Jan. 11 - A robot that vomits on command is the latest weapon in Britain's war on norovirus, a disease currently affecting more than a million people throughout the country. Called ''Vomiting Larry'' by its developer, the humanoid simulated vomiting system is designed to help scientists analyze contagion by simulating the retching process at the same speed and range as a human. Jim Drury went to meet him.
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Vomiting Larry gets to work.
A humanoid simulated vomiting system, Larry helps scientists analyse contagion. He's particularly useful in the case of Norovirus, a nasty bug which can live for 12 days on contaminated surfaces.
Larry was designed by Catherine Makison-Booth of Britain's Health and Safety Laboratory.
SOUNDBITE (English) HEALTH AND SAFETY LABORATORY (HSL) RESEARCHER AND DESIGNER OR VOMITING LARRY, CATHERINE MAKISON-BOOTH, SAYING:
"Larry is comprised of a mannequin head, which is known as 'Airway Larry', and he's what medical students use to practise things like laryngoscopies on the incubation, so he's very realistic. He has a real tongue and teeth in there that are different material types. His oesophagus is then linked to a cylinder which contains the fluid, so that's essentially his stomach. A piston or push-rod then pushes the fluid up via a pneumatic ram which forces air under the piston, pushes the fluid up and out of Larry's mouth."
With little previous research done on the speed and reach of vomiting, Makison-Booth devised a series of calculations to make Larry anatomically accurate.
15. (SOUNDBITE) (English) HEALTH AND SAFETY LABORATORY (HSL) RESEARCHER AND DESIGNER FO VOMITING LARRY, CATHERINE MAKISON-BOOTH, SAYING:
"The amount of pressure then was based on the amount of fluid that we had in the stomach and the distance that it would travel for the main bulk of fluid to land on the floor, i.e. 1.2 metres, and that then took 800 kilopascals in order to exert that pressure through the system and enter onto the floor."
Larry's mechanical stomach is loaded with water and fluorescent marker.
Then it's time to stand well back......
Cleaning up the mess is all part of the research. And it soon becomes clear why fluorescent dye is used.
UPSOT: MAKISON-BOOTH SAYING: "So we'll switch the lights off and see just how well I've done."
Despite her best efforts at decontamination, remnants of Larry's vomit remain up to three metres away from his mouth.
At least a million Britons have had Norovirus this winter. A bug spread largely through projectile vomiting, it's easy to see why infection rates are so high.
It takes just 20 Norovirus particles to infect a healthy individual.
Larry's inventor thinks he'll prove invaluable for medical students and cleaners on cruise ships and oil rigs, where outbreaks can spread like wildfire.
But her advice to the rest of us is to wash our hands thoroughly if we want to avoid feeling as off-colour as Larry.....