By Adnan Abidi and Alasdair Pal
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A hospital in India has deployed a customer-service robot to patrol its wards, connecting coronavirus patients to friends and relatives.
Mitra, meaning "friend" in Hindi, is best known for interacting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an event in 2017.
Its piercing eyes are equipped with facial recognition technology to help it recall people it has previously interacted with. A tablet attached to Mitra's chest allows patients to see loved ones, as well as medical staff unable to access the wards.
"It takes a lot of time to recover, and during this time, when patients need their families the most, they are unable to visit," said Dr Arun Lakhanpal, a doctor at the Yatharth Super Speciality Hospital in Noida Extension, a satellite city of the capital New Delhi.
Mitra is mainly used by patients who are not able to communicate using their phones.
"We mainly discuss my health," said Makhanlal Qazi, a retired government bureaucrat and coronavirus patient who has used the robot to communicate with relatives. "I came here on Friday and now I have started feeling better. I am feeling very happy now."
The robot, developed by Bengaluru-based start-up Invento Robotics, cost the hospital 1 million rupees (10,533.65 pounds), according Yatharth Tyagi, director of the company that runs the hospital.
Mitra is also being used for remote consultations with specialists to reduce their risk of becoming infected, he added.
"Normally it is very difficult for a psychologist or a dietician to see a COVID patient," Tyagi said, adding the robot is "very useful".
India's novel coronavirus cases surged past 5 million on Wednesday, only the second country in the world to cross the grim milestone after the United States.
(Reporting by Adnan Abidi and Alasdair Pal in New Delhi; Editing by Stephen Coates)