Where are the robots that can disinfect hospitals and supermarkets, swab patients and provide relief to medical workers and others overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic?
There aren’t any, or, at least, not enough of them, according to engineers and computer scientists calling for more sustained funding for building machines that can perform important tasks during an infectious disease outbreak.
A group of leading robotics experts published an appeal Wednesday in the academic journal Science Robotics calling for more research and development of robots that can assist in critical care, telemedicine, decontamination and package delivery.
A similar call came from the White House six years ago looking for robots that could help fight the Ebola outbreak. But as global concern over Ebola subsided, so too did funding and motivation to develop new machines.
“Without a sustained approach to this, history will repeat itself and the robots won’t be ready” for the next pandemic, said Guang-Zhong Yang, founding editor of Science Robotics and dean of the Institute of Medical Robotics at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.