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Nanyang Technological University develops semi-autonomous robot for ‘smart disinfection’

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore have developed a semi-autonomous robot that can disinfect large surfaces quickly. The researchers are planning to have public trials to support Singapore’s fight against COVID-19.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, there is a high demand for deep cleaning and disinfection services. Cleaning and disinfecting buildings and large areas are very time consuming and labour intensive. And Nanyang Technological University has used its innovative resources to help address these issues.

“During this challenging period, we are proud that our scientists have come together and gone the extra mile to develop a homegrown robotic solution to help address the current manpower crunch in the sanitation industry and to minimise transmission risks associated with COVID-19.” said NTU Senior Vice-President (Research) Prof Lam Khin Yong

THe eXtreme Disinfection roBOT – XDBOT, can be wirelessly controlled via a laptop or tablet, removing the need for cleaners to be in contact with surfaces, thereby reducing the risk of picking up the virus from potentially contaminated areas.

New robot differs from other disinfection robots

The new robot differs from other disinfection robots currently on the market that are primarily intended to clean and vacuum floor surfaces and are unable to disinfect odd-shaped surfaces or anything above ground level.

The XDBOT has a 6-axis robotic arm that can mimic human movement to reach awkward locations and instead of a conventional pressure-spray nozzle, it uses an electrostatic-charged nozzle to ensure a wider and further spread of the disinfectant, behind and over hidden surfaces.

Leader of the project, Professor Chen I-Ming, a roboticist from the NTU Robotics Research Centre, said the XDBOT was conceived when COVID19 cases started to spike worldwide in mid-February and disinfection efforts were being stepped up at Changi Airport, local hotels and hospitals.

“To stop the transmission of a virus means we need a way to quickly disinfect surfaces, which is a labour-intensive and repetitive activity, using our new robot from a distance, a human operator can precisely control the disinfection process, increasing surface area cleaned by up to four times, with zero contact with surfaces.” Prof Chen explained.

Prof Chen is also the founder and CEO of Transforma Robotics, a technology spin-off from NTU Singapore. The XDBot was developed by NTU scientists working with Transforma Robotics and two other NTU spin-offs, Hand Plus Robotics and Maju Robotics, along with help from two industry partners: Asia Centre of Technologies (ACOT) and Tungray Singapore Pte Ltd.

Semi-autonomous for precise disinfection

XDBOT can navigate semi-autonomously in any environment using Light Detection and Ranging and high-definition cameras, while its arm is controlled by a human operator, who can control the robot from up to 30 metres using a laptop or tablet.

The robot possesses a large 8.5 litre tank that can carry a variety of disinfectants appropriate to different environments such as childcare centres, hospitals, nursing homes and shopping malls.

It can run for four hours continuously on a rechargeable battery pack and is estimated to be able to disinfect a surface area of up to four times that of manual cleaning.

XDBOT can be market ready depending on commercial demand

XDBOT has been tested in public areas on the NTU campus such as the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, North Spine Plaza and the dining area near Canopy K.

Moving forward, the team is in talks with several healthcare institutions and hopes to further test the prototype at more public areas and the local public hospitals.

If trials are successful and with commercial demand, a production-ready version of the XDBOT will be developed and production scaled up to support Singapore’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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