University of Virginia researchers developing coronavirus-sanitizing robot

A semi-autonomous coronavirus decontamination robot is being developed by researchers at the University of Virginia.

“It is available and usable already, it just depends on how much capability we are going to introduce [into the system],” University of Virginia professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Tomonari Furukawa said. “The ultimate goal really is to remove the human completely from the operation.”

The robot — nicknamed VICTOR — uses ultraviolet light to decontaminate floors and walls broadly while it’s moving. It also has a robotic arm with UV lamps that can zero in on individual spots, less exposed surfaces and sweep over horizontal surfaces such as countertops and arm rests.

It’s not a job that people can do easily themselves, as UV light that can kill coronavirus is harmful to human eyes and skin.

“We are increasing the safety of the robot,” Furukawa said. “We tried to make the UV lamp to be highly directional so that it will not affect the humans.”

The semi-autonomous robot creates a 3D map of the environment it is tasked to clean.

Furukawa said unlike humans, the robot knows very specifically which portion of a surface has been decontaminated.

“As a result we can do the decontamination more efficiently and also more reliably,” Furukawa said.

Furukawa has been developing robots for “nearly a quarter century” for emergency response when conditions are dangerous for humans, such as inside nuclear plants, when the environment is too hot, contains poisons or pathogens, or the air is unfit to breathe.

Before bringing his robotics program to the University of Virginia, Furukawa was a professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech. The sanitizing robot is being developed in close collaboration with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, so it can be used aboard naval vessels, Furukawa said.

The goal also is to adapt the robot for use in places such as hospitals, train stations, airports and grocery stores.

Because the novel coronavirus is an international problem, Furukawa believes defeating it needs to be a joint effort.

“I’m always looking for collaborators and also sponsors to advance technologies so that humans can overcome the coronavirus,” Furukawa said.

Watch the robot in action.

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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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