Could Your Next Doctor Be Made of Metal? Meet UC Iris

February 18, 2021 Updated: February 18, 2021

University of California (UC) researchers are turning to robots for help during the ongoing pandemic.

A research team—which includes members from the University of California’s Irvine, San Diego, and Los Angeles campuses—is developing advanced robots that will allow health care workers to conduct remote exams.

Called UC Iris, the bots will also give quarantined Californians an easier way to participate in the outside world, the university said Feb. 18.

“COVID-19 has changed how we work and interact with each other,” co-principal Veronica Ahumada-Newhart said in a press release. “We are extending our earlier work to new environments where there is high risk of infection: patient care and community engagement.”

Researchers were awarded a $1.2 million grant to develop the technology, which will boast advanced tactile sensing, manipulation capabilities, and the ability to transmit information through touch. They’re planning to study how to most effectively deploy the equipment to improve telehealth.

The robots could improve mental health, too.

They’re also meant to help those quarantining connect with the outside world, to help fend off depression that can be brought on by isolation.

The University of California–Irvine is also exploring how the technology can help Latino communities affected by the pandemic.

“When communities reopen, not everyone will be able to return to in-person activities,” Newhart said. “Through this work, we will create telemanipulation robots that allow people to participate in social gatherings, family events, and cultural activities in public spaces.”

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