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    Extreme Social Distancing: China Turns to Robots to Control COVID-19

    Service robots are becoming a common sight on China’s coronavirus front lines as the country tries to avoid a second wave of infections.

    SHANGHAI — Remote control in hand, Li Peng follows a white cylindrical machine as it glides along the corridor of a quarantine hotel in the eastern district of Pudong. 

    The 23-year-old is helping the disinfection robot map out its new terrain. Once it has finished collecting the location data, it will begin patrolling the hotel autonomously, helping the center eliminate viral particles and reduce human contact that could unwittingly cause infections.

    The hotel is one of 34 facilities in Shanghai where people entering the city from abroad spend a mandatory 14 days of medical observation. “Robots can calculate the area that needs to be disinfected and figure out the best way to handle it,” Li says. “I hope the work we do can help protect medical staff striving on the front lines to combat COVID-19.”

    The robots were developed by Taimi Robotics Technology Co. Ltd., a Shanghai-based firm that specializes in medical service robots. Since the coronavirus outbreak began, the company has sent around 300 machines to hospitals across China — including the original epicenter, Wuhan — to help sterilize wards, deliver medication, and check patients’ body temperatures.

    Li joined Taimi after graduating from college in in East China's Anhui provincei. He says he believes service robots will be deeply integrated into our future lives — from robots waking us up to tell us breakfast is ready, to coming home at night to find a robot has cleaned the house.

    (Header image: A view of a robot at Taimi Robotics Technology Co., April 1, 2020. Huang Jian for Sixth Tone)