Amid coronavirus concerns, Chinese robotic arm may help save lives

WION Web Team
Shanghai, China Published: Mar 05, 2020, 04:55 PM(IST)

Robot designed to help medical workers treat coronavirus patients Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

The machine consists of a robotic arm on wheels that can perform ultrasounds, take mouth swabs and listen to sounds made by a patient's organs, usually done with a stethoscope.

Researchers at one of China's top universities have designed a robot they say could help save lives on the frontline during the coronavirus outbreak.

The machine consists of a robotic arm on wheels that can perform ultrasounds, take mouth swabs and listen to sounds made by a patient's organs, usually done with a stethoscope.

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With this robot which is fitted with cameras, medical personnel does not need to be in the same room as the patient, and could even be in a different city.

"Doctors are all very brave," said the robot's chief designer Tsinghua University Professor Zheng Gangtie.

"But this virus is just too contagious ... We can use robots to perform the most dangerous tasks," he added.

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The idea came to Zheng around the turn of the Lunar New Year. Wuhan had just been put on lockdown and the number of cases and deaths was rising rapidly every day.

As an engineer, Zheng wanted to do something to contribute to the relief effort. On the first day of the Lunar New Year, he heard from his friend that the biggest problem was that of frontline workers getting infected.

Determined to make a difference, Zheng gathered a team and started converting two mechanised robotic arms with the same technology used on space stations and lunar explorers.

The robots were almost entirely automated, and could even disinfect themselves after performing actions involving contact, Zheng said.

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"But the feedback from doctors was that it would be better for there to be less automation, as a personal presence would comfort and calm the patient," he said.

The team now has two robots, which is now on trial by doctors at hospitals in Beijing. One is still at the team's lab at the university, but the other is at the Wuhan Union Hospital, where doctors started training to use it on Thursday.

If all goes to plan, the robot may be put to use on coronavirus patients in Wuhan from Sunday, Zheng said. It would be joined on its ward rounds by a nurse or other member of staff.

The robots cost RMB 500,000 apiece to make.

Zheng would like to build more such robots but funding from the university has run out. He does not plan on commercialising his robot design but hopes a company comes along takes it on.

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