Robot-facilitated Health Equity in Post-Pandemic California and Beyond

COVID-19 is exacerbating societal inequities, and will continue to drastically affect our existence for years to come. Two populations are at an exceptionally high risk of infection, adverse physical and mental health outcomes (including suicide), and extended isolation from others: 1) Healthcare Workers (HCW), frontline staff who deliver care to others (e.g., physicians, nurses), and 2) People who cannot leave their homes due to being at high risk of infection (P@HR), e.g., people with cancer, or disabilities.

While commercial tele-medical technologies can address some of these issues, they lack touch and mobility, key features needed for meaningful, embodied, independent interaction in the world. They also place HCWs at risk (requiring bedside delivery/training), and are inaccessible and/or unusable by many P@HR. Mobile teleoperated robots with touch and manipulation capabilities are needed to protect the lives of HCWs and improve quality of life for the growing population of P@HR.

Thus, this MRPI’s research goal is to advance the state-of-the-art in mobile telemanipulation and remote participation in the world to enable at-risk Californians to engage in rich and meaningful ways within health and community environments, realized via four specific aims:

  1. Implement UC-Iris, a novel, easy-to-use, low-cost, mobile telemanipulation robot that enables embodied telepresence via touch, vision, and mobility.

  2. Advance the state-of-the-art in tactile sensing and haptics technology to enhance a teleoperator’s ability to embody UC-Iris.

  3. Explore P@HR use of UC-Iris for independence and inclusion in their physical communities.

  4. Assess how systems like UC-Iris may improve quality of life / work (for P@HR / HCWs)

This project will make substantial scientific, engineering, and societal contributions, including 1) Advancing innovative telemanipulation technologies to meet the needs of our changing world, including new methods for shared control, tactile sensing, and haptic interaction, 2) Deriving new insights into how to use telemanipulation robots to accomplish high-value tasks in hospitals and communities 3) Improving quality of life and work for millions of Californians, especially those at-risk due to pandemic-related risks and restrictions.