Autonomous robot designed for Covid-safe communications in hospital

A “telepresence” robot has been designed to enable Covid-19 sufferers to talk to their loved ones without putting them at risk.

Designed by University of Malaga researchers, the robot has Covid-specific design functions in order to adapt it to the pandemic needs and aims to facilitate the work of professionals in nursing homes and hospitals.

“We have enabled people that are isolated in a room to have a video call with relatives and friends without risks and regardless of their ability to use new technologies,” said researcher Juan Pedro Bandera.

Patients are able to book an hour for a video call by using a simple web interface, after which the robot boots up autonomously and goes to the counter to be disinfected. It then travels to their room and starts the video call at the scheduled time. When finished, it is disinfected again and goes back to charge.

autonomous covid robot

Image credit: University of Malaga

Just over a metre high, with a cylindrical or pedestal-shaped body, this robot also has simple expressive abilities, audio-visual communication capacity and is able to move around autonomously.

The team also envisages it being used in homes for the elderly as an announcer or offering residents the ability to share and view photos.

“A social robot that crosses continuously between two people talking, that gets too close to them when moving around, that moves too fast or abruptly or stops in a corridor blocking their way will not be accepted and, therefore, will not be useful,” Bandera said.

His team also studied the movement of robots, determining that “smoother” paths tend to decrease energy consumption and increase social acceptability.

However, they also show that other critical factors need to be considered, such as keeping an adequate distance from people:

“Most likely a social robot should not try to move around like humans do. The robot will have to keep greater distance and avoid abrupt turns and speed changes in a stricter way, as well as erratic trajectories where destination is difficult to predict, because all these aspects, although satisfying the safety, efficiency and smoothness conditions, will reduce the acceptance of the robot considerably”, Bandera said.

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