Updated: May 25, 2020
This article will introduce you to the various applications and Robotic Solutions for Covid-19. We will look exclusively at autonomous mobile robots (AMR) which are currently being deployed to help first responders and healthcare workers manage the COVID-19 crisis. This article will be updated frequently as more news is published and the world deals with the pandemic.
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Autonomous Mobile Robotic Solutions for Covid-19
There are a variety of applications and autonomous mobile robotics solutions for Covid-19. These applications and solution providers are outlined in the quick navigation table below:
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One of the novel robotic solutions for Covid-19 is to use mobile robots equipped with ultraviolet light sources or disinfectant sprayers, to autonomously disinfect a facility. These robots can autonomously navigate a hospital facility and then complete the disinfection operation of hospital rooms or surgical theaters without any human interaction.
UV light is dangerous for humans (along with bacteria and viruses), and therefore mounting the light on an autonomous mobile robot platform enables to the disinfection cycle to run without endangering nurses or other hospital staff. The UV light needs to flood a room long enough to kill viruses and bacteria. The light also needs to be moved around the room during the cycle, so that all surfaces are covered with the light.
UVD Robots is one of the first AMR manufacturers to come to market with a purpose built robot for UV light disinfection. They made news earlier this year with the sale of multiple units to China, and they are busy delivering robots as fast as they can. It takes 10 to 15 minutes for a UVD robot to disinfect a room.
Atlanta-based Uchimura Robotics has signed an agreement to distribute UVD Robots in the US.
Akara Robotics, the makers of Stevie the Robot (a healthcare robot) have been busy over the last month designing, testing and productizing a new AMR that is designed primarily to disinfect a room with UV light. The new vehicle is called Violet and was built in a day, based on top of a Turtle research robot. The company a start-up attached to Trinity College Dublin.
Violet leverages more than 12 months research in UV light disinfection technology, conducted at Ireland’s top University. The HSE (Irish Health Service) have fast-tracked its development, stating that it has great potential to help in the fight against Covid-19.
Violet can greatly reduce dependency on the use of chemical-based solutions, which may be effective but require rooms to be vacated for several hours during disinfection, making them impractical for many parts of the hospital. In addition, many pieces of high-tech equipment cannot be disinfected using “deep chemicals”, so manual cleaning is needed.
The following excerpt is from a story in The Irish Times:
Robot Violet was tested in an acute hospital in the Dublin area last week after Dr McGinn contacted the HSE indicating it would be effective in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic in healthcare settings. They are awaiting microbiological test results to confirm its effectiveness.
“This system could reduce dependency on the use of chemical-based solutions, which may be effective but requires rooms to be vacated for several hours during sterilization, making them impractical for many parts of the hospital,” said Dr McGinn.
In addition, many pieces of high-tech equipment cannot be disinfected using “deep chemicals”, so manual cleaning is needed. Robot Violet is also effective in such circumstances, he said.
Milagrow is a robotics reseller. They offer a huge line of robotic solutions from industrial robotics to STEM based learning solutions to service robots for consumers.
In response the pandemic, Milagrow is launching two new products. The first is a UV light disinfection robot called the Indoor Disinfection RoboCop. There are not many details about the product as it is a new design, but it appears to navigate autonomously around the facility and then run a UV light disinfection cycle.
The second robot is an outdoor disinfection robot called the Outdoor Disinfection BlackCat. This is a tracked robot that appears to be autonomous. It uses a atomizing sprayer attached to the vehicle to dispense the disinfectant. Unfortunately the site is missing details about specificiations.
Youibot is a Shenzen-based robotics company. The ARIS-K2 anti-virus robot is equipped with ultraviolet anti-virus lamp and human body temperature camera. The novel feature of the ARIS-K2 is that it can autonomously disinfect the facility during the evening when the workers have gone home. It takes only 150 minutes to cover 1,000 square meters.
Then, during the work day, the robot can sit in a stationary point (on it's charger?) near an entrance and check all of the workers entering the facility. The robot uses an onboard camera with thermal imaging capabilities and facial recognition to ID all of the incoming workers. The thermal imaging checks a persons temperature. The facial ID associates the persons temperature check with the worker.
