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Has Covid-19 accelerated the implementations of medical robots?

The functionality and design of robots are becoming increasingly complex but are yet to make significant inroads in the healthcare sector. For example, some of the more advanced machines commonly deployed such as ultra-high-resolution imaging instruments and surgical robots are still fully controlled by humans.

Evidently, healthcare professionals are becoming increasingly dependent on machines but only to an extend of augmentation, and not total replacement of medical practices or processes. One main reason being the practice of medicine is commonly associated with being intuitive, it requires practitioners to be instinctive, especially when venturing into unchartered territory. This requires excellent and fast decision-making capabilities which cannot be fulfilled by robots if they are not presented with the prerequisite data.

Despite all that, the medical sector has largely benefited from the availability of robots, especially in terms of repetitive, mundane, and monitoring tasks, including customer relations. An undeniable fact lies in robots’ superior analytic prowess, which is being used by doctors and physicians as a base for their diagnostic and treatment decision. Robots area also implemented to monitor patients as well, helping to prevent human errors in hospitals and pharmacies, which can be considered as a repetitive task for humans.

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, being unprecedented as it is, has allowed us to experiment and fully understand the benefit of robots in supplementing its human counterpart in emergency situations, especially when manpower is very much limited.

Picture source: www.nst.com.my

Malaysian scientists from the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) have created a barrel-shaped robot on wheels capable of making routine rounds in hospital wards to check on patients, reducing health workers' exposure to diseases.

The robot, dubbed “Medibot” is equipped with a microphone, speaker, and a screen to enable contactless physician-patient interaction, temperature sensors, an electronic stethoscope, and a system for monitoring blood pressure in real-time. Medibot also doubles up as a sprayer robot for disinfection purposes.

Picture source: www.nst.com.my

“We asked ourselves if we can contribute through a more technical way for our frontliners. From there came the idea to develop a telepresence robot where the physician can interact with the patient from a distance to minimize the direct contact between the physician, nurse, and the patient.”, said Dr. Hasan Firdaus Mohammed Zaki from the Department of Mechatronics, IIUM for an article published on Arab News.

Malaysian-homegrown robotics company Robopreneur Sdn. Bhd. has also developed various service, or medical robots. The Smart Thermal Imaging Helmet recently gained popularity for its ability to quickly measure body temperature remotely in large crowds, making it easier to detect the presence of unwanted infections in a densely populated area without causing disruption.

Picture source: www.dfautomation.com

The National Technology & Innovation Sandbox (NTIS) initiative has also witnessed the participation of local robotics companies showcasing their inventions, one example being the Mak Cik Kiah 20 (MCK20) – a healthcare delivery robot developed by DF Automation & Robotics Sdn. Bhd. in collaboration with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) and Hospital Canselor Tuanku Muhriz UKM (HCTM).

MCK20 functions to autonomously deliver meals, medicines, and other items to patients. Prior to the development of MCK20, two prototypes were designed, each deployed at HCTM and the temporary hospital set up at MAEPS – a 400 bed hospital which covered an area of 35,700 square metres.

In 60 days, the prototype stationed at MAEPS served 1,383 patients a total of 53,661 meals.

Robots are also utilised as a post-treatment tool to help physically disabled patients overcome their disabilities. Patients with various mobility-related diseases such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy can utilise robot arms such as the Kinova Arm to aid them in situations that require mobility.

If you realise, all the functionalities described above are well-suited for applications beyond situations involving only viruses and pandemics. As said numerous times, COVID-19 has been a blessing in disguise, providing humans an avenue to deploy futuristic technologies that can help and supplement us in various tasks for the betterment of the nation and the world.

*Featured image sourced from: www.fudzilla.com

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