The coronavirus pandemic has threatened the ability for hospitals to offer urgent, potentially life-saving surgery to patients. Quarantine measures and other concerns regarding the prevention of Covid-19 transmission has meant that healthcare professionals need to look for other solutions: one of which is robotic surgery.

Traditional “open” surgery – where a surgeon uses a scalpel to access internal structures and organs – would mean that patients would require recuperation time of several days or even weeks. During the pandemic, this would put them at much greater risk of contracting coronavirus.

However, the use of robotic assistance to conduct surgery could actually reduce many of the potential complications associated with the current pandemic

In theory, robotic surgery means that a surgeon and their patient do not need to be anywhere near one other. While it may sound far-fetched, the technology is nothing new: in 2001, a surgeon, Dr Jacques Marescaux, removed a patient’s gall bladder from an operating console in New York, while his patient was stationed in Strasbourg, France.

Robotic surgery usually involves a series of robotic machine arms which are controlled by a surgeon sat on the other side of the room. The machine console mirrors the surgeon’s hand movements in real-time, while they view the operation via HD video.

One of the main advantages of robotic surgery is that it allows healthcare professionals to perform operations via incredibly small incisions in the skin. This can drastically lower the risk of infection and means that the wounds heal faster, allowing the patient to return home sooner than normal.

A surge in interest

Over the past six months, interest in robotic surgery has grown. Robots mean that a surgeon can effectively social distance for most – if not all – of the operation. It also reduces the number of staff required around the operating table; another metric for reducing the spread of Covid-19.

As a field of relatively underappreciated potential, it seems that now is the time for further research into how robotic surgery solutions could impact upon a post-pandemic healthcare landscape. At present, as little as two per cent of operations which could be performed robotically are done so – and it seems now is the time for enhanced research into the capabilities of robotics in healthcare.

COVID-19 has changed many peoples lives immeasurably

With workers unable to work, companies are also looking towards robotics and automation to keep factories and cities operating in these testing times. Such as:

Disinfecting with A.I.

A small handful of companies are utilising robotics to disinfect their warehouse spaces with UVC light-equipped robots. Able to cover huge swathes of ground in a short amount of time, these nifty little robots go where it’s unsafe for humans to go and can theoretically be used in any location, from restaurants to schools.

The artificial intelligence system within these robots are capable of mapping any space and with UVC light killing 90% of coronavirus particles, could be the perfect alternative to having humans disinfect by hand. The data gathered from these robots will also help drive those of the future, allowing our automated assistants to better navigate a world built for humans.

A Robotic Lab Assistant

During the pandemic, one laboratory has turned to robotics to run its experiments, with its plucky automated assistant knocking out an amazing 668 experiments in just 8 days. Unlike your typical science grad student, this robot doesn’t get tired, doesn’t make mistakes and reproduces the experiments exactly the same, every time. Run by a batched Bayesian search algorithm, this robot not only speeds up the process of running experiments but will also do wonders for reproducibility, doing the same thing with consistency and accuracy.

An Automated Future

The Coronavirus pandemic has given robots and drones the chance to take the spotlight and they have been monumental in assisting humans during this difficult time. Whilst robots are typically seen as replacing us for manual labour, it’s now plain to see that they can assist us in ways we never expected.

From robots enforcing social distancing to drones delivering medical supplies, from here on out our cities will rely ever more heavily on automation, with robots and drones paving the way in this new industrial automation revolution.

Image by patricio davalos on Unsplash