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CSAIL robot disinfects Greater Boston Food Bank

CSAIL robot disinfects Greater Boston Food Bank

In tests, the CSAIL team's robot could disinfect a 4,000-square-foot space in the food bank's warehouse in just half an hour.  Photo: Alyssa Pierson/CSAIL

Using UV-C light, the system can disinfect a warehouse floor in half an hour — and could one day be employed in grocery stores, schools, and other spaces.

With every droplet that we can’t see, touch, or feel dispersed into the air, the threat of spreading Covid-19 persists. It’s become increasingly critical to keep these heavy droplets from lingering — especially on surfaces, which are welcoming and generous hosts. 

Thankfully, our chemical cleaning products are effective, but using them to disinfect larger settings can be expensive, dangerous, and time-consuming. Across the globe there are thousands of warehouses, grocery stores, schools, and other spaces where cleaning workers are at risk.

With that in mind, a team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), in collaboration with Ava Robotics and the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), designed a new robotic system that powerfully disinfects surfaces and neutralizes aerosolized forms of the coronavirus.

The approach uses a custom UV-C light fixture designed at CSAIL that is integrated with Ava Robotics’ mobile robot base. The results were encouraging enough that researchers say that the approach could be useful for autonomous UV disinfection in other environments, such as factories, restaurants, and supermarkets. 

UV-C light has proven to be effective at killing viruses and bacteria on surfaces and aerosols, but it’s unsafe for humans to be exposed. Fortunately, Ava’s telepresence robot doesn’t require any human supervision. Instead of the telepresence top, the team subbed in a UV-C array for disinfecting surfaces. Specifically, the array uses short-wavelength ultraviolet light to kill microorganisms and disrupt their DNA in a process called ultraviolet germicidal irradiation.

The complete robot system is capable of mapping the space — in this case, GBFB’s warehouse — and navigating between waypoints and other specified areas. In testing the system, the team used a UV-C dosimeter, which confirmed that the robot was delivering the expected dosage of UV-C light predicted by the model.

“Food banks provide an essential service to our communities, so it is critical to help keep these operations running,” says Alyssa Pierson, CSAIL research scientist and technical lead of the UV-C lamp assembly. “Here, there was a unique opportunity to provide additional disinfecting power to their current workflow, and help reduce the risks of Covid-19 exposure.” 

Read more

Originally published by
Rachel Gordon | MIT CSAIL
June 28, 2020
MIT News

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