In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Spain ran between 15,000 and 20,000 tests daily to determine the presence of the virus, and these were insufficient. This was alarmed by the Community of Madrid and then confirmed by the Ministry of Health itself.
Carrying out as many tests as possible is key to preventing the outbreak escalating, as has been shown in countries like Germany and South Korea. In addition, the underdiagnosis of infections hides the extent of the pandemic and the actual mortality rate. The government was looking for a way to solve this: buying four robots that would enable up to 80,000 diagnostic tests a day.
PCR automation with robots
The country drafted a plan to automate PCR with robots. Robots that make thousands of samples. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) is the test performed by doctors in a microbiological laboratory for the detection of coronavirus.
The “Super Robot 10” project is above all a story of solidarity, that of five people who have done their best to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic and save lives.
With this project in mind, Javier Colás, former president of Medtronic and current innovation director of Esade and president of Additum Blockchain, said that crisis situations get the best out of people.
Colás explained that it is an effort by many companies, ministries and volunteers that stems from the idea of Esades’ own innovation director and four friends: Rocío Martínez, Spanish researcher at King’s College in London; Andreu Veà, professor, researcher; Sandra Figaredo, consultant in Llorente and Cuenca; and María Parga, President of the Alastria Consortium.
Colás realized that the impending situation was going to be serious and together with his colleagues started to address the problems of the health system.
The list of problems included the lack of protective equipment, respirators and beds in the intensive care unit.
For his part Researcher Rocío Martínez helped them understand that the volume of PCR they would need was a hundred thousand times greater than the number that was performed. Martínez also warned of the possibility that the reagent kits required to perform the diagnostic tests were sold out due to this lawsuit.
His mission was to bring four stations, each with ten robots, to Spain, which enables mechanized analysis of up to 2,400 PCR tests per day and hospital. Among the four tests 9,600 daily. More than 67,000 a week.
After more than 22 consecutive days in one room, these five brilliant minds managed to develop anti-Covid robots19 that could do this type of test to detect the coronavirus in record time.
The robots have been distributed to Spanish health centers: the Hospital Clínic and the Vall d’Hebrón in Barcelona and La Paz as well as the Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid and have already started.
The stations have already been installed in all of them and are currently in the calibration and programming phase of the robots, as each of the four laboratories has a different protocol.
This is also a story of overcoming because the idea had to overcome all kinds of difficulties in its dizzying birth. It was a race against the clock where everything was done in record time. In just three weeks, a project was formulated that could have taken more than a year according to traditional channels.
According to Esade’s innovation director, the only way to do this was to robotize the production line, but the robot they needed was not easy to find on the market.
For his part, Martinez then discovered that the American company Opentrends had a robot that was suitable for every kit, including a robot that the team would develop on site to prepare for bottlenecks.
The robots are assembled in China and have arrived in Spain thanks to the Inditex logistics network and the support of Renfe. They were quickly installed and put into operation in the four selected hospitals Thanks to a team of volunteers, whom Colás recognizes for having worked in a hospital, at the risk of being involved in a pandemic.
Ikea was also involved in the installation of the robots, and Apple donated computers to run the production lines.
Countries with the same cause
Spain is not the first country to use robots to fight the pandemic. In fact, different countries use them every day to avoid new infections. For example in health centers When the United States identified the first infected people on its territory, specialists from Everett Regional Medical Center (Washington) used a robot to communicate with it.
The device developed by InTouch Health has a screen, speakers, a microphone and a stethoscope. It also enables basic tests such as temperature measurement.
In China, robots were used in the Guangdong Province People’s Hospital to open and close the doors and to operate the elevator autonomously. according to Chinese public television CGTN, to deliver medication to patients.
There are also various examples outside of hospitals. A Chinese urbanization has used a drone with thermal imaging cameras to measure the temperature of its neighbors without having to leave their homes.
In some hotels in China, an autonomous robot called Peanut was responsible for quarantining food. This device developed by the Keenon company is intended for use in restaurants, hotels, hospitals, offices, banks or airports.