AI News, Real Robots to Help Fight Ebola

Real Robots to Help Fight Ebola

A few Fridays ago, we took a little bit of a dig at all of the media coverage of an “ebola-fighting robot” that turned out to be essentiallyjust a UV light on a wheeled cart hooked up to a timer.

You’d think that real robots would have a lot to offer when it comes to assisting with the control of a highly infectious disease, just like you’d think that robots would have a lot to offer when it comes to assisting with the control of a highly radioactive nuclear power plant.

You’d be right to think that, but the problem that we’re having now with Ebola is the same as the problem that we had with Fukushima: there simply aren’t any robots that are prepared and ready, right now, to tackle an immediate crisis, even though robots would be immensely valuable in this situation.

In a recent blog post, CRASAR director Robin Murphy list some possibilities that her team has come up with in their discussions: She also explains some of the challenges: “In order to be successful at any one of the tasks, robots have to meet a lot of hidden requirements and sometimes the least exciting or glamorous job can be of the most help to the workers.

You can’t just make a robot that will functionally deal with burying people—you have to make one that does so in a way that’s culturally appropriate, and to figure out how to do that, you need to talk to the people who are going to be using this robot, and establish guidelines for use in a wider social context.

Ebola Robot Workshop at Texas A&M: my report out

CRASAR, with funding from the Center for Emergency Informatics, and the TEEX Product Development center held a two day series of workshops on robotics for medical disasters.  The major takeaway was that robots do exist that could be immediately repurposed now to protect Ebola health workers but how robots fit into the medical response enterprise is as important as what the robots can actually do.

The success of hardened robots in providing these services depends on ensuring that they are appropriate for the work domain in five ways: The sentiment shared by the TAMU participants was that the biggest barrier to near-term use was not the lack of capable robots but rather the lack of requirements that would allow industry to invest in repurposing robots and  enable agencies to test and evaluate the robots and develop training.  Currently there are no details on the operational envelopment for the robot or operator.

The Texas AM talks covered the state of the practice in DoD robots (TARDEC) and casualty evacuation systems (TATRC) that can be repurposed, lessons learned so far in using robots at the Fukushima Daiichi decommissioning (University of Tokyo), and opportunities for community recovery (TAMU Hazards Reduction and Recovery Center).

A major portion of the day was spent in demonstrations of the current practices in medical response, walking participants through 3 modules of a field hospital (also called an Emergency Treatment Unit or ETU), showing how contaminated waste is stored and overpacked, and how domestic responders, equipment, and ambulances are decontaminated.

In terms of overall medical disasters, applications appear to fall into one of three broad categories below, regrouping the preliminary list of nine functions discussed in an earlier blog.

Clinical:  Clinical applications are where robots are used in the ETU as a “force multiplier” (another way of saying “reducing manpower”) by taking over some of the activities that health workers do or as adding reliability by coaching or supervising activities.

Ignoring for a moment the cultural appropriateness and other adoption issues, robots could enable Logistical: Logistical applications can take place within the ETU, but the construction, layout, and clutter of ETUs make it hard for mobile robots to move around.

Welcome to the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR)

CRASAR is a nonprofit corporation organized to foster unmanned systems being effectively used by formal emergency management agencies through voluntary national and international activities that deploy, promote, train, document, analyze, and disseminate scientific knowledge.

It covers 34 deployments worldwide from 2001 through 2013, describes the missions, and next discusses the specific applications and lessons learned for ground (Chapter 3), aerial (Chapter 4), and marine (Chapter 5) vehicles, and then ends with recommendations on how to conduct deployments and field work (Chapter 6).

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