Medical researchers test vomiting robot

  • Article by: John Platt
  • McClatchy News Service
  • February 3, 2013 - 3:59 PM

Vomiting Larry is not the name of this year’s hot new toy, or a new TV show on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.

He’s a robot head that is helping scientists in the United Kingdom to study norovirus, the winter stomach flu that’s sweeping the world. The virus, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea, has infected at least 880,000 people in the U.K. this past year and millions in the United States.

As reported by the BBC, Vomiting Larry was built by scientists at the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) to study how norovirus spreads. They built a metal stomach and an anatomically correct human-like head that could “vomit” over and over again so scientist could see exactly what happens.

According to the lab’s website, the intent was to understand the “extent with which the surrounding environment becomes contaminated when an individual vomits.” The study could prove essential in the control of the winter bug. It only takes a few microparticles to infect a new person, and those particles are so small that they can be almost impossible to see.

As HSL explains, its affectionately named Vomiting Larry was primed with a substance that the robot could regurgitate as effectively as a human. The fluid contained a fluorescent marker so scientists could track how far the particles spread. HSL says Larry proves that tiny, virus-laden droplets can travel up to 10 feet without being detected “under standard white hospital lighting.” The virus can stay active for up to 12 days, in the right conditions, before infecting a new host.

HSL’s website marvels that Larry has gone viral (duh, what else?). To see Larry at work on YouTube, search “Vomiting larry video.” □

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