The Social Effect of Robots in Healthcare Environments

Wynkoop, Connor, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Ferguson, Sean, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Since March 2020, the world has been battling a disease called COVID-19. As of May 6th, 2021 there have been 155 million cases worldwide with 3.25 million deaths. There has been a surge in demand for ways to disinfect anything and everything in order to prevent contracting this illness. One of these ways being disinfection robots that can autonomously navigate an environment and disinfect it before a human enters the space. This way of disinfecting is in high demand in hospitals worldwide because of the danger of contracting the virus and potentially killing the individual who becomes sick from COVID-19. Both my STS Research Paper and Technical Report cover the topics of robotics and autonomy drawing inspiration from these disinfection robots that are in high demand.
The technical report covers the efforts of my 5 teammates and I as we designed and built a disinfection robot from start to finish. The motivation behind this project as mentioned earlier was sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic that everyone all over the world has been battling since March 2020. My group and technical advisor, Dr. Furukawa, saw that there was a need for a new disinfection solution for hospitals in order to prevent humans from getting in harm’s way. Disinfection robots are not a new thing. However, our design is something that has never been implemented on a disinfection robot. Previous robots have limited degrees of freedom only being able to disinfect whatever is in line with the ultraviolet light that it uses. Our design increases the degrees of freedom by introducing a robotic arm that carries an ultraviolet light on it to reach places that were previously unreachable. At the conclusion of our technical project, we were able to finish the construction of our robot and introduce a way to wirelessly drive the robot around using a Logitech controller or a remote computer. In the future we hope that another group is able to finish on what we started and introduce mapping and autonomous disinfection of a room using the robot.
My STS Research Paper draws on the topic of how robots are being implemented in healthcare facilities worldwide and why they are creating a positive social benefit that outweighs any temporary negatives. The paper touches on surgical robots such as the da Vinci system and how it has transformed noninvasive surgeries for the better, care robots such as Paro and Pepper which are starting to change how therapy is being done on elderly patients with and without dementia, and regular hospital robots such as the Aethon Tug and disinfection robots that help aid nurses and custodial staff in doing their everyday jobs.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Robotics, Healthcare Robots, Autonomy
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