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When doctors and nurses should be protected as much as possible from being infected by patients in COVID-19 hospital departments, robots are the next best thing. 

When doctors at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa recalled that the city’s Reali High School has a special robotics program, the hospital’s director-general, Prof. Michael Halbertal, raised the problem with his predecessor Prof. Rafael Bayer and Technion vice president for external relations and resource development Prof. Alon Wolf, who is a robotics expert. They discussed the need to develop a robot that would serve the coronavirus patients and reduce the medical staff’s exposure to the virus. 

Over the last month, thousands of medical professionals have been forced to stop working after exposure to or infection by the coronavirus. Whenever a medical worker is diagnosed with the coronavirus, the entire team must self-isolate for extended periods of time. Safeguarding the health of medical workers has become a national priority, as medical professionals are on the frontline of the fight against the virus. 

The high school’s vibrant robotics club – Galaxia 5987 in memory of David Zohar – took part in FIRST championships in the US. FIRST – a non-profit, international educational youth organization founded by Dean Kamen in 1989 – is the acronym for “For the Inspiration and Recognition. ​of Science and Technology.” It uses robotics competitions to promote entrepreneurship and learning among children and youth. FIRST ISRAEL, led by Technion, runs hundreds of groups across the country totaling approximately 14,000 students between the ages of six and 18. 

At Wolf’s initiative, Prof. Gil Yudilevitch of Technion’s Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, joined by Profs. Ezri Tarazi of the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning and Prof. Reuven Katz of the Mechanical Engineering Faculty contacted school principal Dr. Yosi Ben-Dov, and things moved very quickly. Already last week, two working robots they designed were presented to the Rambam medical team and tested bringing medications, food and equipment to hospital staffers sitting on beds in the corridor.

Looking like a stainless-steel tea cart with a tablet perched on the top and two glass shelves covering a glass-encased laser device and video cameras, the invention can easily be maneuvered by hospital personnel using a joystick or smartphone from another room. 

“Rambam asked us to help to reduce danger to medical staff in corona departments that would bring drugs, food and medical equipment to the patients’ bedsides,” recalled Yudilevitch. “In the next stage, the robot will incorporate a communication system with a screen, camera, microphone and speaker will be able to move from patient to patient and transmit information to the medical staff in real time. I hope that in the future we will add features that will help with the actual treatment, such as sensors that will check patients’ pulse rates and blood oxygen levels.”

Tirtza Hochberg, who heads Reali’s Galaxia Project, noted that “we already have the necessary parts plus engineers, teachers, mentors and students. We did it all in about a week.”  

Erez Koifman, a young member of her team, added that the video camera can swivel 180 degrees around to give medical personnel and good view. “We made adjustments to make sure that objects wouldn’t fall from the shelves,” said Paulo Kiat, a high school pupil who worked on the project. The robot can be used by various remote-control devices, to operate the tablet, personal computer and smartphone.”

As the robot has to work for many hours in a row, it was equipped with a strong battery, said mentor Ronen Ben-Yosef. It can also be cleaned easily to kill any viruses or bacteria, said Alex Gecht, a product designer at the Technion’s architecture faculty. 

“Kudos to the high school pupils and the alumni – some are in the army, some are Technion students and others have been laid off from work during the crisis – and of course to the parents who became involved and are supporting this essential project. I would also like to thank Schnapp Batteries, which donated important components for the robot.”

“If the robot will successfully pass its installation at Rambam,” concluded Wolf, “in a relatively short amount of time we will be able to build more robots for Rambam and for similar departments in other Israeli hospitals. Then, additional FIRST groups all over Israel will join the effort.”


 


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