Funding and research in robotics needed to fight future pandemics

26 March 2020

Robots are already being used to help contain the spread of the coronavirus, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) believe they could do much more and perform more dangerous jobs in combating the COVID-19 pandemic with appropriate funding and development.

Robots could perform tasks such as disinfecting surfaces, taking the temperatures of people in public areas, providing social support for quarantined patients, collecting nasal and throat samples for testing and enabling people to virtually attend conferences and exhibitions. Robots could also help reduce human exposure to pathogens, which will become even more important as epidemics escalate.

Researchers noted that in previous pandemic outbreaks, funding for research was too expensive and rare and without a sustainable approach to research, history will repeat itself in the future and robots right now are not ready for the next, potentially more dangerous incident.

As such, the idea is to create ways in which robots might be used in a pandemic and demonstrate that continued research and funding are needed to prepare robots for such future events, according to Howie Choset, a professor at CMU's Robotics Institute.

Researchers believe that a combination of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) could help perform research to address humanitarian aid and disaster response, leading to breakthroughs in combating epidemics and pandemics using drones, human-robot interaction, automated monitoring of social media, edge computing and ad hoc computer networks.

The full research can be found in the journal Science Robotics.

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