Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a new robot to help fight the new coronavirus. This autonomous machine emits UV-C, which can kill microorganisms and damage their DNA. The robot is a joint project of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and Ava Robotics.
A prototype machine has been deployed in the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), and its speed of 0.22 miles per hour should allow it to cover an area of 4,000 square feet in 30 minutes. The ultraviolet rays emitted by the four vertical bars can neutralize about 90% of the new coronavirus particles on the surface.
During the Covid-19 crisis, food banks are more important than ever, because many people lost their jobs due to the epidemic. Keeping facilities free from virus infection is essential to ensure that the virus does not spread further. “Food banks provide important services to our communities, so it is crucial to help keep these businesses running,” said Alyssa Pierson, a research scientist at CSAIL. “Here, there is a unique opportunity to provide additional disinfection power to their current workflow and help reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19.”
The robot was initially operated by a remote user, and the user taught it its path around the warehouse. Then it can operate autonomously and move between user-defined waypoints, which can be added or deleted as needed. The machine is used to disinfect the premises after workers leave work.
Ultraviolet sterilization is often used in hospitals and other medical environments to disinfect empty patient waiting rooms. The researchers hope that the robot will eventually find use in other environments, including factories, restaurants, and shops.
“We are very happy to see UV disinfection robots supporting our community at this time of need,” said Daniela Rus, director of CSAIL and project leader. “The insights we gained from GBFB’s work highlight several algorithmic challenges. We plan to address these issues to expand the scope of autonomous UV disinfection in complex spaces, including dormitories, schools, airplanes, and supermarkets.”