Smart robots step up to help combat Coronavirus

Posted on 19 Mar 2020 by Daniel Kirmatzis

Intelligent disinfection robots – taken from design to sample production in just seven days – could soon be helping stop the spread of Coronavirus and other viruses in hospitals.

The spread of Coronavirus may have blindsided nations and their governments around the world, but when a problem needs solving manufacturers can often be relied upon to find innovative solutions. Exactly what are needed right now.

As the spread of the virus began to increase, Yu Qi, Head of Siemens China’s Research Group for Advanced Manufacturing Automation, asked himself what he could do to help control the infection by leveraging cutting-edge technologies.

An urgent news item calling for disinfection robots to assist in the deep-cleaning of hospital wards, eliminating the potential human risk of the task, sparked an original idea – ‘why not create a new type of intelligent robot!’

His idea garnered immediate support from his managers at the laboratory for robotic applications, co-established by Siemens and Aucma, the focus of which is on ‘developing special robots, unmanned vehicles, industrial robots, and intelligent equipment’.

From design to sample production. Image: Siemens AG

From design to sample production. Image: Siemens AG

Though several challenges facing the team of 10 engineers, they were confident that they could develop a new type of robot in an extremely short timeframe thanks to their broad mix of experience and expertise.

It was decided that the robots were to be purely electric driven as most existing robots on the market utilise ‘a petrol-driven mistorizer gun with an electric chassis’, the refueling of which can be messy and inconvenient.

The team faced several questions:

  • How should they integrate the control systems for mistorizer guns and electric chassis?
  • How could they maximize its sterilisation impact with less disinfectant consumption?
  • How could they provide 360-degree coverage even in confined areas?

As with much of the UK at present, the Siemens and Aucma team members worked from home and kept in close contact predominantly via phone. The final design validation involved several rounds of testing and user feedback, and in just one week the team had successfully manufactured their first disinfection robot.

Described as a “breakthrough in both structural design and autonomous control systems”, the final robot design is powered by a lithium battery and incorporates an omnidirectional camera which transmits a live video feed and is coupled with an ‘intelligent visual algorithm’ that reportedly allows the operator “to remotely locate affected areas and prevent the spread of infectious diseases at low cost”.

The team opted for caterpillar tracks rather than wheels in order to improve the robot’s ability to navigate various road surfaces, obstacles and inclines.

Having submitted two applications for national patents, the newly developed disinfection robots are ready to be launched and are expected to be soon deployed in front-line hospitals to contain the spread of viruses.

Furthermore, additional robots are due to be delivered to schools, offices, manufacturing sites and other public places in order to support the resumption of work and production.

As the UK government called for manufacturers in the fight against Covid-19 this week by either building much needed ventilators and urgent medical supplies, this story from China demonstrates the power of industrial collaboration and how leaps forward can be made in a short time.

*Images and video courtesy of  Siemens AG