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Researchers to meet with aid workers to build Ebola-fighting robots

Sharon Gaudin | Oct. 20, 2014
Nov. 7 meeting would explore use of robots to transport food, act as interpreters and even bury the dead.

Murphy doesn't know whether mortuary robots will be called for during the Nov. 7 workshop but she is using the idea as a teachable moment for students at Texas A&M and getting ahead on the project in case they are needed.

Students in the school's department of architecture design are trying to modify a four-wheeled Bobcat robot by replacing a bulldozer scoop with a sarcophagus that would carry the body in a respectful manner.

"Robots scooping up people is pretty difficult to do in a dignified way and to do it reliably," Murphy said. "But handling infected bodies is really bad... It's an interesting concept but it's not just about getting the technology right. We have to get a lot of things right."

That means the roboticists need to focus on a lot of details.

Other questions the robotocists need to answer are what training will the locals need to operate the robots? How will the batteries be recharged? What's the Internet connectivity like where the robots will be operating? How would they transport the robot or robots? Is the ground there hard, sandy or muddy? Do the locals even want robotic help?

"All of these questions have to be answered," Murphy said. "That's the difference between having a great idea in a laboratory and having it work out in the field."

Texas A&M has applied for funding through the National Science Foundation for a rapid response grant to study what technology is needed and what the requirements for it would be.

Padir said he is looking forward to the workshop so that researchers and aid workers can brought together to make sure the technology fits the need.

"We can imagine solutions in our laboratory from an engineering perspective but we need to make sure it's usable on the field," he said. "We need to come together as a community and say this is what we can pursue and make an impact."


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