COVID-19 robot patrol rolled out in Belgian hospitals

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ANTWERP (Reuters) - Robots that speak more than 53 languages, detect fever and determine if people are wearing face masks properly have been rolled out in Belgium as a first line of control in hospitals and shops.

People arriving at the University Hospital Antwerp from Tuesday will answer questions online or at an interactive kiosk. The robot will scan a QR code, review their answers, check their temperature and determine if they are wearing a mask correctly.

Fabrice Goffin, chief executive of Belgium-based Zorabots, said his robots had been in hospitals, care homes and hotels since 2013, but had now found a new role. His robots will not test for COVID-19, but could provide useful signs.

“The big advantage of this robot relative to a fixed terminal is that the robot can move, can go towards people, can speak to people and speak in their native tongue. It speaks more than 53 languages,” he told Reuters TV.

Michael Vanmechelen, manager of the hospital’s operating theatres, said someone displaying signs of fever could be steered by the robot, a non-touch device, to a separate area.

The hospital typically receives 2,000 patients a day and is due to start readmitting visitors next week as life in Belgium returns to relative normality after the coronavirus lockdown.

Jan Bussels, head of digitopia, which developed the software and interface, said the robot was designed to help take over repetitive work and allow over-stretched medical staff to focus on their core job as care givers. The robot was also able to learn on the job, he said.

The robots, typically costing 30,000 euros ($33,357), had also been sold to clinics in France, the Netherlands, the United States and Rwanda, and are also in some Belgian computer stores.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Janet Lawrence