The market for disinfection with robots has exploded with the COVID-19 crisis, where the most prevailing approach is with UV-C light. The solutions typically consist of a mobile robot with high intensity UV-C lamps irradiating all surroundings. However, this approach has inherent safety issues, as UV-C irradiation not only effects microorganisms, but also the human cells. The robots with high-intensity UV-C lamps are therefore not safe to operate in an environment together with people.
UVCbyEFSEN and Enabled Robots now collaborate in an EU funded project, COVR safeteyaroundrobots.com, with the aim to develop safe robot disinfection (COVR has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 77996).
Our project aims to develop safe robot disinfection, based on a mobile manipulator with a hand-held UVC lamp. This enables focusing the UV-C irradiation, and with the right sensors, create a collaborative UVC robot (UV-C cobot), able to safely operate close to humans. The project consortium is comprised of Enabled Robotics (developing mobile manipulators) and UVCbyEFSEN (specialist and manufacturer of UV technologies), who will work together in developing, validating and documenting the solution.
The use of robotics disinfection solutions has drastically increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the renewed focus on hygienic measures is expected to continue in the future. In particular, solutions based on UV-C light is prevailing due a range of factors. UV-C is highly efficient for disinfection and can inactivate the majority of bacteria and viruses in seconds. Further, the technology can disinfect without the use of chemicals. However, UV-C light is not only dangerous to microorganism, but also to humans, who experience damages equivalent to sunburns, “welding eyes” and potentially skin cancer, when receiving a too high dose of UV-C. Available robot solutions therefore all require that no humans be present in the space being disinfected. This limits the use of UV-C robots to confined areas, which has strict access control, hence requires normal operation to cease while disinfecting.
By developing a safe robot disinfection solution able to operate (with a limited safety distance) alongside humans, this project will provide a collaborate disinfection robot. For instance, in supermarkets (see https://youtu.be/w2TzXS_iRj8) cleaning and restocking often happens at night, hence there is almost no time without human presence and prohibiting human presence would disturb the normal operations and use of the space. As such we believe that the work proposed in the award project has a significant impact on the ability to automatically disinfect in a safe environment.
With the successful completion the partner Enabled Robotics will have a unique product able to use UV-C light for disinfection of hotspots in the near and safe vicinity of humans. Project partner UVCbyEFSEN will have an additional sales channel for the UV-C technology and will have improved their current handheld solution and generated additional documentation with respect to efficiency and safety around their technology.