“And Don’t Skimp On the Pâté”

The Mighty Flynn has the original story and Mark Shea has the jokes. Yes, scientists have finally achieved the ultimate in mechanization: vomiting robots:

The robot is named Vomiting Larry, and isn’t being used for sight gags, but is helping scientists to better understand the spread of noroviruses, also know as the winter vomiting bug, which can cause projectile vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and loss of taste. Noroviruses are transmitted directly between people via aerosolization — having physical substances emit particles that float around in the air — and indirectly by contaminated consumables like food and water. When humans throw up, aerosolization takes place, and thus, Vomiting Larry was born so scientists can study human vomiting without, you know, humans vomiting.

Vomiting Larry is anatomically correct, so its vomiting pattern is pretty close to what humans experience. Because of this, it helped scientists figure out that the norovirus can travel up to 9.8 feet with the help of projectile vomiting. Each individual splattering of vomit in that 9.8-foot chain contains enough noroviruses to infect many people — it only takes around 20 particles to fully infect someone.

I guess that’s reasonable enough and useful for epidemiology, although it sounds like something Adam and Jamie could have knocked off in a couple afternoons, and made it entertaining in the process. Since it was done by the British Health and Safety Laboratory (and, yes, when I saw the headline about vomiting robots, my first thought was, “Dammit, the Japanese have beaten us again!“), I envision lots of grant money and time-wasting to get the same results, eg: virus’s spread when you puke.  Duly noted.

Knowing it’s 9.8 feet is useful … how? When someone fails their fortitude roll and starts cacking, do you draw a circle around them in chalk, starting at 9.8 feet, and hide the children somewhere at the 10′ mark?

I have to say I’m more disappointed in Shea than in the British Health and Safety Laboratory who came up with the name “Larry” for a barfing robot. He noted that “Hugh,” “Earl,” and “Ralph” would have been better names, but missed the most obvious one, given that Larry’s an Englishmen:

“Oh %#$%: it’s Mr. Creosote!”


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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • http://www.accordeonaire.blogspot.com Gary Chapin

    You and your fershlugginer cynicism! This is a great achievement and make no mistake! Think of the unintended benefits: fluid dynamics is the cutting edge of physics! Always with the snark! I ask you …

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    What do I ALWAYS say: “When making a choice between true and funny, go with the funny.”

  • victor

    Mr. Creosote would have been a much better name, and I had the same thought when I first saw the “robot”: Oh, it’s Buster from MythBusters. When you consider we’ve had robots that can digest meat for fuel for well over a decade, a mannequin head with a hose in it is pretty disappointing.

    Anyway, this is probably as good a time a any to remind people to celebrate “Love Your Robot Day” on February 7th.

  • Mark Shea

    I am a failure as a human being.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    It was an honest oversight, but don’t let it happen again. If, for instance, someone invents a hedgehog robot, remember that he needs to be called Spiny Norman.