Turkey based Milvus Robotics just announced the availability of a UV Disinfection mobile robot called the SEIT-UV. This autonomous mobile robot is equipped with 360°-degree disinfection coverage, software and sensor-based safety features, and Wi-Fi connectivity with an easy-to-use control panel. Safe and reliable, the robot is user friendly and is designed to be operated by cleaning staff.
The robot emits just the right amount of UV-C light and, in an average-sized room, can kill approximately 99.99% of viruses and bacteria within ten minutes - the perfect cleaning option for busy healthcare facilities.
The robot is an effective and safe means of cleaning that is suited for operation by itself. If someone enters the room while the robot is active, it will automatically disengage its light to ensure the safety of any nearby people.
Anscer Robotics is a new AMR startup, based in Bangalore India. The company has designed a new autonomous mobile robot which autonomously disinfects a patient room using UV light. Anscer differentiates their solution because it maps out the room to be disinfected and then creates waypoints where the robot stops and runs a disinfection cycle.
We published a video of the solution in operation.
Anscer is offering three versions of their solution:
- ALPHA is their fully featured, fully autonomous UVC disinfection robot. Elevator integration is possible with Alpha, and it includes auto-charging.
- BRAVO is their basic, fully autonomous UVC disinfection robot. It is designed for facilities under 2500 sq ft. No auto-charging.
- CHARLIE is a non-autonomous, tele-operated UVC disinfection robot. Designed for narrow aisles. No auto-charging.
The Sarcos Robotics Guardian S robot is a unique AMR in that it's designed to fit in confined spaces, including pipes and duct work. The magnetic tracks enable the Guardian S to climb metal walls.
For disinfection applications, the Sarcos Guardian S robot can carry up to 4.5 Kg (10 lbs) and be equipped with equipment such as:
- Disinfecting and deodorizing foggers
- Aerosol sprayers
- UV and UV-C light sterilizers
WellWit Robotics is an established Chinese robotics company. They have a complete line of autonomous mobile robotics with a large product line of warehouse automation solutions. The company also has a line of UV Disinfection AMR, including two non-autonomous models and one fully autonomous mobile robot.
Their lineup of solutions includes two non-autonomous platforms (even though they call these devices "robots", they are not robots). These devices use a pulsed xenon lamp with high energy, safety and high efficiency and promise 80% decrease in infection rates with a 8 minute or less disinfection cycle.
Wellwit also has a fully autonomous UV disinfection AMR called the Pulsed Light Germ-Killing Robot (WDR01C). This AMR can decontaminate a room in 5 minutes or less and has obstacle avoidance to drive itself between rooms as it makes its rounds continuously.
The PBA Group has announced the roll out of their new Sunburst UV Bots UV-disinfecting autonomous mobile robots together with Singapore based Frasers Property Group to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. This will be the first of its kind in Singapore.
The UV Disinfection AMRs will be introduced to Northpoint City in May and progressively rolled out at Frasers Property Group's other malls in Singapore. The PBA Group is a mature robotics providers with a complete line of mobile and collaborative robotic solutions.
The PBA Group is the first Singapore based AMR provider to develop an autonomous UV disinfection solution. The vehicle deploys an ultraviolet-C light module, emitting powerful UV-C rays which can eradicate viruses. As a result, this solution helps to supplement manpower necessary to keep up with cleaning tasks.
PAL Robotics, based in Barcelona, have developed a new UV light disinfection AMR based on their proven TIAGo platform. The TIAGo platform is a mature solution that is well proven in the field. PAL Robotics has added a new UV disinfection payload on the top of the robot to perform disinfection operations.
A PAL spokesperson tells the Mobile Robot Guide that the device has been developed and is ready for deployment, but they have not yet deployed one into the field yet.
Shanghai based Keenon Robotics, makers of the Peanut service robot, have released a new UV light and disinfection spray autonomous mobile robot. The robot is designed to autonomously move around a hospital or other facility and perform various disinfection processes.
