In March 2020, Spain was experiencing the first wave of COVID-19, and as in many other countries at the time, the situation in hospitals was already becoming critical. With the government about to order the confinement of the population, there was a clear and urgent need for systems to reduce the risk of contagion. ACCIONA, a multinational dedicated to the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of sustainable infrastructure, turned to robotics and artificial intelligence.
The company tasked Carlos Crespo, manager of the Robotics & AI Skill Center at ACCIONA's Innovation Hub, with putting together a team to develop technological solutions.
ACCIONA builds on partnership
The first step for Crespo was to talk with RobotPlus SL, an OEM partner and local distributor for Odense, Denmark-based Mobile Industrial Robots ApS (MiR). He had worked with the Madrid-based company previously on collaborative robotics projects. The research and development 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.
Founded in 2010, RobotPlus specializes in industrial engineering with the aim of adding value through automation. It focuses on consultancy services and the distribution of collaborative robots and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), mainly in the Spanish market.
“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,” said Víctor Pavón, CEO of RobotPlus. “We have been working closely with ACCIONA in this area for almost five years now and continue to jointly develop customised solutions with them based on the latest robot technologies.”
“We spoke with Carlos and presented him with a series of project ideas where MiR robots could be very useful during the health crisis,” he added. “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.”
Designing SafeRBot with staffer input
The SafeRBot can disinfect a 20 to 25m2 (215- to 269-sq. ft.) room in 15 minutes, a task that 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, according to RobotPlus. It can also 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, said the partners.
“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,” said Crespo. “That same month 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,” he said. “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.”
MiR features enable autonomous disinfection
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 tested and validated it in one of the region’s hospitals.
“It was that moment when we realized that it had much more potential than we had initially expected and that we had created something really important,” Crespo recalled. “We now had a robotic solution capable of disinfecting 30 hospital rooms in an eight-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 Standardization, 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,” he added.
“Thanks to RobotPlus and MiR, we have an automated biodecontamination solution that not only works in our own facilities, but [that] also allows us to integrate it into the portfolio of services we offer to our customers,” said Crespo.
ACCIONA is using SafeRBot units to disinfect the offices both in its Innovation Hub and headquarters, and it has sent a third unit to its service division in Qatar to help disinfect 14 hospitals in the emirate.
The SafeRbot also avoids polluting the environment through the use of hazardous 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,” said 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.”
Email Sign Up
Get news, papers, media and research delivered
Stay up-to-date with news and resources you need to do your job.
Research industry trends, compare companies and get market intelligence every week with Robotics 24/7.
Subscribe to our robotics user email newsletter and we'll keep you informed and up-to-date.