With its widespread use of facial recognition, China has shown that it is big into tech-aided surveillance tools. It should therefore come as little or no surprise that the country has installed health-checking robots at more than 2,000 preschools across China.
Kids between the ages of 2 and 6 must report to this Walklake robot every morning and display their eyes, throats, and hands. The robot uses cameras and an infrared thermometer to look for signs of possible disease, ranging from red eyes or a sore throat to blisters and fevers. It can reportedly carry out these smart health checks in just 3 seconds: far more rapidly than a human physician would be able to greet a patient, let alone check them over for everything from conjunctivitis to hand, foot, and mouth disease.
The adoption of Walklake is a response to Chinese government recommendations that all preschools should carry out daily health examinations of students. Due to the time-consuming nature of this task, the hope is that using a robot like Walklake can greatly speed up the process. After it has completed its health scan of all the students, the robot generates an aggregated health data report, which it sends to the principal. It can also alert teachers and school nurses if it spots an abnormal result, indicative of ill health, in a child. The teacher or school nurse may then carry out a manual check on the child, before making a decision about whether or not they should be sent home.
News of Walklake is likely to trigger a variety of responses. Some people will point out that it could be used for more accurate health monitoring in scenarios where healthcare professionals are not available in sufficient numbers. Aggregated health reports could also be used to spot trends, rather than simply isolated cases, and therefore help pinpoint (and therefore stop) the spread of diseases. In addition, kids may be more likely to proactively want their health checked if it means interacting with a fun robot. On the flipside, dealing with health checks from a robot could be alienating compared to dealing with a human caregiver. There are also potential ethical issues in the event that data is hacked or used for additional applications beyond what is described.