WPI’s Taskin Padir Explains How Robotic Technology Could Help Those on Ebola’s Front Lines

In interviews with The New York Times, Computerworld and other media outlets, the assistant professor of robotics engineering says robotic technology may help protect Ebola health care workers at greatest risk

Scientists are proposing an intriguing solution to help protect health care workers on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak and fight the spread of the highly contagious disease: robots.

With today’s robotic technology – already deployed in many medical setting across the country -- experts say robots could be programmed to handle waste removal, decontamination, telepresence, surveillance, and other human tasks associated with a high risk of disease transmission. So real is this possibility that scientists, with the support of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, are planning a series of brainstorming meetings to explore the role of robotics and other technologies in the Ebola crisis. WPI is one of only four locations across the country selected to host one of the first round of workshops on Nov. 7, which will include medical responders and academic researchers, as well as commercial robotics companies.

In an interview with The New York Times, Taskin Padir, assistant professor of robotics at WPI, says he has been working to repurpose AERO -- an existing WPI robot used in other robotics events – to safely perform decontamination tasks, such as spraying bleach solution on clothing exposed to infected body fluids and sterilizing facilities.

Another possibility, he told Computerworld, is to set up a telepresence robot that would allow health care workers to see and interact with patients from the safety of a remote location, while also providing patients in quarantine with some form of human contact. Such robots may also be useful with language interpretation.

However, Padir cautions that the goal is not to eliminate or replace human workers and caregivers. “We’re trying to empower them, we’re trying to give them new tools to minimize contact and interaction [with infected patients],” he explained to BBC World.

The New York Times – Scientists Consider Repurposing Robots for Ebola 
BBC World Service – Dr. Taskin Padir appears discussing robot technologies to fight Ebola 
Boston Sunday Herald – Robots may battle Ebola
Gizmodo Australia – Robots May Join The Fight Against Ebola In West Africa 
Computerworld – Researchers to meet with aid workers to build Ebola-fighting robots 
Computerworld Malaysia/Singapore – Researchers to meet with aid workers to build Ebola-fighting robots 
IEEE Spectrum – Real Robots to Help Fight Ebola 
CNET.com – Could robots aid in the Ebola fight? 
BetaBoston – How robots could help health workers manage this Ebola outbreak 
Slashdot – Researchers Scrambling To Build Ebola-Fighting Robots 
Gizmodo – The robots that could fight Ebola
Wall Street Daily – Robots Unleashed on Ebola?
Daily Mail – Could robots be the key to beating Ebola?