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HEALTH | 05.07.2020

Robots versus the pandemic: 5G as an ally for health

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Wuhan was one of the first cities in China to conduct 5G trials in 2019. This country is now leading the early adoption of the fifth generation of cellphone technology, with over 160,000 5G base stations covering more than 50 cities, according to the latest report from GSMA. Contrary to what some conspiracy theories falsely claim, this technology is not harmful to health. In fact, deploying it at the site where the coronavirus outbreak first began meant COVID-19 patients could be treated and human medical personnel could be freed up in an initiative known as the Smart Field Hospital.

This initiative was developed by Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, China Mobile and CloudMinds, a robotics company. In the field hospital designed to accommodate 20,000 people, the magic of this project lies in the design of a room exclusively staffed by robots and connected devices. Primarily intended for mildly ill patients, as soon as a patient entered, a 5G system based on infrared thermometry automatically took their body temperature and alerted physicians if they had a fever. In addition, patients wore rings and smart bracelets that allowed physicians from outside to monitor their vitals, such as temperature, blood oxygen level and heart rate. Moreover, these IoT (Internet of Things) devices also served to monitor the healthcare personnel’s vital signs. This information and the robots were synched up with an information management platform supported by artificial intelligence (AI).

The six different types of robots were not there just to provide medical care. The humanoid robots were also performing an important entertainment role, leading hospitalized patients in dances, providing information and teaching them. Others were responsible for delivering food and medicine, sanitizing the premises and ensuring safety. If patients began to feel worse, they were moved to another room staffed by humans. Although the facility is now closed, as are all the other field hospitals, everything is still in place, in the event of a second wave of the coronavirus.

Ultrasonic imaging in a few seconds

The robots also proved effective in performing diagnostics. Some 700 kilometers away, doctors at a hospital in the eastern province of Zhejiang were able to carry out a remote cardiopulmonary ultrasound using a robotic arm and 5G connectivity on a patient admitted to a Wuhan field hospital. This combination of technology enables large amounts of data to be transferred in a few seconds and high-definition ultrasound images (up to 2 GB) were transmitted in real time.

Robots for decontamination and home delivery service

In Wuhan, as well as some other Chinese cities, robots have helped protect citizens’ health, preventing the spread of the virus by disinfecting streets and other public spaces, such as the subway. Controlled remotely by people, these machines were even able to decontaminate small gaps that are otherwise hard to reach for humans.

UVD Robots donated several robots to hospitals for ultraviolet light disinfection. Similar to the vacuum cleaners that we use at home nowadays, these machines create a map of the site and move on their own to remove microorganisms from both surfaces and the air.

With online sales booming due to the pandemic, in some cities, robots with cabs and wheels are helping home delivery services. For example, the well-known online shopping company

Suning has been using robots to transport orders in their last mile, until they reach customers’ doors. Manufactured by ZhenRobotics, the RoboPony model is controlled with a cellphone app and can travel up to 10 kilometers per hour. Once the delivery is complete, it is disinfected again for a new delivery.

Smart surveillance for detecting fevers and people without masks

RoboPony (along with other camera-based systems) is also being used for surveillance in shopping centers. In this case, the robot patrols to detect people without masks, in addition to providing hand sanitizer and advice to prevent infection. The robots, which provide thermal imaging from China Mobile, measure body temperature quickly and without contact, within a radius of up to 10 meters in China’s major cities. If they detect an abnormal temperature, they warn the authorities with an alert via 5G.

In some cities in China and elsewhere, like Madrid, drones equipped with cameras and speakers are helping authorities give orders and inform the population, as well as helping track anyone ignoring the lockdown.

This technology, however, is essential for robots specialized in telemedicine and complements the work of health professionals in minimizing human contact and the risk of transmitting COVID-19 in this crisis caused by the pandemic.