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UofL researchers developing robot to clean, disinfect areas where risk of coronavirus exposure exists

The idea is to use an artificially intelligent robot they call ARNA to perform some tasks and cleaning in areas where it might be dangerous to send humans.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Researchers at the University of Louisville think they have a solution that could help reduce the risk of COVID-19 while doctors, nurses, EMTs, and other health care workers assist during the pandemic.

The idea is to use an artificially intelligent robot they call ARNA — Adaptive Robot Nursing Assistant — to perform some tasks and cleaning in areas where it might be dangerous to send human hospital staff.

The bot has been outfitted with ultraviolet disinfecting light and sprayable sanitizing agent so it can clean commonly touched surfaces where the virus might live, such as handles, tables, and elevator buttons.

“In times like this, where we are battling a highly contagious virus, our health care professionals are at the forefront and are exposed to it,” said Sumit Kumar Das, the J.B. Speed School of Engineering research scientist leading the project. “We hope that our technology will help contribute towards providing solutions to that challenges that our community is facing right now.”

ARNA was originally invented to help with round-the-clock patient monitoring and allow nurses to focus more on direct patient care by taking on some of their time-consuming tasks. Now, the research team, part of the Louisville Automation and Robotics Research Institute, or LARRI, hopes ARNA can help hospital workers during the pandemic.

They have tested the bot in the Shumaker Research Building, on UofL’s Belknap campus, and hope soon to test it in UofL Hospital. UofL biology researchers David Schultz and Mark Running are working on developing the sanitizing method and will test surfaces for virality in the Shumaker trial.

ARNA is not intended to replace human cleaning and disinfecting staff, “but this robot could help keep people from getting sick,” said Dan Popa, who leads LARRI. “Because it is designed to clean areas that pose hazards to human health, it can help employers protect workers from potential exposure to those areas.”

He adds that his team has been working non-stop to modify the bot. "This is work that is definitely something that will continue because the need for it is crucial.”

UofL is supporting COVID-19 research with $500,000 in funding, but additional funds are needed to continue the work overtime. Donations specifically for the research can be made at give.louisville.edu.

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