Robot Health Workers Mark Technological Milestone in Rwanda
Sleek, white robots with blinking blue eyes are helping health workers in Rwanda treat COVID-19 patients.
The humanoid robots, named Akazuba, Ikirezi, Mwiza, Ngabo and Urumuri, take patients’ temperatures, monitor their status, and deliver food and medication. The robots, which are capable of treating 50 to 150 people a minute, were donated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) at a total cost of $178,000.
Health Minister Daniel Ngamije said the robots are instrumental in protecting health workers.
“Medics and other front-line workers visit patients’ rooms many times to deliver medication, meals, carry out tests, among other things — and this may pose a risk of contracting the virus,” Ngamije told Rwanda’s New Times newspaper.
Although there haven’t been any confirmed COVID-19 cases of medical workers in Rwanda, Ngamije said that a custodian at a treatment facility tested positive for the virus.
In an interview with Kigali Today, he commended the UNDP for helping procure the robots.
“It is exciting to see different institutions join hands to seek solutions to address COVID-19,” Ngamije said. “It is yet another milestone in the use of technology to enhance health in Rwanda.”
The robots also will be deployed in bus terminals and other places where people congregate to do random tests and identify people with COVID-19 symptoms. It has sickened almost 400 people in Rwanda and killed two.
“The infectious nature of COVID-19 calls for technological innovations to tackle the pandemic,” said Paula Ingabire, minister of information and communications technology and innovation. “This is why Rwanda has introduced robots and drones among other high-tech initiatives to enhance efficiency in the fight.”
Designed by Belgian robotics company Zora Bots, the robots are outfitted with speech-recognition technology and can determine if people haven’t been wearing a protective mask.
They also can keep medical records, which will “facilitate the transition from paper-based patient files to digital records,” Sabin Nsanzimana, director of the Rwanda Biomedical Center, told Deutsche Press-Agentur, an international news agency.
The Rwanda Biomedical Center produced a brief video demonstrating how the robots take orders from humans.
“Go to your charging station,” a woman tells one of the robots.
“OK, I am going to my charging station now,” the robot replied, as it swiveled toward its destination.
News of the disease-fighting robots was widely applauded and shared on social media.
“When innovative leaders welcome ideas and put them to the test, progress is bound to happen, well done,” Noel Lyoni wrote on Twitter.
Ignace Gatare tweeted that the “integration of smart health care services and solutions” was a “smart decision” in the fight against the global pandemic.