Automating the Edge with Robotics

Boston Dynamics experiments with a four-legged aid in a COVID-19 world

Boston Dynamics is pushing edge computing to a new environment

Mobile robotics pioneer Boston Dynamics is pushing edge computing to a new environment in an effort to aid medical workers triaging people suspected of suffering with COVID-19.

Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot, a four-legged, 70-pound model, has been pressed into telemedicine service at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The robot is remotely directed around tents sheltering patients suspected of having the novel coronavirus.

There, an onboard Apple Corp. iPad and a two-way radio enable staff to make an initial health assessment. It is a small, early step in a weeks-old project put together by Boston Dynamics, but it is sparing staff and personal protective equipment. A bigger role is being considered, according to the robot maker.

Boston Dynamics executives say that this is the first robot they have put in the field with a health care mission.

The executives have said they are pursuing purely open-source hardware and software in this endeavor to encourage other automation organizations to get into the market during the crisis. In fact, they say that none of their work for this on-going project requires Boston Dynamics products.

Next steps for the project include remote inspection of patients’ vital signs and disinfecting of surfaces, according to the company.

Engineers want to give Spots the ability to record body temperatures, breathing rate, pulse rate and oxygen saturation. They are experimenting with thermal cameras for body temperatures and respiratory rates. Visible-light cameras might be able to see the changes in blood vessel contractions to calculate a person’s pulse.

A Spot might also get an ultra-violet light that it could use to kill viruses and disinfect surfaces.

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