Senegalese engineering students Innovate medical robots to help in fight against Covid-19.

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Senegalese engineering students Innovate medical robots to help in fight against Covid-19.

Senegalese engineering students Innovate medical robots to help in fight against Covid-19.

Senegal engineering students use robots and innovation to curb Covid-19

Senegalese engineering students are throwing themselves at the West African state’s growing coronavirus problem with inventions such as automatic sanitiser dispensers and medical robots.

Youngsters from a top engineering school in the capital Dakar have turned their technical skills towards easing pressure on wards — and they are already in talks with hospitals over some of their innovations.

One example is a small robot, dubbed “Dr Car”, which will be able to measure patients’ blood pressure and temperature, according to students from Dakar’s École Supérieure Polytechnique (ESP).

The university is considered one of West Africa’s best for engineering and technology, and is highly selective, with 28 nationalities represented among its 4,000 students.

Guided by a mounted camera and controlled via an app, doctors will also be able to communicate with patients through the robot, Kébé said, potentially allowing them to treat people isolated in hard-to-reach rural areas.

Senegal’s coronavirus outbreak pales in comparison to the situation in virus-stricken Europe and the US. But after a slow start, confirmed cases in the nation of some 16-million people are increasing. And as with other poor countries in the region, there are fears that Senegal is ill equipped to handle a large outbreak.

Authorities have recorded more than 2,100 cases to date, including 21 fatalities. Hospital staff in Dakar are also beginning to contract Covid-19.

Faced with an increased threat, front-line Senegalese doctors are taking the young engineers seriously.

An initial prototype designed by the students was essentially a small mobile trolley, designed to carry equipment or meals to patients. But Abdoulaye Bousso, the head of an emergency ward in a Dakar hospital, asked to redesign it to include mechanical arms capable of conducting medical tests — an upgrade the students are working on now.

“It’s a whole process,” Bousso said, adding that the robot could cut down on their use of expensive bibs and gowns, which must be thrown away.

Focus on practicality 

Ndiaga Ndiaye, an ESP professor in charge of marketing the inventions, said that the university has long emphasised practical projects and entrepreneurship, which meant students were poised to act when the virus broke out.

The robot is “far from being a gadget,” Ndiaye said, and could be produced at a larger scale once ready. “We are a public institution. There is one concept that binds us all together, and that is service to the community.”

Other students have devised simpler devices that they also hope will battle the disease in Senegal.

Gianna Andjembe, a masters student in electrical engineering, has designed an automatic hand-sanitiser dispenser that he said could reduce the need for staff in schools and hospitals to supervise hand-washing.

As scientists, as engineers, we have to meet the challenges and really take our destiny into our own hands

“It’s very simple, it’s basic,” he said. “As scientists, as engineers, we have to meet the challenges and really take our destiny into our own hands.”

The coronavirus has up-ended ESP students’ lives. Lectures are now held via video and students who used to tinker in labs until late at night must now rush home owing to a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

But the crisis has also given the young engineers a sense of purpose. “What has changed is the responsibility,” robot maker Kébé said, adding that the students also felt “much more patriotism”. — AFP

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