The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) project is to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed work will rapidly create new autonomous robots for sanitization in hospitals and other high-traffic areas with high risk of surface-borne pathogen transmission. The autonomous sanitizing system produced by this effort would fill a crucial void in ensuring hospital spaces are kept sanitized as the health care system scrambles to respond to the evolving COVID-19 crisis. In addition, the solution will be widely applicable in controlling Hospital Acquired Infections, affecting over 2 million people in the US annually, with an overall economic impact of $45 B. The proposed autonomous high-dexterity robots are projected to successfully keep the high-touch areas in about 10,000 square feet of commercial space reliably sanitized and could be applicable to the over 50 billion square feet of public commercial space (office, industrial, healthcare, hospitality, retail, etc.) in the US. Faster, more efficient, and targeted santization has potential to dramatically reduce downtime of these spaces and the labor required for sanitization.
This STTR Phase I project, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, will rapidly develop new robotic systems and algorithms for robots capable of precisely navigating surfaces in crowded environments. This new system will be capable of selective sanitization in the proximity of humans, removing the key limitation of existing full-room single-source UV radiation based robots requiring the room to be unoccupied. UV light technology has tremendous promise in improving sanitization at hospitals and reducing costs by minimizing chemical use, but the technology has had limited application due to ill effects on mammalian cells. The selective exposure capability with the use of the robotic arm and focused lighting will alleviate that limitation, opening up further uses of UV lighting in hospital sanitization. Toward this goal, this project will advance key areas of robotics, including Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) algorithms in the presence of dynamic obstacles, and the control of arms over surfaces with varied objects and in the vicinity of humans. These efforts will advance the science and practice of robotics for applications in healthcare and other industries.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.