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Autonomous Robot Takes on COVID-19

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A team at the Grainger College of Engineering at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Health Care Engineering Systems Center (HCESC) developed the UVBot, an autonomous robot built from easily accessible objects and designed to neutralize and, ultimately, kill the virus that causes COVID-19.

In May 2020, HCESC Director T. Kesh Kesavadas reached out to Helen Nguyen, professor of civil and environmental engineering and leader of the Illinois PPE team in the Grainger College of Engineering, with an idea to create a low-cost robot for the sterilization of common areas. Nguyen suggested the addition of a UV light.
The Grainger College of Engineering at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Health Care Engineering Systems Center has developed the UVBot: a robot that can be built out of easily accessible objects and programmed to clean spaces using UV light, which kills COVID-19. Courtesy of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
The Grainger College of Engineering at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Health Care Engineering Systems Center has developed the UVBot. The robot uses UV light, which 'kills' SARS-CoV-2. Courtesy of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“From several studies conducted by my lab over the year, we know that commonly used UV irradiation is effective in inactivating or neutralizing SARS-CoV-2, and virus inactivation depends not only on the UV intensity, but also the exposure time,” Nguyen said. “To control the exposure time precisely and to prevent humans from exposure to harmful UV light, we need something like a robot.”

While such autonomous robots exist, they are costly; some can cost as much as $50,000.

“Many companies and schools don’t have the funds necessary to purchase a robot that can disinfect spaces, but it needs to happen if people are returning to on-site work or learning,” Kesavadas said. “Our robot serves as a low-cost alternative and can be made for under $1000.”

Kesavadas and Nguyen assembled an interdisciplinary team of engineers from HCESC, Holonyak Micro and Nanotechnology Lab, Mechanical Engineering, and Veterinary Biosciences: Yao Li, Harris Nisar, Fanxing Wang, Elbashir Araud, and summer intern Peter Chien.

The collaboration led to UVBot, which consists of a Roomba, a UV lamp, and 3D printed parts. The robot can be controlled via mobile app over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and can be programmed to autonomously clean spaces. The robot is also capable of creating and storing a library of room layouts.

The team plans to publish its design, bill of material, software, and environment test data as an open access project on GitHub.

GitHub information for the UVBot is available at
Oct 2020
Research & TechnologyUniversity of IllinoisUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignCOVID-19 NewsCOVID-19sterilizing COVID-19UV lightrobotRoombaautonomousautonomous robotssterilizationsterilization methodsdisinfectiondisinfection technologylight-activated disinfectionlight-based disinfectioncoronavirusSARS-CoV-2SARS-CoV-2 virusAmericas

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