Medical care workers across the world have been battling the COVID-19 outbreak with selfless abandon towards their own safety. The same goes for medical workers in Thailand, which has reported over 270 cases and 1 casualty so far. In what can be considered a respite to these professionals in the country, hospitals in Thailand have mobilized 'ninja robots' to record temperatures of patients and communicate with them.
These 'ninjas' have been employed at four hospitals in the capital city of Bangkok and surrounding areas to minimize the risk of transmission of the coronavirus. Doctors and other medical staff can communicate with the patients through a video link.
"They can stand outside the room and communicate with patients inside through the robot," said Prof Viboon Sangveraphunsiri from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Chulalongkorn University.
More 'ninjas' being 'trained'
With some resemblance to SoftBank Robotics', Pepper, these temperature checking robots are called ninjas due to their matte black external appearance. Initially designed to monitor the recovery of stroke patients, the robots were swiftly repurposed to assist healthcare professionals in their battle against COVID-19.
Prof Sangveraphunsiri told AFP that his team of engineers is working towards the production of more 'ninjas' that would be deployed across ten more hospitals in the country. He also said that future models will receive design upgrades in order to perform other essential tasks such as bringing food and medication to patients. Enabling the robots to carry out the disinfection of hospital wards was also on cards he said.
The robot is outfitted with 4G. It can measure the temperature of confirmed or suspected cases, track the progression of symptoms and help hospital staff and patients communicate via video conferencing. Sangveraphunsiri's team designs and builds these machines in collaboration with Advanced Info Service (AIS), Thailand's largest mobile operator. Production of these robots costs anywhere between 100 to 300 baht depending on the desired functions.
"We are trying to keep costs down as much as possible and we are providing our devices to hospitals free of charge anyway," said Sangveraphunsiri, according to Web 24 News.
Robot's take the fight to the coronavirus
With millions of healthcare, sanitation and other ancillary personnel overburdened by the sheer volume of cases and around the clock duties, hospitals have turned to robots to lighten their load and keep them out of harm's way. It was recently reported that robots have been tasked with the disinfection of trains and stations in Hong Kong by the city's Mass Transit Railway (MTR).
Earlier this month, Singapore's Alexandra Hospital announced that it would start employing BeamPro robots to deliver food and medicines to COVID-19 patients. In late January, much before the coronavirus outbreak spiraled out of control in the US, doctors at the Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington were using a robot known as 'Intouch Vici', to treat patients afflicted with the disease. Its functions were very similar to that of the 'ninja' robot.
In China, robots developed by Qianxi Robotic Catering were donated to the city of Wuhan in order to enable the availability of timely meals to the workers working around the clock. It dispensed food to medical workers at the Hannan Red Cross Hospital.