As Ebola continues to threaten lives around the world, the White House is considering recruiting the world of robotics to offer assistance.

For years, robots has been used in disaster zones to mitigate crises that are too dangerous for people to work on. Multiple robot models braved the Fukushima nuclear disaster so human workers didn’t have to risk their lives.

See also: Robots Ride To The Rescue In DARPA’s Virtual Robotics Challenge

On Friday, the White House will hear proposals from three leading university robotics programs, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Texas A&M and the University of California, Berkeley, about how robots would be used to stop Ebola, the BBC reports.

Since Ebola is spread through contact with bodily fluids and not through the air, all three of the programs advise that the robots are not autonomous—meaning they don’t act on their own—but are remote-control operated by a human worker a safe distance away. For example, since Ebola can spread during burial, robots controlled by humans could do the heavy lifting without exposing workers to the disease.

The schools will also discuss their efforts to teach new skills to existing robots instead of developing custom Ebola bots. Researchers believe both rover Aero and industrial robot Baxter can be used to assist with Ebola prevention. 

See also: How Baxter, The Touchy Factory Robot, Learned To Loosen Up

The White House will consider each school’s proposal, but also discuss whether robot assistance will make Ebola victims feel more stigmatised than they already are.

“There are definitely benefits to technology where we don’t want to put human life in danger, but with that comes [psychological] risks,” Jeanine Skorinko, associate professor of psychology at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, told the BBC.

Photo of Aero robot via The Speaker

lauren orsini

subscriber