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Cameras, robotic mules could help battle Ebola in West Africa

Sharon Gaudin | Nov. 21, 2014
Researchers are working on technology that could be shipped to West Africa to help fight the Ebola outbreak as soon as a few months from now, while also looking ahead to bigger plans to combat any disease outbreak.

There's also some robotic equipment that might be ready to go with minimal or no adaptation. One possibility is the General Dynamics Land Systems MUTT, a robotic wagon that can carry patients, supplies or hazardous waste, could be shipped to aid centers.

However, nothing can be simply shipped to a treatment center in a foreign country. All proposals from U.S. companies to send technology to areas hit by the Ebola outbreak must go through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which administers civilian foreign aid efforts.

USAID has put out a call for proposals, and submissions are due by Dec. 1. Murphy said she's expecting the agency to quickly act on some of the proposals so that some of the technologies can be shipped to West Africa early in the new year.

"We can make suggestions and point out things, but we can't self deploy," she said.

While researchers are looking at short-term answers for Ebola, they're also focused on coming up with bigger, more complex systems that can be ready for outbreaks of other deadly diseases.

WPI's Padir noted that projects that might be ready in two to three years include robots that can transport blood samples to laboratories, change IV bags or distribute supplies from central storage areas to remote facilities.

Working with the National Science Foundation, more meetings are planned between aid workers and technologists.

"In a year or two years, there could be really cool systems, robots in new forms and shapes," said Padir. "I'm highly motivated to keep going on this."


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