New disinfection robot could aid cleaners in COVID-19 outbreak

A semi-autonomous robot that can disinfect large surfaces quickly.

In this Coronavirus outbreak, there is a demand for deep cleaning and disinfection services. As per news reports, working hours for cleaners have multiplied to 16 hours every day because of the labors’ crunch.

To reduce the risk for cleaners to be in contact with surfaces with the potentially contaminated areas, scientists at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have developed a semi-autonomous robot called eXtreme Disinfection roBOT (XDBOT) that can disinfect large surfaces quickly.

The robot can be operated wirelessly using a laptop or tablet. It has a semi-autonomous control unit with motorized wheels. Using LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and a high-definition camera, the robot can navigate semi-autonomously in any environment.

With its 6-axis robotic arm, the XDBOT can mimic human movement to reach awkward locations such as under tables and beds, as well as doorknobs, tabletops, and light switches.

For spray, it uses an electrostatic-charged nozzle to ensure a broader and further spread of the disinfectant, behind, and over hidden surfaces.

The robot possesses a large 8.5-liter tank that can carry a variety of disinfectants appropriate to different environments.

It runs on a rechargeable battery that can run for four hours continuously in a single charge. 

Leader of the project, Professor Chen I-Ming, a roboticist from the NTU Robotics Research Centre, said the XDBOT was conceived when COVID-19 cases started to spike worldwide in mid-February, and disinfection efforts were being stepped up at Changi Airport, local hotels, and hospitals. 

“To stop the transmission of a virus means we need a way to quickly disinfect surfaces, which is a labor-intensive and repetitive activity,” Prof Chen explained.

“Using our new robot from a distance, a human operator can precisely control the disinfection process, increasing surface area cleaned by up to four times, with zero contact with surfaces.”

Prof Chen is also the founder and CEO of Transforma Robotics, a technology spin-off from NTU Singapore. The XDBot was developed by NTU scientists working with Transforma Robotics and two other NTU spin-offs, Hand Plus Robotics and Maju Robotics, along with help from two industry partners: Asia Centre of Technologies (ACOT) and Tungray Singapore Pte Ltd.

NTU Senior Vice-President (Research) Prof Lam Khin Yong said that the rapid development of the robot exemplifies NTU’s ability to have innovative solutions to global challenges and that draw on a wide range of university research strengths. 

“During this challenging period, we are proud that our scientists have come together and gone the extra mile to develop a homegrown robotic solution to help address the current manpower crunch in the sanitation industry and to minimize transmission risks associated with COVID-19.”

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