its second week of work at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Boston Dynamics admits that Spot is far from an ideal solution, but they're working to improve it, constantly communicating with the hospital:
"We're listening to their feedback on how Spot can do more but are encouraged by reports that using the robot has helped their nursing staff minimize time exposed to potentially contagious patients.
In many instances, we imagine wheeled or tracked robots may be a better solution for these applications."
In the future, Boston Dynamics hopes to expand Spot's capabilities into remote vital inspection and disinfection.
Want to check out Spot in action? Adam Savage, half of the famous Mythbusters, tested out the robot dog earlier this year: