The deadly coronavirus outbreak, which has pushed the Chinese medical community into overdrive, has also prompted the country’s hospitals to more quickly adopt robots as medical assistants.
Telepresence bots that allow remote video communication, patient health monitoring and safe delivery of medical goods are growing in number on hospital floors in urban China. They’re now acting as a safe go-between that helps curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Keenon Robotics, a Shanghai-based company, deployed 16 robots of a model nicknamed “little peanut” to a hospital in Hangzhou after a group of Wuhan travellers to Singapore were held in quarantine. Siasun Robot and Automation Co donated seven medical robots and 14 catering service robots to the Shenyang Red Cross to help hospitals combat the virus, according to a media release. Keenon and Siasun didn’t reply to requests for comment.
JD.com Inc is testing the use of autonomous delivery robots in Wuhan, the company said. Local media has also reported robots being used in hospitals in the city as well as in Guangzhou, Jiangxi, Chengdu, Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus has left provincial hospitals straining to cope and helped accelerate the embrace of robots as one solution, turning the gadgets into medical assistants. These bots join China’s tech-heavy response to the coronavirus outbreak, which also includes airborne drones and work-from-home apps.
The jury remains out on how effective these coping tactics will be. China’s rapid buildout of 5G wireless networking in areas around urban hospitals has also seen a rise in 5G-powered medical robots — equipped with cameras that allow remote video communication and patient monitoring.
“The technology of robots used in Chinese hospitals isn’t high, but what this virus is also highlighting — and it could be the next stage of Chinese robots —is the use of medical robot deployment,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Nikkie Lu.
China Mobile donated one 5G robot each to both Wuhan Union Hospital and Tongji Tianyou Hospital, according to a report by ThePaper.cn.
While it may take patients a moment or two to get over the shock of being helped by a robot rather than a medical professional, bots have already permeated a growing number of sectors in Chinese society including nursing homes, restaurants, warehouses, banks and over 200 kindergartens.