The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of many new technologies, including robots that could take on vital, yet repetitive tasks, like disinfection and sanitization. In this interview with Orbbec co-founder, David Chen, discussed the role of 3D technology – including robots – in hospitals and how they will shape the future of healthcare.
Future Healthcare Today (FHT): What tasks can 3D embedded robots perform in hospitals? How are these tasks helping reduce the spread of COVID-19 or other infectious diseases?
David Chen (DC): 3D embedded robots are performing several tasks in hospitals to help reduce the spread of viruses like COVID-19, including automated disinfection, supply transportation, custodial, and guiding tasks in hospitals.
The ability to sense one’s surroundings and navigate throughout hospital floors is what makes applications like supply transportation and guiding possible. In robot navigation, this is known as SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping). With the help of a 3D image sensor system, these robots can achieve autonomous obstacle avoidance and update their internal map of an unknown environment while simultaneously keeping track of its location to reach a target location, like a patient’s room.
One of the most important applications currently is providing frequent disinfecting by sanitizing robots or UVD robots. Guided by 3D cameras, sanitizing robots relieve human workers from the need to scrub or spray down common touchpoints in hospitals, reducing the likelihood of exposure. UVD robots can navigate tight hospital environments and emit an array of ultraviolet (UV) light transmitters that can destroy viruses.
Another vital role 3D-equipped robots play in the reduction of viral disease spread within hospitals is maintaining social distancing. For example, guide robots – robots that humans can follow from point A to point B – eliminate the need for hospital personnel to direct patients or guests to one department or another. They can even be used to deliver food to patients in-room. When robots are a contact point for patients, they cut down on close person-to-person contact and reduce COVID’s spread.
Social distancing is the most effective method to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, and the biggest advantage for robots is limiting human-to-human interaction.
FHT: How are 3D embedded robots working along healthcare staff?
DC: While in many cases the discussion of 3D robots is about how the technology can replace humans there are several instances where human staff work alongside robots. Robotic nurses are designed to carry out repetitive and monotonous tasks that eat into staff’s time. With more time to focus on patients, staff can handle issues that require human decision-making skills, care, and empathy.
In China, hospitals are using robots to navigate hallways, delivery food and supplements, and enforce face-mask and social-distancing rules. In the United States, autonomous mobile manipulation robots are helping medical staff by picking and filling prescriptions. These tasks then get repeated day and night, tirelessly, allowing the hospital staff to spend more time interacting with patients.
FHT: How will 3D cameras play a role in the way hospitals operate in the future? Do you see a trend in hospitals investing in 3D robot tech?
DC: Yes, we have seen a trend towards hospitals investing in 3D robot technology, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic. In China, Orbbec’s Astra Mini S camera embedded in peanut model robots from Keenon Roboticsdeployed in over 50 hospitals to perform supply transportation.
Moving into a post-pandemic world, 3D robot tech will certainly be prevalent in hospitals. Assistance with time-consuming tasks like supply delivery and guiding tasks will give hospital staff ample time in their day to concentrate on more pressing tasks. Sanitizing robots will also aid in reducing the spread of common infectious diseases and viruses moving forward, like the flu.
FHT: What other applications does 3D tech have in the healthcare industry?
DC: 3D tech is already deployed in other areas of healthcare, both at home and in hospitals, with great success. A few examples include fall detection and patient monitoring via 3D cameras which has already been deployed in hospitals across the United States. Similarly, 3D cameras aid in making post-surgery rehabilitation therapy and recovery more accurate. Finally, 3D cameras can capture the patient’s shape, positioning, and height in three dimensions during CT scans allowing for the AI software to quickly recommend the optimum scan position.