How robots are beating lockdown and paving the way to a sci-fi future

By James Neil

Perhaps one of the most fundamental parts of any science fiction story is the inclusion of robots. These mechanical manservants range from the helpful kind, fluent in over six million forms of communication, like C-3P0, to those left behind to clean the earth's environment like the adorable Wall-E. These amazing machines are, however, no longer bound to the realms of science fiction, but have now begun to leave the pages of fiction behind. Robots varying: from those that roam around the house to do the hoovering, those created to disarm bombs and even the many probes we have sent to space, an environment we are not suited for, all have been and continue to help humans in meaningful and potentially lifesaving ways.

One of the ways that robots have been helping us is with the COVID-19 pandemic. Scientists at the University of Liverpool have been using a robot to run their experiments from home to

get around lockdown lab closures.

Robot scientist completing experiment | courtesy of Nature journal, Article- 'A mobile robotic chemist'

Such experiments include the search for more efficient catalysts for reactions to convert water into hydrogen. The robot has in fact been incredibly beneficial, with the scientists working with the robot stating in the report on their findings in the journal, Nature having “performed 688 experiments within a ten variable experimental space” all over the course of 8 days. The success of this robot has sparked the Royal Society for Chemistry (RSC) to research the viability of robots in the lab, to allow for more experiments to be completed over a shorter time. This is but one of the ways robots are helping humans fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robots aren’t just helping in the lab; they’re also helping us clean. Scientists at MIT's computer science and artificial intelligence laboratory have partnered with AVA robots to build a robot capable of sterilizing an approximately 370 m2 warehouse in just half an hour. Along with this and the claim that it's able to kill 90% of all Covid-19 traces, it seems quite the impressive machine. The way it achieves this is through the use of a type of UV rays called UV-C, something which is dangerous to us humans but, to the robot is simply an effective tool. The robot has been tested in Boston greater foodbank, which a team of scientists had previously mapped out for the robot. In doing so robots have once again helped us fight COVID-19. It appears that robots may be part of the wider solution to helping us beat this pandemic. With the virus still prevalent and potentially seeing a resurgence, with Scotland returning to a lockdown status I, for one welcome our robot overlords. Joking aside it seems as though the future is bright for these amazing machines.

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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