At Örebro University, a new robot is being developed that will be able to effectively kill viruses such as the coronavirus. The robot uses strong UV light – and is remotely controlled so that people can stay at a distance.
It does not look like much to the world today. But perhaps the new cleaning robot that is being developed at Örebro University can play an important role in the future when it comes to cleaning hospitals and other environments from bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that can cause diseases.
Based on standard components
The brains behind the project are André Potenza and Andrey Kiselev, researchers at AASS (Center for Applied Autonomous Systems) at Örebro University.
– We have cutting-edge knowledge in telepresence robotics, and have worked on the robot platform for several years. When covid-19 appeared, we began to think about how we could use this knowledge to help reduce the spread of infection, for example at home in the elderly or in hospital, says Andrey Kiselev.
Telepresence robotics is about robot systems that connect to wireless networks, and then can be controlled remotely via a smart mobile or computer. The goal from the beginning has been for the robot to be as simple as possible to manufacture. Open source software and standard components are therefore the cornerstones of the project.
– There are already a plethora of commercial cleaning robots intended for, for example, industrial environments. The problem with many of these is that the systems are either based on proprietary software, or it is difficult for manufacturers to build large volumes of robots at a sufficiently fast pace, says Andrey Kiselev.
– We want anyone to be able to manufacture this robot. The majority of components needed are in regular technology stores, and others are custom-made in a 3D printer. The source code for the robot is free to use for everyone, he continues.
UV light dangerous for humans
The cleaning robot uses ultraviolet radiation in the form of UV light. It is energy-rich light with a short wavelength, and is harmful to all organisms. Using this type of light to kill viruses is a proven method. However, due to the radiation risks, it is dangerous for humans to use UV light, a problem that the new remote-controlled cleaning robot can help solve.
So far, the project is in its infancy, and there is a long way to go before the robot system is fully developed.
– We do our best to get the system ready for field tests in hospitals as quickly as possible. We have had some informal conversations with the University Hospital in Örebro, but at present nothing is decided about future pilot tests. They are busy with other things right now during the current pandemic, which we fully understand. We also discuss with our research colleagues who work with microbiology here at Örebro University. It is absolutely crucial to be able to test which lamps are actually most effective.
How efficient is the uvc system right now?
– At present, the robot has four lamps, which have a power of 10 to 20 watts together. We only use standard lamps and an inverter that converts 12V that we get from the robot’s battery, to 1,000V that is needed for the lamps. But in order for the robot to be made more efficient, for example in larger environments such as hospitals, we need stronger lamps than that.
What can you tell us about the software used?
– Basically, it consists of two parts. The first is a control framework for controlling the motors and cameras on the robot. The second part is about making the robot autonomous. So far, we have demonstrated that the robot can get from point a to b, and perform certain tasks well on site. But there is still a lot of work left in that area. So far, we have only run the system in a lab environment, and need to conduct field tests in real homes or hospitals.
Open source important part
The cleaning robot that André Potenza and Andrey Kiselev are developing is part of the Ai.Mee project sp00tn1k-clean, which is run by Alfred Nobel Science Park in collaboration with Örebro University and the Örebro County Region. The funding comes from the European Regional Development Fund.
Why do you release the source code in your work?
– It is important, and means that the system can be manufactured without anyone having to worry about patent infringement. This is especially important for manufacturers who may want to be able to manufacture the robot in larger volumes, says Andrey Kiselev.
This is how uvc light works
UV radiation can be divided into three groups, uva, uvb and uvc. UV light is light at a wavelength that is not visible to humans. UVC are wavelength ranges between 100 and 28 nanometers.
UV light carries more energy than ordinary light. The more energy, the greater the risk of damage, such as skin redness, sunburn and burns.
UV radiation can be extremely harmful to almost all life, and is used, for example, in special lamps to kill bacteria.