The AMR is called the Disinfection Robot and leverages Keenon's mature AMR software and base hardware for this new solution. The company is reporting that the machine has already been deployed in 10+ hospitals in Shanghai.
Singapore based SESTO Robotics, have just launched the SESTO HealthGUARD autonomous mobile UV disinfection robot. The HealthGUARD is built on top of the mature SESTO ELEMENT AGV, a vehicle which has been in the market for several years operating in multiple logistics, warehousing and manufacturing applications.
SESTO was able to quickly prototype and produce the HealthGUARD AMR due to the maturity of their ELEMENT platform. Details are still coming on the vehicle spec's, but the vehicle should inherit the long battery life and fully autonomous facility navigation from its sibling.
Manual cleaning and disinfection may be inadequate and subject to human error, especially in large spaces. During operational hours with human traffic, SESTO HealthGUARD can disinfect the environment with hospital-grade disinfectant from its multi-nozzle sprayer, eliminating 99.9% of bacteria, germs and viruses. The multi-nozzle sprayer targets high-touch surface areas and enables facilities owners and operators to disinfect large surfaces more efficiently and thoroughly.
After operating hours, SESTO HealthGUARD utilizes its six built-in UV-C (254nm) high-output germicidal lamps to effectively disinfect an area of 100 square meters in approximately 45 minutes. Its UV-C light delivers a powerful intensity to eliminate 99.9% of bacteria, germs and viruses. At 254nm wavelength, its short-length UV will break the molecular bonds within micro-organisms, thereby destroying them.
Geek Plus Robotics
Geek Plus has launched two autonomous solutions for disinfection use case. The Lavender robot uses UVC light to disinfect patient rooms or other specific areas. The Jasmin robot has a sprayer unit mounted on top of the AMR base. Both solutions are capable of autonomous navigation throughout the facility.
India based Yantra LLP has demonstrated their RAGHAV AMR with a disinfection sprayer payload. They have not published spec's on the unit yet, however, the following video shows the new unit in operation.
Ukraine based Aitheon Robotics has announced a new UVC Disinfection Robot. The AMR is used as part of a regular cleaning cycle preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases, bacteria, viral, and other types of harmful organic microorganisms by breaking down their DNA-structure.
Sherpa Mobile Robots
France based Sherpa Mobile Robots have announced two disinfection solutions based on their mobile robot platforms. Both robots employ a payload with the Phileas® centrifugation technology by DEVEA. The process has been validated in accordance with the standard 72-281 version of 2014 and has obtained its marketing authorization, guaranteeing the effectiveness of the Phileas system on viruses at 99/99%.
The Sherpa-B deploys the Phileas payload on the Sherpa AMR base. This fully autonomous vehicle can navigate your facility while deploying the disinfectant fog.
The Sherpa-W deploys the Phileas payload on a narrower Sherpa-designed AMR base. The Sherpa-W is designed for airlines, businesses and retail spaces.
US based Techmetics Robotics has announced a new UVD mobile robotics solution. They have been building and delivering unique AMR solutions for the last 5+ years and were one of the early pioneers in the restaurant AMR market. They are selling solutions primarily in the US, Australia and Asia.
By launching this new solution, Techmetics enters the UV Disinfection market with a proven platform and a deep experience designing and deploying AMR solutions. Their strongest asset is their mature software platform. For the UV robot, they have developed a specific algorithm to control UV exposure time based on the level of disinfection and the type of microbe control desired.
The robot is employs a waypoint-based disinfection cycle by plotting where it needs to be in a room to maximize the exposure of light. The software also logs the feedback of dosimeters to ensure that the disinfection thresholds was achieved.
The robot also uses its onboard sensors to ensure that humans don't enter the disinfection area during a disinfection cycle, and can shutdown the light if it senses movement.
Spain based ASTI Mobile Robotics releases a new UV-C light disinfection robot cobranded with BoosLight. The solution includes a UV-C light payload developed by BoosLight on top of an ASTI autonomous mobile robot (AMR) platform. Together, the solution autonomously disinfects a facility.
