Why The Robot-Human Relationship Will Outlast The Pandemic


As the novel coronavirus continues to ravage physical and financial health on a global scale, technological advancements have been helping us through these tough times. Robots have been around for several years now, playing a crucial role in various industries. And their capabilities are needed now more than ever. With humans battling an invisible enemy, robots are an essential ally.

Robots as Medical Frontliners

Due to staff shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic, UV robots have joined the medical frontliners. Patently immune and easy to sterilize, they are well-equipped for healthcare-related tasks. With no chance of them coughing, sneezing, or touching random surfaces, these bots pose no risk of spreading the deadly virus around a hospital.

Patients arriving in the Antwerp University Hospital in Belgium who are suspected of COVID-19 are welcomed by a child-sized robot. A camera on top of the robot checks each patient’s temperature and confirms that they’re wearing a mask. The machine then scans a QR code produced by a questionnaire they have to fill out prior to entering the hospital. This evaluates whether they’re a high-risk case, allowing the robot to escort them to the most appropriate ward.

Robots as Virus-Killing Machines 

In Tullamore Hospital in Ireland, an independent ultraviolet cleaning machine called Violet has risen to significance with the arrival of COVID-19. Violet helps in protecting the hospital staff, the cleaners and the patients. Like all UV cleaning machines, Violet emits ultraviolet light strong enough to tear down the genetic material inside viruses. UV light is recognized for its effectiveness against many coronaviruses, and research reveals it works efficiently against SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus strain behind the current pandemic. 

As such, autonomous UV cleaning robots have been widely used not only in healthcare facilities but also in other high-traffic spaces where the infection is vulnerable, including hotels, restaurants, and airports. These machines have become the leaders in pandemic automation as evidenced by a massive sales boom in recent months.

Telepresence Robots

In the Phoenix Children’s Hospital in Arizona, telepresence robots have been providing entertainment to children who are restricted to their rooms because of the coronavirus pandemic. These bots are helping young patients to explore places outside the hospital. From exotic locales to fire stations, the children and their families and friends are able to explore the world via the hospital’s CCTV channel, which also broadcasts live game shows into patients’ rooms. As a result, these kids feel a wonderful sense of connection to the outside world.

“If we didn’t have the robots, we wouldn’t have been able to have these special visits. It’s a huge benefit for our patients to have these experiences when they’re not allowed to experience a lot of other things,” said Matt Bryson, who manages electronic equipment for the hospital’s children’s ward.

Robots as Meat Cutters

In the United States, robotic technology is expected to handle the cutting and processing of packaged meat. According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, Tyson Foods is stepping up the development of robots due to coronavirus outbreaks across its facilities. As the meat company quickly became a hot spot for spreading the virus, sick staff and national meat shortages became a huge problem. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded a total of 16,233 COVID-19 cases and 86 deaths in meat processing facilities across 23 states in America.

Noel White, CEO of Tyson Foods, told The Wall Street Journal that since 2017 they have already invested $500 million in robots and have plans to accelerate the project despite the pandemic. To ramp up the process, the meat behemoth has a dedicated facility on its Arkansas headquarters where scientists and engineers are examining and developing meat processing robots. Aside from Tyson Foods, JBC and Pilgrim’s Pride have also been working on similar robotic technology in recent years.