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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