The company is targeting both hospitals as well as corporate campuses. The solution will be useful to help with the daily sanitization cycles to keep employees healthy as they return to work.
ASTI has introduced multiple UV-C light disinfection solutions, including 3 manual light devices, along with the new ZenZoe AMR vehicle.
- ZenZoe Easy - a manual UVD solution
- ZenZoe Pro - a manual UVD solution
- ZenZoe Plus - the largest capacity manual UVD solution
- ZenZoe Robot - an AMR based UVD solution.
TMI Robotics Technology Co
Shanghai based TMI Robotics Technology company is a producer of medical robotics. They have a product lineup that include multiple AMRs for duty in hospital settings. So it comes as no surprise that the company has released a disinfection robot.
The Intelligent Disinfection Robot from TMiRob is the only AMR on the market to feature three disinfection technologies: UVC light disinfection, an atomizing sprayer unit and plasma air filtration. The AMR is fully autonomous and can self navigate throughout the facility. The solution is being primarily marketed for hospitals, to help reset surgery rooms, ICU units, isolation wards and laboratories.
The TMI supervisory software is able to calculate disinfection times, enabling the solution to be easily operated by cleaning staff.
Xenex is a one of the market leaders in UV light disinfection devices. The Xenex LightStrike(tm) UVGI device is a corded device and features high power pulsed xenon lights to kill microbes and pathogens on surfaces in a room.
The LightStrike is NOT an autonomous mobile robot, as it must be manually positioned by the hospital staff, however the device does have some automation to lift the light bar out of the body of the canister and then safely retract it at the end of the cycle. This lowers the center of gravity for the device and makes it much safer to wheel around the facility (while also protecting the xenon bulbs).
The advantage of the LightStrike is that it corded and can leverage higher energy disinfection cycles than the fully autonomous and battery powered AMRs. The disadvantage is that it must be moved manually between disinfection locations.
The devices cost $125,000 a piece, a lot of money for a non-mobile robot solution when compared to the average price of the AMR-based solutions.
The LightStrike(tm) device is already deployed in more than 500 hospitals worldwide including The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic Health System, Stanford, 55 Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities and 10 Department of Defense health care facilities. Worldwide, its robots are in the U.K., Europe, South America, Asia, Middle East and Africa. And those numbers are increasing daily, according to the company.
Tru-D is another company building a UV light disinfection device. Again, it's NOT an autonomous mobile robot, but it's similar to Xenex in that the device is wheeled into a room and then starts the disinfection cycle once the staff person leaves the room.
Tele-operated Remote Monitoring
Another interesting application for autonomous mobile robots is for remote monitoring of facilities, streets and buildings. In this use case, the robotic solutions for Covid-19 are found in remotely tele-operated vehicles enable police, government or healthcare staff to monitor the movement of the public OR check in on patients, without have to be physically present.
We reported on a story this week about Enova Mobile Robots patrolling capital during COVID-19 response. The Enova P-Guard AMR is designed to operate outdoors and uses GPS for localization. The tele-operated vehicle enables remote monitoring of facilities and streets. Onboard heat sensing cameras can identify humans and video and 3D cameras record interaction with people.
Knightscope Robotics has a complete lineup of both indoor and outdoor autonomous mobile robots. Primarily used for patrolling corporate facilities, the Knightscope robots also have the ability to enable remote monitoring of streets and corporate campuses.
Hospital Support Operations
A critical application for autonomous mobile robots is directly within hospital and healthcare facilities. Not only is this one of the interesting obotic solutions for Covid-19, it will be viable well beyond the point that we are beyond the current Covid crisis.
The use cases here center around automating material delivery operations of pharmaceuticals, linens, food and trash. In addition, AMRs can be used for tele-presence enabling doctors and nurses to make their rounds and visit patients remotely. This is a use case which may become critical if the crisis devolves to a large scale pandemic and the number of patients increases to the point that it's logistically difficult for doctors to visit patients (and reduce their exposure).
