Researchers at the Occupational Hygiene Unit at the Health and Safety Laboratory in Great Britain call the robot "Vomiting Larry." The robot is not designed to simply disgust the public, but to simulate the effects of norovirus projectile vomiting. That simulation can be used to determine how far the highly contagious norovirus particles travel when somebody with the illness throws up.
Starting 12 to 48 hours after exposure, those infected by norovirus have severe projectile vomiting and diarrhea for up to three days. Doctors say that on average, someone afflicted by norovirus spreads it to about seven other people through direct touch or via contaminated food or surfaces.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that as many as 21 million Americans are annually sickened by norovirus. Those infections lead to 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths, the CDC added.
Meanwhile, in England, the site of the study, norovirus cases have risen 72 percent so far this winter, when compared to a year ago, according to the Health Protection Agency. That includes, they warn, ships making transatlantic crossings to the United States.
"Vomiting Larry" consists of a cylindrical body filled with water mixed with florescent liquid, a humanoid head with an open mouth, and a pump to propel the water through the mouth, in a manner similar to projectile vomiting.
After Larry vomits the florescent water, researchers measure how far the airborne particles travel.
Catherine Makison-Booth, who has the claim to fame of being dubbed Larry’s creator, said:
Under normal lighting, you can only see the main area where Larry actually vomited. However, under UV light, you can see the particles spread much further than that -- in excess of three meters.
Those familiar with real-life crime shows are already aware of a similar effect, with blood spatter. Luminol will often show that trace amounts of blood travel much further than might be seen by the naked eye.
Although norovirus is a serious subject, "Vomiting Larry" itself is less so. David Letterman recently made the robot the subject of a "Top Ten" segment, with the following list:
Questions people Have about Larry the Vomiting Robot:
10. Could this win the Nobel Prize for Vomiting? (yes)
9. How often do you need to replace the vomit cartridge?
8. Does he also vacuum like my vomiting Roomba?
7. How often does he eat at the Hello Deli?
6. Are we as a culture too lazy to do our own vomiting?
5. Is he single?
4. Is he more advanced than the Apple iVomit?
3. Why are all the vomiting robots male?
2. Will this solve our vomit shortage?
1. Would Larry like a breath mint?