How a robot is helping Tygerberg specialists deal with pandemic

15 April 2020 - 07:00
By Kgaugelo Masweneng
Image: Supplied "Robot" used to do rounds at the Tygerburg Hospital.

Intensive care specialists at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town have a new infection-resistant “colleague” helping them do ward rounds on Covid-19 patients.

That colleague is a robot named Quintin, who stands as an example of how the pandemic has brought ingenuity and collaboration to the fore.

The robot, made by Double Robotics, has been employed to help specialists do “virtual” ward rounds if they are unable to be present — even from home.

Prof Coenie Koegelenberg of the pulmonology unit at Stellenbosch University’s faculty of medicine and health sciences started experimenting with options to perform virtual ward rounds in the intensive care unit shortly before lockdown.

“Between the specialists, we will share the workload of Covid-19 patients who end up in ICU. The odds of at least one or all of us falling ill are quite high, so we need to realistically plan for what could happen,” said Koegelenberg.

“If any of the specialists gets the virus and is unable to physically go to work, we will be able to function remotely using the robot, from a phone or a laptop.

“Using this device will enable us to provide a service if our skill sets are in short supply.”

The idea of using robots came about through “a combination of thoughts of many people,” said Koegelenberg.

“We started wondering how we could help more people if we ourselves were to fall ill.”

His wife, dermatologist Dr Suretha Kannenberg, had told him about this device.

“On Wednesday March 18, on my way home after many meetings, I wondered whether ‘virtual’ ward rounds in many ICUs could be feasible,” he said.

“I phoned my wife and shared my thoughts. I had thought of using a fancy ‘nanny cam’ she bought a few years ago.

“She suggested using the Sunskill Laboratory’s Double Robotics robot instead. The Sunskill lab without any hesitation agreed to have the robots be used in the ICU until the pandemic is over.”

The robot looks like a computer tablet on two wheels. It uses gyroscope and accelerometer sensors in its base and can be controlled with a desktop, tablet or smartphone. It enables communication between patient and doctor through a microphone and a camera, and can relay the vital signs of highly infectious patients.