Hospital support operations is a mature application space for AMRs. What is important with respect to the current COVID crisis is the capability of AMRs to augment hospital staff during a time when healthcare workers are working overtime, and hospitals are likely to become overwhelmed with patients.
There are a number of AMR vendors who have developed and deployed hospital support robots. The first vendor to market in this space and the most mature vendor is Aethon Robotics. Aethon has been building and delivering hospital automation for nearly a decade. They have a complete line of autonomous delivery vehicles. Uses cases include meal delivery (from kitchen to room), linen and trash removal, secure pharmacy delivery and general hospital material handling.
Savioke is another AMR vendor with a specifically designed and secure delivery capability. While the Savioke Relay was originally designed and deployed for hotel operations, it has all of the capabilities to operate in a hospital. The Savioke Relay robot can be used to deliver labs specimens from nursing stations to the lab while operating the elevator across multiple floors.
Mobile Industrial Robotics (MiR) is a general purpose AMR which is being deployed into various autonomous delivery operations. MiR recently documented the use case of MiR AMRs at Zealand University Hospital.
Five hospital departments at Zealand University Hospital in Denmark now receive daily autonomous deliveries from the hospital’s sterilization center. The implementation of a mobile robot from Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) is helping realize the goal of flexible and automated logistics throughout the upcoming 190,000 square meter super hospital.
Hi-Tech Robotic Systemz
India based, Hi-Tech Robotic Systemz have deployed several of their Novus Care AMRs to help with food and supply delivery in hospitals in India. This solution enables robots to do the "dirty" work and enable social distancing within the facility. From the video below, it appears that the Novus Care robot is deployed in a COVID ward.
Teleoperated / Telepresence Solutions
Teleoperated robotics and tele-medicine has been a thing for a while. But as robotic solutions for Covid-19, it is becoming especially critical that we separate our precious health workers from the danger of infection.
Diligent Robotics is a new entrant into the hospital operations market. The Moxi robot by Diligent is unique in that it is completely autonomous and can navigate the hospital to support the nursing staff. Moxi has an onboard collaborative arm, and with its 3D vision cameras, Moxi can pickup and drop off items. Moxi can be trained to do simple operations.
Moxi can also operate in a tele-operation mode where a doctor or nurse can drive the robot around the and see and talk to patients.
OhmniLabs is a remotely operated, teleoperation/telepresence AMR that has applications in the COVID crisis a solution for both remote workers as well as in healthcare for remote monitoring of patents by nurses and doctors.
The new Ohmni Supercam contains the highest resolution camera available in a telepresence robot. A 13MP camera plus the Ohmni low-latency encoding system gives you an immersive, ultra-wide field of view without sacrificing visual detail. The system is capable of operating for 6 hours and the entire device is built from 3D printed parts (Ohmni's parent company specializes in 3D printed manufacturing).
Ava is one of the early entrants into the telepresence market. Ava offers HD video quality over WiFi, enabling remote operators to login to an Ava robot and take control of the robot to move it around the facility. Remote operation can occur from a cellphone, tablet or computer. A screen on the robot enables local participants to have a conversation with the operator.
Ava features intelligent, autonomous navigation. Users simply specify a destination, and Ava automatically moves to the desired location within a facility. Built-in collision avoidance allows the robot to safely navigate around people and objects without bumping into them.
For the current pandemic, robots like Ava enable doctors to quickly check in with hospital staff or patients, without the need to be present. Ava can protect the health of frontline healthcare workers and enable a doctor to increase their workload without the need to travel between facilities, thus making them more efficient in their roles.
There are a variety of tele-presence solutions, many of which have been on the market for 5 to 10 years. Not all of these devices would be considers an autonomous mobile robots, thus we are not covering them in depth. However, these devices still have valid application for healthcare operations.
These vendors include the following list of suppliers:
Facility Cleaning Robots
Turnaco Robotics has a unique solution that is designed specifically for cleaning mosques between prayers. Turnaco is based in Turkey, and the founders identified the need for mosque facility cleansing to help prevent the spread of germs, even prior to the COVID-19 crisis. The Turnaco AMR is designed to vacuum the floors while simultaneously disinfecting the carpet with UV light. The AMR can run autonomously when the mosque is vacated between prayer sessions.
