Robot nurse to help Malaysian doctors on virus frontlines

Robot nurse to help Malaysian doctors on virus frontlines
Medibot is being tested for doctor-patient interaction. (IIUM)
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Updated 18 April 2020

Robot nurse to help Malaysian doctors on virus frontlines

Robot nurse to help Malaysian doctors on virus frontlines
  • As of Friday there were 5,257 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Malaysia and 86 related deaths

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian engineers have created a robot nurse to support health workers dealing with the coronavirus outbreak and reduce their risk of infection.
The 1.5-meter-tall white robot, which bears some resemblance to R2-D2 from the “Star Wars” movies, is equipped with devices to enable physician-patient interaction at a distance.
“At this moment, we are collecting data and feedback at hospitals in Kuala Lumpur with our Medibot Version 2,” said Dr. Hasan Firdaus Mohammed Zaki from the Department of Mechatronics at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), a member of the team that created the robot.
He told Arab News that Malaysian stakeholders were interested in having the robot quickly deployed at hospitals handling coronavirus patients.
“In terms of mass producing the robot, it depends on funding from the government and private institutions,” he said. It cost the IIUM engineers $3,430 to develop the prototype.
The Malaysian engineers said they were motivated to do something when they saw footage showing overwhelmed Chinese doctors addressing the pandemic in Wuhan several months ago.
“We asked ourselves if we can contribute through a more ‘technical’ way for our frontliners,” Zaki said. “From there came the idea to develop a telepresence robot where the physician can interact with the patient from a distance to minimize the direct contact between the physician, nurse and the patient.”
Medibot has a microphone and speaker to enable physician-patient interaction, temperature sensors, an electronic stethoscope, and a system for monitoring blood pressure in real time. It can also be transformed into a sprayer robot for disinfection purposes.
“If you look into the functions of this Medibot, it opens up possibilities to utilize the robot post-COVID-19,” Zaki said.

“We are currently negotiating terms with a government agency and a private company for a joint partnership. However, we shall keep the details under wraps until everything is in place.”

HIGHLIGHT

Medibot has a microphone and speaker to enable physician-patient interaction, temperature sensors, an electronic stethoscope, and a system for monitoring blood pressure in real-time.

But not everyone in the health sector is enthusiastic about the role that artificial intelligence-powered nurses could play in the current coronavirus response.
The director of Universiti Teknologi Mara Hospital, Dr. Sazzli Kasim, said robots were not the most urgent need at the moment as the situation in Malaysia was not as bad as it was in other countries.
“It would have been useful when the rate of coronavirus infections was high, when we were unsure where we were heading,” he told Arab News, adding that the Malaysian government’s lockdown measures imposed last month had greatly contained the spread of the disease.
He said that while people in Italy and the UK had been sharing ventilators and there were more sick people than intensive care units (ICUs) available, in Malaysia coronavirus patients were less than 20 percent of all those admitted to ICUs.
As of Friday there were 5,257 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Malaysia and 86 related deaths. The infection rate has been decreasing for the past few days.