AI to the aid: How robots can help in the fight against COVID-19

Astra seems to be a real godsend amid the burgeoning Coronavirus health crisis

astra Representational image | via Facebook

Astra seems to be a real godsend amid the burgeoning Coronavirus health crisis.

A robot that can move on its own, Astra can disinfect quarantine rooms and hospitals. It can take on coronavirus in places where humans fear to tread.

Astra uses powerful Ultraviolet C (UVC) to annihilate bacteria and viruses, including coronavirus, explains Balaji Viswanathan, CEO of Bengaluru-based Invento Robotics that developed Astra. “UVC is part of the ultraviolet light spectrum with wavelengths between 200-280 nanometres. The primary thing is that it is a radiation that can kill most of the bacteria and viruses. It disrupts both the RNA and DNA viruses.’’

High-end hospitals have been using UVC for sometime in a stationary mode. Astra can be a real game-changer as it is an autonomous robot. “UVC rays are harmful for humans and there are a lot of risks involved when humans move around robots that emit these rays. So, we have developed a technology for the autonomous navigation,’’ says Viswanathan, adding that robots emitting UVC rays have been used successfully in Wuhan and Italy in combating coronavirus.

Astra is equipped with a camera which allows the operator to control it remotely. The robot can disinfect 90 per cent of the places on its own. ''Astra requires a bit of human assistance only while disinfecting narrow corners. Typically, it takes just 15 minutes to disinfect a standard size room,'' claims Viswanathan, a graduate in artificial intelligence. Astra can wear many hats. ''The top UV unit of Astra can be dismantled and you can use it for transporting samples and food in the infectious zone,'' says Viswanathan. This can reduce the probability of healthcare workers and caregivers getting infected.

So how soon will we have these robots? ''We are waiting for the production facility to open. From the time we open, it will take us ten days to bring the robots into life. We are ready with the software,'' says Viswanathan who made headlines a few years ago by developing Mitra, a robotic customer care executive for Canara Bank.

"We are giving it free of cost to government hospitals. We are not charging them. When the crisis is going on, we thought we could use our technology. But we might export it to global market in future."

Astra costs about Rs 6 lakh. ''Astra can be an absolute life-saver especially for rural India,'' he smiles.

A new variant of Astra that Invento is coming out with has a temperature sensor as well. ''You can remove the upper part of the robot and add an attachment designed specially for temperature screening. It is particularly useful for screening COVID-19 patients coming to hospitals,” says Viswanathan. ''That makes it possible to do an initial screening without a human contact so the patient can be rightly categorised. If the patient has high temperature and all, he or she can be taken into a more secured room. Those who are in the low risk category will be sent to the OPD,'' adds Viswanathan.

Kochi-based Asimov Robotics is all set to launch KARMI-Bot that could be handy in the fight against COVID-19. ''KARMI-Bot can disinfect hospitals using UV rays and carry food and medical supplies to patients in isolation wards,'' says Jayakrishnan T, CEO of Asimov Robotics.

KARMI-Bot is an inexpensive robot built in seven days. ''We are planning to give it away to the health department in Ernakulam,'' says Jayakrishnan, a BTech graduate who has 20 years experience of experience working with robotics.

KARMI-Bot is a made in India robot. Jayakrishnan says his company can manufacture one KARMI-Bot a day. ''The movement of spares is a challenge amid lockdown. However, we will find a way to work around it,'' he says.

Asimov deployed two other robots recently that could distribute masks, tissue papers and sanitisers, disinfect door handles and play videos that help create awareness on the COVID 19 pandemic. ''One of our robots can answer queries on COVID-19,'' he says .

Asimov Robotics made its first humanoid robot in 2012. ''It was a smart, sophisticated robot that could make omelette on its own,'' says Jayakrishnan. A robot the company built for the police department can greet and guide visitors, schedule meetings and print visitors id cards.

''We have supplied robotic arms to the US defense organisations and Canadian space agency and robot control software for Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant,'' says Jayakrishnan.

KARMI-Bot will soon be at the forefront in the fight against COVID-19 in countries like the US and Qatar. ''We have already got orders from these countries,'' he says.