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Robot with coronavirus advice hits Times Square

By Reuters 

Worried about the spread of coronavirus? A five-foot tall (1.5 meter) Promobot might have your answer.

Passers-by in Times Square interact with a Promobot robot that informs the public about the symptoms of coronavirus and how to prevent it from spreading, in this still frame obtained from video, in New York City, U.S. February 10, 2020. (REUTERS/Reuters TV / MANILA BULLETIN)

Passers-by in Times Square interact with a Promobot robot that informs the public about the symptoms of coronavirus and how to prevent it from spreading, in this still frame obtained from video, in New York City, U.S. February 10, 2020. (REUTERS/Reuters TV / MANILA BULLETIN)

The robot with a friendly face rolled into Times Square on Monday to help provide information about the new virus.

Curious passersby stopped, filled out a short questionnaire on an iPad-like touch screen attached to the robot’s chest, and even had a conversation with the machine.

Promobot was created by a Philadelphia-based startup that makes autonomous service robots for businesses and is run by a group of Russians.

“We did a special software to detect coronavirus symptoms,” the company’s chief business development officer, Oleg Kivorkutsev, told Reuters.

“We understand how this problem is important, how people are nervous, people are afraid of this. But if they understand a few, simple things, for example, what symptoms coronavirus has, what they should do to prevent (it), everything will be fine and everyone will be happy.”

The robot does not actually detect the virus. It asks if a person has common symptoms such a fever and the person has to hit “yes” or “no” on the touch screen, after which they receive a reassuring message if they chose no.

“This thing is very clever. It’s really, really clever,” said Tara Healy, who was visiting New York from London.

Others were not so easily impressed. “A bit mental,” said Thomas McAlinden from Scotland. “But sums up New York for me.”

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