Robots with xenon ray blast viruses, bacteria

Automation firms are cleaning up (literally) during COVID-19 push for clean spaces.

Pandemic and need for extreme sanitation open a niche for robotic companies

The pool in our building in Los Angeles is open, but only by reservation and under strictly enforced social distancing guidelines. Between visitors, an attendant armed with a bottle of disinfecting spray retraces guests' steps spritzing any surfacing they might have touched.

ZDNet Recommends

Best telepresence robots for business in 2020: Double Robotics, OhmniLabs, Meeting Owl, and more

The best telepresence hardware to go beyond video conferencing and make remote work truly collaborative.

Read More

Clean is the new norm. Hospital-level sanitation is now expected in spaces like retail, restaurants, and, yup, pools, so it's no surprise that the automation sector is smelling opportunity. I thought of the poolside attendant -- a very nice guy who seems to do a wonderful job, for what it's worth -- when I got briefed on a new disinfecting robot hitting the market, this one from Fetch Robotics, which offers flexible autonomous mobile robots traditionally for logistics and inventory applications. 

Fetch's new disinfecting robot joins a growing field that includes companies like UVD Robots. It's a collaboration with automated packaging solutions supplier Piedmont National, and it's meant to target a niche both companies are familiar with, like high-traffic warehouse facilities, as well as retail stores, office spaces and, hospital rooms. The robot, named the SmartGuardUV, uses pulsed Xenon UV lamp technology and adds advanced disinfecting reporting courtesy of the Piedmont 4Site cloud analytics platform. The result is a completely autonomous, broad-spectrum UV disinfection robot that purportedly eliminates up to 99.9% of viruses and bacteria with UV-C, UV-B, and UV-A as well as reports on the results of the disinfection.

"The facilities best prepared to protect workers and customers from COVID-19 are taking extreme precautions when it comes to sanitization, and are placing their trust in automated solutions that are able to be deployed at any time," said Fetch Robotics Chief Product Officer Stefan Nusser. "Companies of every size recognize the need for reliable sanitization procedures, and SmartGuardUV provides reliable protection at every hour of the day, without taking employees away from their already existing job responsibilities." 

This is another example of the surge in automation we're seeing as the pandemic grinds on. Robots are one of the clear winners of this losing situation, both in how they're received by the public and in continuing strong interest from investors and technology officers

Using Fetch's cloud-based robotics architecture, SmartGuardUV can autonomously map and navigate throughout a facility, enter the desired space, activate the pulsed UV light for targeted, comprehensive disinfection, reposition in the space for maximum coverage, disinfect, and then move to the next space without any human intervention. According to the company, the robot's built-in motion sensor for automatic shut off prevents unnecessary UV exposure, and facility managers can customize the AMR's schedules and disinfecting paths, even remotely, as facility needs change.

"Legacy UV fluorescent-based solutions cannot target disinfection and can only operate for 2 to 2.5 hours on a single charge as the UV lamps have to stay illuminated for a significant amount of time-draining battery life," said John Garlock, CSO of Piedmont National. "The PURO light engines on the SmartGuardUV AMR precisely target UV rays at high touch surfaces so can operate for 8 to 10 hours on a single charge. This combination of targeted disinfection within a space and longer operational time results in an autonomous disinfection robot that is much more effective than autonomous robots that use legacy mercury-based UV lamps." 

Fetch previously released the Breezy One, a chemical disinfection AMR designed for large spaces over 100,000 square feet, signaling a strong push into disinfecting space.