2020 – a year that brought with it many surprises for all beings. The most recent one being the outbreak of the pandemic COVID-19. As the pandemic takes the whole world by shock and fear, one thing to focus on is whether it has brought with it opportunities to explore other areas of science and technology such as: Robotics.
One of the main reasons why this pandemic has caused a problem for the whole world is that it restricts human interaction as it spreads from one host body to another through a mere interaction between two individuals. This virus has affected almost all continents around the world. It has displayed disastrous results in countries like Italy, Spain, and the US. With ever-increasing globalization and inter-country trade, the spread of this virus from one country to another has become a matter of a few hours.
As the number of cases throughout the world is increasing at an exponential rate, concerns are piling up. There are considerations regarding the manufacturing and delivery of food, the provision of essential services such as banking, and the provision of the most critical service today: health care. While the whole world is busy finding out a way to ease the sufferings during this pandemic, the editorial Board of Science Robotics has come forward with one solution, that is “Robots” which they believe can provide a way in healthcare to combat this pandemic while preserving the much needed social distancing.
According to some scientists, such as Guang-Zhong Yang, this pandemic can catalyze the use of robots in many areas. The discovery of the use of robots in many areas is in progress whether its in Construction or Industrial Robots. One such area is robot-controlled noncontact ultraviolet (UV) surface disinfection. Here, robots are used to disinfect surfaces to prevent the spread of COVID-19 because it not only spreads from human contact but also contacts with contaminated surfaces. This is because COVID-19 has been found to stay on different surfaces for a prolonged period.
Robots can, as claimed, be also used for screening and detecting the virus in places such as airports and other public areas using temperature measurement techniques. This screening and detection by robots will eliminate the need for front-line workers to expose themselves to the risk of contracting the virus from screening and detecting activities they are carrying out. Robots can also be used to swab patients where we are facing a shortage of trained medical staff to swab patients. Another concern with swabbing patients is the danger that the medical staff exposes themselves while taking these samples from potential virus-infected individuals.
One of the most interesting aspects of this research is that it explores the use of robots to provide social support to individuals struggling with anxiety and isolation during the quarantine. These robots can provide the needed social interaction to those who need it but lack it in quarantine and can also be used to increase adherence to the necessary treatment without the risk of infecting the virus itself. However, so far, this area has come out to be very complicated as it requires integrating a sense of emotions, beliefs, and context in the robot’s functioning. Nevertheless, it can turn out to be a significant break-through if successful.
While all of these merits of using robots do provide convincing arguments, one problem which needs to be accounted for is the fact that people will be reluctant to allow robots to become a regular part of this medical emergency regime. For instance, people are likely to hesitate to let a machine to swab them. Alternatively, they may be reluctant to interact with a machine if they fear that the robot has been contaminated in the process of interacting with other individuals. Considering these concerns is very important before any significant movements can occur in this area.