As robots take over frontline duties for Covid-19 patients, it is time to look at AI’s potential in healthcare
As healthcare personnel on the frontline of humanity’s war against the Coronavirus fall prey to it daily, more and more countries around the world are beginning to bank upon Artificial Intelligence (AI) and AI-powered robots to fight the pandemic. Even though the scientific community, technocrats and even techpreneurs like Elon Musk have time and again warned mankind against the possibility of AI and robots costing people their jobs going forward and creating mass unemployment, right now they are partnering with the human race and playing a major role in the fight against COVID-19. In fact, robots seem to be a good option in fighting any infectious disease in the future. Right from AI predicting the spread, interpreting and analysing data to robots replacing humans in hospital wards to save medical personnel from infection, we are living this science fiction scenario for real. For instance in the US, one of the major COVID-19 hotspots of the world, robots are replacing clinicians in hospitals, helping disinfect rooms, providing telehealth services and are processing and analysing test samples from patients. In fact, doctors even used a robot to treat the first person diagnosed with COVID-19 in Everett, Washington. The robot in question was equipped with a stethoscope to take the person’s vitals and a camera for the doctor to communicate with the patient through a large video screen. AI systems are also helping doctors identify COVID-19 cases through CT scans or X-rays at a rapid rate with high accuracy. Italy and China, too, have used robots to deliver healthcare and minimise contact with Corona positive cases. In India, hospitals in Kerala, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu have used robots for monitoring patients in isolation wards and for delivering food and medicines to minimise contact with doctors. AIIMS, whose healthcare professionals have borne the brunt of the virus during treatment, is now mulling using robots in its Delhi and Jhajjar facilities where COVID-19 patients are being treated. The Milagrow Humanoid ELF that AIIMS intends to use enables doctors to monitor and interact with COVID-19 patients remotely. Patients in isolation wards can also interact with their relatives from time to time through this robot. ELF can navigate around the ward independently and record the activities in high definition video and audio. The advanced humanoid features eyes with emotion and open application programming interface (API) for further development and customisation. There may not be the human touch but there is no lack of human emotion and intent. Milagrow iMap 9 is a floor disinfecting robot that can navigate and sanitise the floors without any human intervention. It can destroy virus spores on floor surfaces using sodium hypochlorite solution, as recommended by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The robot moves around autonomously without falling while planning its own path.
Globally, AI is at the forefront of Coronavirus vaccine and drug research, too, as it has the ability to scan billions of papers and researches in a short while and collate data, thus saving researchers and scientists a lot of grunt work and time taken to come out with a probable cure. Perhaps, that’s the reason why vaccine trials can take place sooner than estimated. However, the use of robots in healthcare is nothing new and has been around for over 30 years. Robots have been used to perform simple laboratory tests or highly complex surgeries, either independently or as an aid to a surgeon. They are also used in hospitals and labs for repetitive tasks, in rehabilitation, physical therapy and in support of those with long-term conditions. AI has been around in the diagnosis of diseases like cancer and heart ailments. In fact, its use is enabling review and translation of mammograms 30 times faster with 99 per cent accuracy, reducing the need for unnecessary biopsies. Plus, what about the health apps and wearable monitoring systems that we use? This is all AI-powered and we don’t even realise how deeply-entrenched it has become in our lives. As science makes rapid strides each day, more possibilities of the use of AI and robots in healthcare are opening up. AI and robots are even being used to provide end of life care to senior citizens and interact with those who live alone to sharpen their minds. The possibilities are endless; it only needs a real human mind to unlock them.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)