"Vomiting Larry" may have the worst job a robot could possibly ever have.
The norovirus known as the "Winter vomiting bug" is one incredibly tenacious disease. Responsible for an estimated 880,000 cases of vomiting and diarrhea in the United Kingdom in the past few months, it's capable of reproducing at a rapid speed, survive freezing temperatures and living for approximately two weeks on hard surfaces without much of a problem. And despite researching noroviruses for over 40 years, doctors have been unable to find a cure.
Enter Vomiting Larry, an anatomically correct "simulated vomiting system," built purely for the purpose of helping scientists better understand how the violent projectile vomiting that accompanies a norovirus infection can spread it around from person to person. Through poor Larry's constant retching (an example of which is visible at about 2:40 in the video), scientists have been able to learn that the virus can launch itself up to 3 meters (9.8 ft) in a single expulsion, and a single drop of puke can contain thousands of infectious particles.
It takes a little over a dozen norovirus particles to infect a person, but thankfully the norovirus is rarely fatal. While many who catch the disease may wish they were dead when experiencing its less-than-pleasant symptoms, most recover fully within a couple of days. Previous studies conducted on the virus have shown that proper hygiene (such as washing one's hands with soap and water) can help impede its progress, although common household cleaners and sanitizers aren't always effective in eliminating it.
It may be a long time before researchers are able to develop a cure, but robotic systems like Vomiting Larry may help scientists devise better ways to help control future norovirus outbreaks. Don't feel too bad for Larry, though - legend has it that in the first attempts to study the disease, human volunteers drank the filtered diarrhea of people who were suffering from the infection.
Source: BBC News