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Xenex robot uses ultraviolet light to kill germs, such as coronavirus. Photo: Xenex

As coronavirus spreads across the globe, health care professionals are tapping germ-zapping robots and roving tele-doctors to help minimize human exposure to the virus.

Why it matters: Drones and other new technologies could potentially slow the spread of the illness and perhaps speed the delivery of medicines and other support where help is needed. But deploying them comes with a host of ethical questions.

What's happening: Hundreds of hospitals already use robots to disinfect operating rooms and kill MRSA and other pathogens that cause health care-associated infections. Now they want to turn them on coronavirus, too.

  • A UV emitting robot from Xenex Disinfection Services is deployed in more than 500 hospitals worldwide, including ones in California and Nebraska where there are confirmed cases of coronavirus, to destroy germs and bacteria. (It still needs to be tested on the novel coronavirus.)
  • GermFalcon, a UV robot that targets germs on airplanes, is fielding inquiries from multiple airlines, says co-founder Elliot Kreitenberg. Now he's developing a similar UV robot for hospitals.
  • Vici, a device that looks like a tablet on wheels, enabled doctors to interact with the first U.S. coronavirus patient at a hospital in Everett, Washington, according to Forbes.

What to watch: Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles can now perform a variety of tasks that could be beneficial in fighting epidemics.

  • Drones still face regulatory hurdles in the U.S. but if the FAA eventually permits them to fly longer distances, a network of distribution centers could quickly send vaccines via drone, says Justin Hamilton, a spokesperson for Zipline, a drone company that makes thousands of deliveries per day of blood and other medical supplies in Rwanda.
  • The company is already working with the U.S. Department of Defense on a rapidly deployable drone system in case of a mass casualty humanitarian event.

Yes, but: The temptation during a humanitarian crisis might be to rush technologies to the scene before they're ready, even bending regulations to do so, which would be a mistake, disaster recovery experts warn.

  • "You don't want to experiment on people and make things worse," says Robin Murphy of Texas A&M University.
  • Patients in rural areas or foreign countries might not know how to interact with alien technology, creating frustration or fear, for example.
  • Nor should robots be used to replace medical professionals or take needed jobs from those who are uninfected, Murphy added.
  • Some researchers are working on tracking and surveillance tech that would use drones to identify people through their masks, and even take vital signs of individuals in a crowd, raising privacy concerns, she said.
  • Another worry is spraying of disinfectants via unmanned drones. "Are they truly disinfecting or just practicing chemical warfare?"

Go deeper

Acting Capitol Police chief: Phone logs show Jan. 6 National Guard approval was delayed

Pittman at a congressional tribute for fallen officer Brian Sicknick. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Acting U.S. Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman testified on Thursday that cellphone records show former USCP chief Steven Sund requested National Guard support from the House sergeant-at-arms as early as 12:58pm on Jan. 6, but he did not receive approval until over an hour later.

Why it matters: Sund and former House sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving clashed at a Senate hearing on Tuesday over a dispute in the timeline for when Capitol Police requested the National Guard during the Capitol insurrection.

Manhattan prosecutors reportedly obtain millions of pages of Trump's tax records

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Manhattan district attorney is now in possession of millions of pages of former President Trump's tax and financial records, CNN first reported, following a Supreme Court ruling that allowed prosecutors to enforce a subpoena after a lengthy legal battle.

Why it matters: Trump fought for years to keep his tax returns out of the public eye and away from prosecutors in New York, who are examining his business in a criminal investigation that was first sparked by hush-money payments made by Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen during the 2016 election.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
4 hours ago - Economy & Business

The digital dollar is now high priority for the Fed

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The U.S. is starting to get serious about a central-bank-backed digital currency, with recent comments from top officials laying out the strongest support yet.

Driving the news: On Tuesday Fed chair Jerome Powell told Congress that developing a digital dollar is a "high priority project for us," but added that there are "significant technical and policy questions."