Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Boston Dynamics gives hospital robot tech to the open source community

Technologies potentially valuable in the field are being released in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Boston Dynamics has released hardware and software designs for robotics potentially valuable in the field for use during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Waltham, MA-based robotics development company has been working with healthcare organizations to design, model, and test robotics suitable for medical purposes, including in telepresence and telemedicine applications, remote inspections, disinfection and hospital room cleaning, and delivery systems. 

Over the past six weeks, the company's most famous design, the Spot robot, has been the focus of application architectural development for frontline hospital use. 

The robot has since been deployed for testing in Bringham and Women's Hospital in Massachusetts as a mobile telemedicine platform complete with an iPad and a two-way radio.

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Boston Dynamics says Spot's new payload and applications allow "healthcare providers to remotely triage patients," and this could potentially contribute to slowing the spread of COVID-19 by strengthening social distancing in areas with high virus load. 

"We're listening to their feedback on how Spot can do more but are encouraged by reports that using the robot has helped their nursing staff minimize time exposed to potentially contagious patients," the company says. 

To advance the development of telehealth further, the payload, hardware, and software for this application, suitable for deployment on other mobile robotic platforms, has now been released. 

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The toolkit is vendor-neutral and can be adapted for wheeled, tracked, and other mobile forms of robotics. 

Boston Dynamics hopes to expand on this work by pivoting to disinfection applications, including the use of UV-C lights that can be attached to mobile robots working in hospital settings.

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In addition, the company is also working with researchers on methods to remotely measure temperature, respiratory rates, pulse, and oxygen saturation levels for use in triage. Thermal imaging cameras have been suggested as a possible option for some measurements.  

"We hope our fellow mobile robot providers, existing customers, and medical professionals will be able to use this information to leverage mobile robots to take people out of harm's way during this critical time," the firm added.

Boston Dynamic's source code and design repository can be accessed on GitHub

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