Dr. Spot the robot dog now seeing COVID-19 patients


Boston Dynamics equipped Spot with an iPad and two-way radio to act as a remote connection between doctors and COVID-10 patients. | Credit: Boston Dynamics

Simplicity doesn’t typically come to mind when thinking about Boston Dynamics and how it engineers its robots. But the newest application for its Spot quadruped could be the simplest, yet most valuable use yet.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, one of the world’s leading hospital’s, has been using Spot for the last week as a telemedicine robot. Through an iPad and a two-way radio mounted on Spot’s back, medical personnel can remotely videoconference with COVID-19 patients.

Patients suspected to have COVID-19 are asked to line up in tents outside to answer questions and get initial assessments for temperature. According to Boston Dynamics, this process requires up to five medical staff, placing each of them at high risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.

Boston Dynamics said Spot helps reduce medical staff’s exposure to COVID-19. Another hospital that has talked to Boston Dynamics said a sixth of its staff contracted COVID-19 within a single week.

“Based on these conversations, as well as the global shortage of critical personal protective equipment (PPE), we have spent the past several weeks trying to better understand hospital requirements to develop a mobile robotics solution with our robot, Spot,” Boston Dynamics wrote on its blog. “The result is a legged robot application that can be deployed to support frontline staff responding to the pandemic in ad-hoc environments such as triage tents and parking lots.”

As a telepresence system alone, Spot comes with a hefty price tag. And Boston Dynamics admits wheeled or tracked robots may be a better solution for these applications. “We developed the payload, hardware, and software for this application so that they are generalizable and able to be deployed on other mobile robotic platforms with APIs and capacity for custom payloads,” it said.

But, apparently, this is just the tip of the iceberg for Boston Dynamics when it comes to healthcare applications it’s exploring. In a GitHub post, Boston Dynamics documents other potential COVID-19-related work for Spot, including:

  • Measuring vitals such as body temperature, oxygen saturation and pulse rate.
  • Disinfecting surfaces and rooms using a UV-C light or other technology mounted on its back
  • Delivery of food, medicine and other supplies to patients in quarantine.

Boston Dynamics is open-sourcing Spot’s hardware- and software-related work on GitHub.

“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. Together, we can improve conditions for healthcare workers and essential personnel around the world, save lives, and fight COVID-19.”

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