Ventilators Image
A robotic device affixed to a ventilator allows staff to control the breathing apparatus from outside the room of a patient suffering from infectious diseases. (Credit: Will Kirk, Johns Hopkins University)

A new robotic system may help hospitals preserve protective gear, limit staff exposure to COVID-19, and provide more time for clinical work. The robotic system gives medical staff the ability to remotely operate ventilators and other bedside machines from outside intensive care rooms of patients with infectious diseases.

The system is still being tested, but initial trials have demonstrated the ability of robotics researchers to work together to tackle one of the most vexing treatment issues to arise with the pandemic. The pandemic spurred a surge of highly infectious intensive care patients requiring ventilators, infusion pumps, and other equipment. Treating such patients requires hospital personnel to don and doff protective gear every time they enter and leave rooms, even for minor adjustments to machines.

The robotic device is affixed to the ventilator’s screen with a horizontal bar secured across the top edge. The bar serves as a stationary track for the back-and-forth movement of two thin vertical bars that extend the full height of the screen. As the vertical bars sweep over the screen, a stylus it carries moves up and down according to commands, similar to how an Etch A Sketch’s drawing tool is steered over an X-Y axis. A camera connected to the top bar sends an image of the screen to the operator’s tablet.