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Communications of the ACM

ACM Opinion

The Role of Robotics in Managing Public Health and Infectious Diseases

emergency medical structure in Brescia, Italy

Medical personnel inside an emergency structure outside the hospital in Brescia, Italy, in March 2020.

Credit: AP

Could robots be effective resources in combating COVID-19? Robots have the potential to be deployed for disinfection, delivering medications and food, measuring vital signs, and assisting border controls. As epidemics escalate, the potential roles of robotics are becoming increasingly clear.

Workshops organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation in 2015 identified three broad areas where robotics can make a difference: clinical care (e.g., telemedicine and decontamination), logistics (e.g., delivery and handling of contaminated waste), and reconnaissance (e.g., monitoring compliance with voluntary quarantines). The COVID-19 outbreak has introduced a fourth area: continuity of work and maintenance of socioeconomic functions.

COVID-19 has affected manufacturing and the economy throughout the world. This highlights the need for more research into remote operation for a broad array of applications requiring dexterous manipulation—from manufacturing to remotely operating power or waste treatment plants.

For each of these areas, there are extensive developments, as well as opportunities, to be explored in robotics.

From Science Robotics
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