Use of Robotics & AI amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed our way of life over the past year. We have all had to change our close human interactions in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19, and adhere to protocols. This has led to a dramatic resurgence of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics as these areas will try to fill the gap that exists due to the reduced human interaction. These areas are going to be critical for the future. It would pay significant dividends if Saint Lucia begins to invest some of our limited resources in such areas in a bid to diversify our economy. We should aim to have technology focus areas as part of the enterprise projects that CIP advertises as opposed to solely tourism-related investments.
Robotics has become more widely used as the world attempts to socially distance in order to maintain the COVID-19 protocols and minimize the disease spread. Robotics use ranges from across a variety of industries such as: industrial applications, home and business applications. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can augment mobile heath applications where smart devices like watches, mobile phones, cameras and a range of other wearable devices can be employed for diagnosis, contact tracing and efficient monitoring in COVID-19. The use of the BioButton is one such as example. AI will eventually use to predict health patterns and trend possible illnesses based on user’s sensitive information.
COVID-19 has already accelerated demand for robotics in the supply chain and healthcare applications. Robotics suppliers switched from citing labor shortages to the need for social distancing as a rationale for adopting automation. Robots don’t need masks; they can easily be disinfected, and, most importantly, they don’t get sick. Robots have since been deployed all over the world to help with the crisis. Some of the uses of robots include the following: monitoring patients, sanitizing hospitals, making deliveries, and helping frontline medical workers reduce their exposure to the virus. Not all robots operate autonomously — many, in fact, require direct human supervision, and most are limited to simple, repetitive tasks. “The robotics market was valued at USD 23.67 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach USD 74 billion by 2026 and grow at annualized rate of 20.4% over the forecast period (2021–2026).” Is Saint Lucia prepared for the expected growth of the robotics industry? Will the Government develop policy for such growth?
Hospitality Industry Robots
Furthermore, the growth of the robotics industry could also result in lower employment in the hospitality industry as robots are used for various tasks in effort to maintain social distancing and limit the spread of COVID-19. Yotel has announced their Robotics Cleaning Package “An extension of YOTEL’s operation #SmartStay safety measures, the robot will offer an even deeper level of disinfection throughout high-touch public spaces and select cabins. YOTEL Boston is the first hotel in the United States to implement the UVD Robot technology, which is currently the only disinfection system clinically proven to disinfect effectively while “on the move.” Vi-YO-Let will fit in perfectly with our team here at YOTEL Boston and the high-tech, low-touch experience we have already created for guests.
The highly mobile, fully autonomous robot platform with an integrated UVD light disinfection system has been developed for hospitals worldwide and works to disinfect not only surfaces, but the air as well, providing a fully comprehensive infection prevention solution. These efforts further YOTEL’s commitment to the safety and well-being of our crew and guests, including the ongoing sanitization and disinfection #SmartStay protocols established for all cabin types, public spaces, Deck 12, and Komyuniti.”
We cannot expect that the same jobs will be available in the post COVID-19 world even with the rollout of vaccines. How would this impact our tourism industry? The new variants continue to show us that COVID-19 will be a very challenging enemy to defeat and there will be continual challenges. Saint Lucia cannot simply expect that the tourism industry will return in the same manner. Our government should no longer continue to put all of Saint Lucia’s resources exclusively into tourism. “Global tourism has been one of the most affected sectors during the COVID-19 crisis. Our tourism recovery model forecasts a cumulative drop of $3 trillion to $8 trillion before tourism expenditure returns to pre-COVID-19 levels. Different countries, therefore, should prepare for their own recovery curves and reimagine their tourism sectors (as well as the support they provide) differently.”
There have been some efforts in Saint Lucia to improve robotics knowledge and Orbtronics recently had a summer programme to help develop interest in the field. Earlier USAID launched the Robotics and Coding Program implemented by USAID’s Community, Family and Youth Resilience program in collaboration with the Ministry of Education. We need to encourage as many students to pursue robotics as it will be a focus area for the future. Our government together with the private sector needs to play a critical role and provide tangible support to the technology industry in a similar manner as is provided to the tourism industry.
Artificial intelligence can play a vital role in the fight against COVID-19. AI is being successfully used in the identification of disease clusters, monitoring of cases, prediction of the future outbreaks, mortality risk, diagnosis of COVID-19, disease management by resource allocation, facilitating training, record maintenance and pattern recognition for studying the disease trend. Here are some cases where AI proves invaluable:
AI in reducing the burden from medical practitioners & healthcare staff
AI-based triage systems can help in reducing the work burden of medical staff and healthcare workers by automating several processes such as imparting training to practitioners, determination of the mode of treatment and care by analyzing clinical data using pattern recognition approaches, digitalization of patient’s reports and also by offering solutions that minimize their contact with the patients.
AI can be used for classification of patients based on the severity of symptoms, genetic disposition and clinical reports in different categories like mild, moderate and severe, so that different approaches can be adopted for handling the patients in the most effective manner. AI in telemedicine can also be used to eliminate the need of frequent and unnecessary hospital visits by distant monitoring of cases and recording of patient’s data in asymptomatic cases or patients with mild symptoms.
AI-based medical chatbots can also be used for consultations, thereby reducing the physical crowding of hospitals as well as the spread of infection and thus prevent weighing down of efficient operation of critical care services. Service robots with AI core can be used for the delivery of essential services and routine tasks like cleaning, disinfecting and monitoring in hospital settings.
AI in monitoring of COVID-19 cases and early diagnosis
AI techniques are applied for monitoring patients in clinical settings and prediction of course of treatment. Based on the data derived from vital statistics and clinical parameters, AI may provide critical information for resource allocation and decision-making by prioritizing the need of ventilators and respiratory supports in the Intensive Care Unit. AI can also be used for predicting the chances of recovery or mortality in COVID-19 and to provide daily updates, storage and trend analysis and charting the course of treatment.
AI can be used used for the detection and quantification of COVID-19 cases from chest x-ray and CT scan images. Researchers have developed a deep learning model called COVID-19 detection neural network (COVNet), for differentiating between COVID-19 and community-acquired pneumonia based on visual 2D and 3D features extracted from volumetric chest CT scan. Another study used AI-based classifiers for predicting the outcome of PCR results of COVID-19 cases using 16 simple parameters derived from complete blood profile. This may help to reduce the number of PCR tests necessary in resource-poor settings.
We need to ensure that all technology tools including Robotics and Artificial Intelligence are used as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic. St. Lucian authorities should explore Robotics and AI and begin developing policy as we secure opportunities away from a tourism based industry.
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