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Duke Students Have Developed a Robotic Nursing Assistant

Robots have already proved their utility in space, cruising landscapes no human could—or should—explore on foot. But they may come in handy in dangerous locations here on Earth, too. Students and staff at Duke University's School of Engineering and School of Nursing have collaborated on a two-armed robot they've dubbed the Tele-Robotic Intelligent Nursing Assistant (TRINA, for short). The robot was designed to assist nurses in high-risk healthcare situations, according to The Chronicle, the university's student newspaper.

The robot nursing assistant, which features a tablet that shows the face of its human operator, was created in response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014. After some healthcare workers were infected with the virus while trying to treat patients, the National Science Foundation put out a call to engineers and scientists to come up with a solution.

At the moment, TRINA is in the early stages of development and can only perform basic tasks, like picking up a glass of water and moving trays of food from one location to another. A team is now working with TRINA in a simulated hospital at the School of Nursing, exploring its capabilities as well as figuring out what tasks subsequent versions of the bot need to learn, from passing out meds to patients to inserting IVs.

TRINA was not built to replace human nurses, but rather to assist and act as a surrogate body. The robot is remote-operated, requiring a human to drive it and make it work. In the future, Duke scientists and engineers hope to use the “robo-nurse” in contexts outside healthcare services, like the cleanup of toxic spills.

For now, TRINA is getting ready for clinical trials at the Duke Clinical Research Unit. “We need to establish a better interface with the human and the robot to make them work together and be more comfortable,” Duke engineering student Jianqiao Li explained to The News & Observer.

[h/t The Duke Chronicle]

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Health
How Promoting Handwashing Got One 19th Century Doctor Institutionalized
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Regardless of how often we actually do it, it's common knowledge that washing our hands before eating, after coughing, and after using the bathroom is good for us. But the connection between handwashing and health wasn't always accepted as fact. As Danielle Bainbridge explains in the PBS web series Origin of Everything, the first doctor to campaign for cleanliness in hospitals was not only shunned by other medical professionals, but ended up in an insane asylum.

Prior to the 19th century, handwashing primarily existed in the context of religious ceremonies and practices. It plays a role in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and Buddhism in some form or another. But washing up to stop the spread of disease wasn't really a thing for most of history. People weren't aware of germs, so instead of microbes, they blamed illness on everything from demons to bad air.

Then, in 1846, a Hungarian doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis made a breakthrough observation. He noticed that women giving birth with the help of midwives were less likely to die than those treated by doctors. He determined that because doctors were also performing autopsies on victims of puerperal fever (a bacterial infection also known as childbed fever), they were somehow spreading the disease to their other patients. Semmelweis started promoting handwashing and instrument sterilization in his clinic, and the spread of puerperal fever dropped as a result.

Despite the evidence to support his theory, his peers in the medical community weren't keen on the idea of blaming patient deaths on doctors. Partly due to his commitment to the controversial theory, Semmelweis was shunned from his field. He suffered a mental breakdown and ended up in a mental hospital, where he died a few weeks later.

Germ theory did eventually become more mainstream as the century progressed, and washing hands as a way to kill unseen pathogens started gaining popularity. Even so, it wasn't until the 1980s that the CDC released the first official guidelines instructing people on best handwashing practices.

If this story suddenly has you in the mood to practice good hygiene, here's the best way to wash your hands, according to experts.

[h/t Origin of Everything]

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Inhaling Cleaning Product Fumes Can Be as Bad for You as a Pack-a-Day Smoking Habit, Study Finds
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People who use spray cleaners on a regular basis may want to reconsider how they tackle their spring cleaning. A new study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine [PDF] offers strong evidence that inhalation of these sterilizing and polishing chemicals may be as bad for their lungs as smoking one pack of cigarettes per day, as Newsweek highlights.

A team of scientists led by Cecile Svanes, Ph.D. at Norway’s University of Bergen tracked 6230 study subjects for two decades, looking for a correlation between diminished lung capacity and use of cleaning products. Those who regularly used chemicals for cleaning, like housekeepers, displayed worsening lung function when researchers asked them to blow air into a tube. Even using cleaners once per week was associated with reduced lung capacity.

Those who reported use of the products also had increased rates of asthma when compared to those who did not use cleaners. It’s believed the particles of the abrasive chemicals are damaging the mucus membranes, leading to steady and progressive changes. The results applied to both occupational cleaners as well as those who were responsible for cleaning at home. The study also demonstrated that women were more susceptible to the effects of the chemicals than men, although a comparatively smaller number of men took part.

What can you do to mitigate the risk? Oistein Svanes, a doctoral student who worked on the project, recommends cleaning with a damp microfiber cloth using only water. If you feel you must use a chemical agent, it's better to pour it into a bucket instead of relying on a spray nozzle—the latter is what causes the chemicals to become airborne and respirable.

[h/t Newsweek]

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