Autonomous robot targeting COVID-19 virus unveiled in Bahrain

By | July 5, 2020

A “coronavirus-fighting” robot that has the ability to work autonomously around public spaces has been unveiled in Bahrain.

Designed by Fab Lab Bahrain – in collaboration with the country’s Ministry of Youth and Sports Innovation Centre – the machine reportedly uses ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) to disinfect commonly used areas, such as an office space, for example.

UVGI is a known disinfection method that utilises short-wavelength ultraviolet C (UV-C) light to kill or inactivate a range of microorganisms by disrupting their DNA or RNA. This leaves them unable to perform vital cellular functions.

Coronaviruses are enveloped, single-stranded RNA viruses.

UVGI is commonly used in water treatment and air purification. However, due to the fact that UV-C can irritate eyes and skin, the technology is only for use in unoccupied areas.

WHY IT MATTERS

As the COVID-19 outbreak took hold around the world, scientists have been examining various old and new methods as potential solutions to eliminating the SARS-CoV-2 virus. One of these methods is UVGI.

“We have struggled in the past to see this highly effective, very safe technology fully implemented for airborne infections,” Edward A. Nardell, a professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School told The New York Times in May. “We’ve done the studies. We know it works.”

The Bahrain prototype has so far been tested in industrial environments. Released video footage shows the robot zooming between desks at a commercial facility while emitting doses of UV-C.

This is not Bahrain’s first trial of robots since the pandemic. In May, it was announced that a trio of medical robots have been undergoing trial at a Bahrain COVID-19 isolation unit as part of an experiment by the country’s Ministry of Health (MoH) to assess how technology can minimise the exposure of healthcare workers to SARS-CoV-2. The three models – assigned different tasks – were deployed to the Ebrahim Khalil Kanoo Health Centre isolation facility in Manama.

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ON THE RECORD

“We have started using the robots in the isolation and treatment facilities as part of the experimental phase to use AI in the health sector,” MoH Undersecretary, Walid Al-Manea commented during the launch of the hospital robots. “It is certainly a new medical revolution and we want to see how this benefits patients and staff. This new technology will help doctors and nurses as they can evaluate the effectiveness of the robots and help incorporate them in their daily work.”

While the Gulf country has been praised for its use of modern technology, it has also drawn criticism for its COVID-19 contact tracing app. In a report released by Amnesty International, Bahrain was highlighted as one country amongst three that released “some of the most invasive COVID-19 contact tracing apps around the world, putting the privacy and security of hundreds of thousands of people at risk.”

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