Turnaco CEO Kerem Sencan likes to tell the origin story for Turnaco, which is now more valid that ever. He noted that the idea of a mosque robot came about when he heard that two old men who have breathing problems and cataracts had difficulties when they went to their local mosques. "Their doctors said that going to the mosques would affect their health negatively," he said. "On the other hand, there was always an odor at the mosques in Kadıköy that I go to. One of my foreign friends said that Turks don't put their faces on their carpets at home but they do so in mosques where thousands of people enter. Lastly, I talked to an imam. He told me that it is a problem keeping the mosque clean. This is why it is cleaned once a month. That's when we thought only a robot can overcome this problem."
Avidbots makes a line of autonomous floor cleaning robots. These autonomous floor scrubbing robots can autonomously navigate a facility and complete a thorough floor cleaning operation. Designed primarly for hard floors, the robots can be scheduled to start and complete operations during times when the facility is closed.
Brain Corp entered the floor scrubbing market early and now has multiple models of floor scrubbing AMRs. While Brain Corp positions themselves as an AMR Intelligence and AI software company, the companies strategy has been to leverage the proven hardware of existing hardware manufacturers and retrofit those devices with the intelligent controls developed by Brain Corp.
We're all experiencing the chaos on the shelves at our local grocery stores. Grocers hate empty shelves and are keeping their staff busy restocking and reordering product. There are a number of AMR vendors who have deployed robots to continuously scan shelves and count inventory. Grocers can then sync this data with their store inventory management and ordering system.
You might ask why we're including retail inventory AMRs in our COVID19 coverage?
When robots are used to automate the inventory counting, the human workers can be better utilized to keep up with shelf restocking operations. In our current response to COVID 19, these inventory robotics also help to distance grocery stocking clerks from the public. With all of the empty store shelves that we're currently experiencing, inventory is a critical aspect of living through the crisis.
Bossa Nova Robotics
Bossa Nova Robotics is the largest manufacturer of retail inventory AMRs. They have deployed their inventory robots at over 400 Walmart stores in north America and are busy expanding that fleet in 2020.
The magic of Bossa Nova's solution is not in the robot, but rather the consolidation and processing of inventory data, which is made available to retailers in the cloud.
Simbe Robotics has a mature solution for automating retail inventory with their Tally Robot.
Badger Technologies is a late entrant in the retail inventory AMR market, however the "Marty" robot has high definition cameras to accurately image store shelves and then process the information. Badger Technologies is a division of Jabil Technologies, who are one of the largest contract manufacturers in North America.
Restaurant and Delivery Operations
As the world begins the process of reopening businesses following the COVID shutdown, there is a growing opportunity for autonomation to help with social distancing and the prevention of COVID transmission.
Here are a few AMR's designed specifically to help with restaurant and "last mile" delivery operations.
Silicon Valley based Bear Robotics introduced the Penny food delivery robot to help automate front of house restaurant operations. The AMR is designed to autonomous navigate around tables and customers to bring from from the kitchen to the table.
Shanhai based Keenon Robotics has introduced a delivery robot built on its mature AMR base hardware and software. This robotic waiter is designed to deliver front of house meals to restaurant patrons. The infrared perception system detects the status of goods in the pallet, the robot returns automatically as quickly as humans and help customers take away the the empty disks. The robot has a 10 hour battery and fully autonomous battery charging.
Related News Stories
- Robots help to fight coronavirus worldwide (IFR)
- COVID-19 pandemic prompts more robot usage worldwide (The Robot Report)
- The Covid-19 Pandemic Is a Crisis That Robots Were Built For (Wired)
- Combating COVID-19—The role of robotics in managing public health and infectious diseases (Science Magazine)
- UC Berkeley scientists spin up a robotic COVID-19 testing lab (UC Berkeley News)
- A3 Special Report: How Robots and Automation are Fighting Covid-19 (A3)
- How the Global Pandemic is Accelerating Adoption of Automation in Commercial Cleaning (SoftBank Robotics)
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