A hospital in Boston is using Boston Dynamics' famous 4-legged robots to screen patients for the coronavirus — here's how it works

Joanne Rathe Strohmeyer/The Boston GlobeBoston Dynamics Spot robot.
  • Boston Dynamics’ four-legged robot, Spot, is being used in a Boston hospital to work with COVID-19 patients.
  • The company has spent the past month building and testing ways for robots to protect healthcare workers.
  • Boston Dynamics says it will make the hardware and software open source so they can be used by other manufacturers as it works on developing more telemedicine and disinfecting robots.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The latest robot to join the fight against the coronavirus outbreak is Spot, Boston Dynamics’ four-legged, dog-like robot.

Spot has been used at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston for the past two weeks, according to a statement released Thursday. Boston Dynamics is a robotics company based in Boston that is known for its designs that mirror life-like movements that resemble people and animals leading to an uncanny valley effect that may make viewers uncomfortable.

Around the world, robots are being used to minimise the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, by taking food preparation jobs, performing medical intake exams, and even disinfecting entire cities.

More controversially, robots and drones have been used to enforce coronavirus lockdowns in some countries, and US police have started adopting them for outreach.


Spot robots are equipped with an iPad and two-way radio.

Spot® robot image provided courtesy of Boston Dynamics, Inc.Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

Using this setup, doctors can talk to patients and evaluate their symptoms from afar, without having to put themselves at risk of exposure.

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Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

Before using the robots, patients with COVID-19 symptoms would line up to get assessments from healthcare providers in tents, which would require up to five members of medical staff to potentially be exposed to each patient.

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Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

Boston Dynamics says that for every shift completed by a robot, at least one healthcare worker can decrease their exposure to coronavirus.

Spot® robot image provided courtesy of Boston Dynamics, Inc.Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

Limiting exposure of healthcare workers also means that they can conserve PPE.

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Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

Boston area hospitals started reaching out to Boston Dynamics in early March asking for robots that could help minimise staff exposure to COVID-19.

Spot® robot image provided courtesy of Boston Dynamics, Inc.Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

Next, Boston Dynamics hopes to develop technology that will allow Spot robots to inspect patients’ vitals.

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Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

They’re working on ways for Spot to measure body temperature, respiratory rate, pulse rate, and oxygen saturation.

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Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

Researchers think thermal cameras could be used to take temperatures and respiratory rates, and external cameras could potentially measure changes in blood vessel contraction to find pulse rate

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Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

Boston Dynamics is making the software and hardware designs for this telemedicine robot open source, so other manufacturers can apply them.

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Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

The company said it made both more generalizable, so they can be used on robots not designed by Boston Dynamics.

Spot® robot image provided courtesy of Boston Dynamics, Inc.Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

They’re using Spot for triage medical situations, like in tents or parking lots…

Spot® robot image provided courtesy of Boston Dynamics, Inc.Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

…but the company noted that other kinds of mobile robots, like those on wheels, might be better for this situation.

Spot® robot image provided courtesy of Boston Dynamics, Inc.Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

They’re also in the early stages of equipping Spot for disinfection.

Spot® robot image provided courtesy of Boston Dynamics, Inc.Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

Boston Dynamics says that with a UV-C light attached, Spot could be used to disinfect hospitals, or other public spaces like subway stations.

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Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

In GitHub, Boston Dynamics also references a possible use of the robot for delivery within the hospital, though it’s still in the prototype phase.

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Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

The document says that Spot could use a 3D-printed tray to carry supplies like food and medicine to patients in isolation, further protecting healthcare workers.

Spot® robot image provided courtesy of Boston Dynamics, Inc.Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

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