🤖 Robots are helping to protect humans in the battle against COVID-19 / Humans + Tech - #26

+ Stanford's ‘smart toilet’ knows your sh*t and your ‘analprint’ + CRISPR and stem cell therapy combined could reverse diabetes

Hello :)

It is expected that life is going to be quite different once we are over the COVID-19 pandemic. How exactly is yet to be seen, but one area that will likely be boosted is robotics.

Asimov’s first law of robotics states [Wikipedia]:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Robots are already helping with COVID-19 monitoring, treatment, policing, and delivery. With social-distancing here to stay for the foreseeable future, robots are going to replace many of the tasks that put humans at risk.

🧿 Protecting frontline healthcare workers

Boston Dynamics’ robotic dog called Spot is now helping hospitals and frontline workers by minimizing the staff’s exposure to patients with COVID-19 [Popular Mechanics]. Spot is equipped with an iPad and a two-way radio on its back so healthcare workers can video conference with patients while remotely directing the robot through the lines of patients in the tents and have them take initial temperature readings.

Since Boston Dynamics only have a limited number of these robotic dogs, they have graciously open-sourced their hardware and software to enable others to transform existing robots to perform healthcare work.  

UVD Robots use UV rays to disinfect rooms without human intervention [UVD Robots]. They take roughly 10 minutes per room. Hospital staff can order the robot via an app. The robot can take the elevator, go to the room, disinfect it, and notify the staff when it’s done. UVD Robots says that 99.99% of all bacteria are killed.

UBTECH Robotics’ ATRIS, AIMBOT, and Cruzr robots, which are normally used in retail and hospitality were modified for use at a Shenzhen hospital specialized in treating COVID-19 patients. The robots monitored temperatures of the patients, disinfected various areas, detect people without masks, and also provided video conferencing capabilities between frontline workers and patients [YouTube].

The University of California, Berkeley’s Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) have created a COVID-19 robotic diagnostic lab from scratch [UC Berkeley], with the capability to process more than 1,000 patient samples per day. They can ramp up to 3,000 tests per day if required.

In Italy, Tommy the robot nurse cares for coronavirus patients by monitoring medical equipment, serving as a communication interface between doctors and patients, and minimizing the risk of exposure to healthcare workers [Reuters]. Tommy is a huge help, especially with the shortage of masks and PPE.

In Chennai, India, Stanley Hospital has employed robotic nurses [India TV] to serve food and medicines to coronavirus patients to reduce the risk of infection to nurses and doctors.

🚚 Delivering food, groceries, and medicines

Starship Technologies' delivery robots are helping both small businesses in Washington D.C. stay in business and helping customers maintain social-distancing by not having to visit the store. The cute six-wheeled robots make home deliveries of food and groceries [Voice of America].

In Milton Keynes, in the UK, Starship Technologies’ delivery robots deliver food and drink from restaurants [Mashable]. Users can order from restaurants and businesses through the Starship Technologies app on their phone and the delivery robots bring their orders to them.

👮‍♀️ Reinforcing lockdowns, monitoring, and enforcing regulations

Around the world, governments are deploying drones to monitor the streets, warn residents, and reinforce lockdowns. As seen in this short video from France24 [YouTube], authorities from France, Malaysia, Italy, China, UAE, Spain, and the UK have all deployed drones to assist law enforcement. India and Indonesia have even used drones to disinfect crowded urban areas.


🚽 Stanford scientists engineer a ‘smart toilet' that checks your health

Researchers at Stanford have created an assortment of sensors and cameras that can be attached to existing toilets [Big Think] to look for disease markers in urine and stools. To determine the exact person whose ‘download’ it is analysing, the researchers discovered that each person has a unique ‘analprint.’ Like a fingerprint, the pattern and number of creases are genetically determined and unique to each individual. Except in twins. So, as long as you don’t have a twin, the cameras can identify you and accurately attribute the analysis to you.

The smart toilet tracks the frequency and duration of a user's restroom visits. The cameras take pictures and algorithms look for signs of disease. Stools are also analysed for consistency. Urine is analysed through flow, rate, and magnitude of the stream. The toilet also comes with a urinalysis stick which can check for acidity, protein levels, white blood cell count, blood contamination, and other biomarkers.

The algorithms then compile the data for a preliminary diagnosis and send them directly to a health care provider's record-keeping system. These data could recognize the early signs for a host of diseases, such as kidney failure, irritable bowel syndrome, and colorectal cancer, much sooner than with traditional doctor visits.


🧬 CRISPR combines with stem cell therapy to reverse diabetes in mice

Scientists at Washington University have been working on turning stem cells into pancreatic beta cells as a cure for diabetes [New Atlas]. Recently they have found success in completely reversing the disease in mice by combining this technique with the CRISPR gene-editing technology.

They took skin cells from mice with a particularly rare genetic type of diabetes called Wolfram syndrome and converted them to the stem cells, which were then converted into insulin-secreting beta cells. CRISPR was then used to edit the cells to remove the genetic mutation that causes Wolfram syndrome. When these cells were implanted under the skin of the mice, the diabetes rapidly disappeared. A control group of mice which received unedited beta cells remained diabetic.

They are hopeful that this technique may be able to treat both type 1 and type 2 diabetes as well. The eventual goal is to treat humans using these methods, but the timeline for human trials is not clear as yet.


💬 Quote of the week

If autonomous robots are going to hang with us, we're going to have to teach them how to behave—which means finding a way to make them aware of the values that are most important to us.

—Kristen Clark, "How to Build a Moral Robot", Spectrum, May 31, 2016

When I read this quote, I thought to myself, collectively as a human race, do we know what values are most important to us? — I doubt we will get a unanimous answer if we ran a poll with people from all over the world. But it’s an important question for humanity to think about. What values are most important to us?

I wish you good health and a brilliant day ahead :)

Neeraj