In March 2020, Spain was in the initial phase of the first wave of Covid-19 and as in many other countries at the time, the situation in hospitals and with the emergency services was already becoming critical. With the government about to order the confinement of the population, and almost daily reports on TV news about how the virus was spreading quickly in public areas such as waiting rooms and hospital wards, there was a clear and urgent need emerging for solutions to help reduce the risk of contagion.
At this point, Carlos Crespo, manager of the Robotics & AI Skill Center at the Innovation Hub of the Spanish multinational group ACCIONA, was tasked with putting together a team to work on the design and development of technological solutions based on his two areas of expertise, robots and artificial intelligence. ACCIONA is a global group dedicated to the development and management of sustainable infrastructure solutions and whose mission is to make technical excellence and innovation available to all types of projects to design a better planet and contribute to the economic and social development of the communities in which it operates. The group’s business covers the entire value chain of infrastructure design, construction, operation and maintenance.
Working in partnership
His first step was to talk with Robotplus, a leading OEM partner and distributor for MiR in Spain with whom he had worked before on collaborative robotics projects prior to the pandemic. The R&D department at Robotplus had already been examining the idea of combining MiR’s mobile robot technology with UV-C lights to create an autonomous disinfection robot capable of disinfecting rooms and closed spaces quickly and effectively.
Robotplus is a leading specialist in industrial engineering headquartered near Madrid and founded in 2010 with the aim of adding value to the distribution of new technologies in robotics and automation. The company is particularly focused on industrial consultancy services and the distribution of collaborative robots, mainly in the Spanish market, as well as working with partners such as ACCIONA in the development of useful technological solutions for society.
“As part of our consultancy work, we continuously review the challenges and needs of our clients and use our know-how to supply robotic solutions from manufacturers such as Mobile Industrial Robots, in order to create automation solutions that not only offer them an economic return, but also help them optimise their processes and improve their value chain”, says Victor Pavón, CEO of RobotPlus “We have been working closely with ACCIONA in this area for almost 5 years now and continue to jointly develop customised solutions with them based on the latest robot technologies”.
“We spoke with Carlos Crespo and presented him with a series of project ideas where MiR robots could potentially be very useful during the health crisis”, he adds. “These included applications for transporting supplies in hospitals, such as samples, medicines or medical equipment, as well as the one we finally developed – an autonomous disinfection robot built by mounting a top module with 254nm UV-C lamps on a MiR100 robot”.
The robot, given the name SafeRBot, is able to achieve a complete disinfection of a 20-25m2 room in 15 minutes, a task which would otherwise take two workers at least a whole day using chemicals. The use of UV-C light has already proven to be the best valid alternative to the use of chemical disinfectants for the biodecontamination of public spaces in a much faster and more effective way. With the right intensity, the UV-C light breaks down the DNA and RNA structure of microbes including the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, and is the perfect weapon to prevent and reduce the spread of infectious diseases, viruses, bacteria and other types of harmful microorganisms in a wide range of public environments such as offices, factories, shops, schools, museums, and hospitality venues, among many others.
“UV-C technology is not new to ACCIONA, as we have been using it in our water treatment plants for many years as part of the tertiary treatment of wastewater to generate drinking water”, says Carlos Crespo. “That same month of March 2020 when we began working with Robotplus on the project, we visited hospitals serviced by ACCIONA and talked to our cleaning staff to get a better understanding about the challenges and needs they faced due to the pandemic. From this consultation process, we came up with the technical information we needed to develop the SafeRBot. Knowing how much time we had to disinfect a room gave us a clear idea of the number and strength of lamps that had to be installed on the robot. Calculating how many rooms needed to be disinfected per shift was the basis for determining the size and charge of the robot’s battery. And so on.”
More potential than expected
After four months of work and numerous trials at ACCIONA’s innovation facilities near Madrid, the first prototype was ready in June 2020 and the team immediately went to test and validate it in one of the region’s hospitals.
“It was that moment when we realised that it had much more potential than we had initially expected and that we had created something really important”, comments Carlos. “We now had a robotic solution capable of disinfecting 30 hospital rooms in an 8-hour shift without the need to recharge the battery, and which can chart its own path and avoid obstacles throughout the area to be disinfected using sophisticated sensors and safety features - the same features that make MiR robots ideal for automating internal transport processes in industrial environments. The intensity of the UV-C lamps, which have been certified as compliant with the UNE-0068 safety standard for UV-C devices used in room and surface air disinfection by the Spanish Association for Standardisation, combined with MiR’s unique mobile robot technology ensure a complete disinfection of all the surfaces and objects in a room, all without the presence of humans”.
“Thanks to Robotplus and MiR, we have an automated biodecontamination solution that not only works in our own facilities but also allows us to integrate it into the portfolio of services we offer to our customers”, he adds. ACCIONA are using SafeRBot units to disinfect the offices both in the Innovation Hub and the group’s headquarters as well as sending a third one to the business’ service division in Qatar to work on disinfection in 14 hospitals in the emirate.
The SafeRbot also avoids polluting the environment through the use of chemicals, helping ACCIONA to meet its commitment to minimise the environmental impact of its operations.
“For us at Robotplus it has been tremendously satisfying and inspiring to collaborate with ACCIONA on this project since the use and development of this robot allows us to bring a plus to society through preserving health and quality of life”, says Víctor Pavón. “MiR’s technology has enabled us to create this robust and tailor made solution that allows our partners uphold a different way of doing business – one that promotes the well-being of society and the planet before economic interests”.