Boston Dynamics' Robot "Dog" Joins The Fight Against COVID-19

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Spot is a four-legged robot developed by Boston Dynamics (Credit: Boston Dynamics)

While the novel coronavirus is dangerous for everyone, it is particularly so for the first responders who are being exposed to the illness daily. In the US alone, almost 5,500 nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals have been infected with COVID-19. Of these, dozens have succumbed to the disease. Now, hospital workers worldwide may get some reprieve thanks to Spot, a semi-autonomous four-legged robot developed by Waltham, Massachusetts-based robotics company, Boston Dynamics.

“Starting in early March, Boston Dynamics started receiving inquiries from hospitals asking if our robots could help minimize their staff’s exposure to COVID-19,” the company writes in a blog post. “One of the hospitals that we spoke to shared that, within a week, a sixth of their staff had contracted COVID-19 and that they were looking into using robots to take more of their staff out of range of the novel virus.”

Boston Dynamics recently reconfigured Spot to help COVID-19 first responders (Credit: Boston Dynamics)

In response, the company reconfigured the 3-foot tall, 70-pound robot to operate as a mobile telemedicine platform, enabling healthcare providers to determine a patient's condition remotely. The first four-legged "medical practitioner" was deployed to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Harvard University on April 9, 2020. Equipped with an iPad "face" and a two-way radio that allows for real-time conversation, Spot helps doctors to speak to patients without coming in contact with them.

“With current protocols at local hospitals, patients suspected to have COVID-19 are asked to line up in tents outside to answer questions and get initial assessments for temperature. This process requires up to five medical staff, placing those individuals at high risk of contracting the virus,” Boston Dynamics explains. “With the use of a mobile robot, hospitals are able to reduce the number of necessary medical staff at the scene and conserve their limited PPE [personal protective equipment] supply.” The company says the doctors can even use Spot to talk to patients from the safety of their own homes.

While Boston Dynamics does not have enough "Spots" to lend to hospitals worldwide, they believe any robot can do the job. “With the deployment of our first healthcare-focused robot, we’re open-sourcing all of our work to empower any mobile robotics platform to leverage the same hardware and software stack that we’ve developed to help frontline healthcare workers,” the company says. “None of the services... are reliant on Boston Dynamics hardware or software. In many instances, we imagine wheeled or tracked robots may be a better solution for these applications.”

An iPad and a two-way radio allow for real-time communication between potential COVID-19 patients and doctors (Credit: Boston Dynamics)

Though Spot has already proved extremely helpful, the robotics manufacturer believes it can be even more so. The engineers are currently working on "teaching" the robot to perform tasks like temperature checks and respiratory rate calculations using thermal camera technology. The company is also developing new technology that will allow Spot to aid in the disinfection or decontamination of hospitals as well as other public areas.

“By attaching a UV-C light to the robot’s back, Spot could use the device to kill virus particles and disinfect surfaces in any unstructured space that needs support in decontamination — be it hospital tents or metro stations,” the company says.

Though this is Spot's first healthcare assignment, Boston Dynamics has been beta-testing the customizable robot for several other hazardous tasks since late 2019. These include helping Boston police detect bombs and assisting miners in troubleshooting problems from a safe distance.

Resources: Theverge.com, Wired.com

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278 Comments
  • hedgie
    hedgie9 months
    he's cool!!!!
    • againsttheelaws
      You should see the Boston dynamics robot video on YouTube it’s called Do You Love Me?
    • coolkid77
      coolkid7711 months
      omg he's so funny, cute, and COOL!!
      • spacegirl10
        spacegirl1011 months
        And i know how to build robots and I love science but I could only build those with instructions (LOL)
        • spacegirl10
          spacegirl1011 months
          I Wish I Had One I Would Dance With Him And Call Him Bob He Is Amazing!
          • dragon_of_peace
            In my opinion I tink it is TERRIFYING😨
            • bluegmes
              bluegmes11 months
              this is so cute and cool!!!!
              • 1743
                174312 months
                thats super cool!!!!!!!!!1
                • froggyfresh
                  froggyfresh12 months
                  can it woof?
                  • 850
                    850about 1 year
                    awesome