Home / Blog / This robot will check your vital signs

This robot will check your vital signs

Spot, the robot-dog, has been used in a hospital trial to triage potential Covid-19 patients. The intriguing thing is that patients seemed to be at ease with it. Image credit: Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics Spot robot looks like a dog (at least like a mechanical dog) and was designed to operate in a variety of complex environment, with complex meaning uneven pavement, cluttered with “stuff” (including people). This is pretty challenging for a robot, it requires both the awareness on what is going on around it and the capability to move around avoiding obstacles, taking stairs, even jumping over a barrier.

Spot is pretty good at this (watch the clip), it can walk on slippery pavements, go up a flight of stairs, find its way around obstacles and avoid bumping into people.

If you ever stop to consider the inside of an hospital you can easily perceive how complex it is to move around: carts left in the way, nurses dashing here and there,… Just the kind of place where a robot would have a challenging time.

That’s exactly the place where Spot might shine! A joint team from MIT, Boston Dynamics and Brigham and Women’s Hospital has set out to test both Spot capabilities in a hospital context and its acceptance by people (patients, medical staff and visitors). And not just to see how it can blend in, rather to test how much it can help.

They have equipped Spot with sensors to check patients and in-patients vital signs, have placed a tablet where a dog head is and use the screen and the camera to have medical staff communicating with patients. One application tested was in the triage of incoming patients to assess Covid-19 infection, thus cutting down potentially dangerous exposure.

Spot is equipped with 4 video cameras, temperature sensors able to detect pulse, breathing and blood oxygen saturation from as far as 2 meter from the patient. This distance is important to avoid contamination (although Spot gets frequently exposed to ultraviolet rays sterilising it).

Additionally, the Spot-doctor/nurse can move around the hospitals making rounds to check vital signs, including the look of patients, with an AI based image recognition software that can spot visual signs of problems by looking at a patient’s face.

Interestingly, Spot proved helpful, and that was easy to predict, and it seems that people accepted its presence with patients looking forward to its round and even attempting some chatting. It might be, as researchers were ready to admit, that its acceptance in the hospital was also fostered by the difficult times we are going through, where help, any help, is welcome.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.