Robots that disinfect surfaces with UV light to join Covid-19 fight

PBA Group's Sunburst UV Bot engineering team members (from left) Gavin Davies, Suhasini Padmanathan, Jeremy Joseph Danker, Meera Vijayakumar, Htet Arkar Swe, Chen Jia Hao and Joseph Yap. The robot can move around autonomously and disinfect surfaces u
PBA Group's Sunburst UV Bot engineering team members (from left) Gavin Davies, Suhasini Padmanathan, Jeremy Joseph Danker, Meera Vijayakumar, Htet Arkar Swe, Chen Jia Hao and Joseph Yap. The robot can move around autonomously and disinfect surfaces using powerful ultraviolet-C light.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

More than 200 locally made mobile robots that can disinfect surfaces using ultraviolet light will be rolled out in shopping malls and the healthcare and transport sectors by the end of the year to help fight the spread of Covid-19.

These autonomous robots, known as Sunburst UV Bots, are made by local robotics technology firm PBA Group and are built with a lamp module emitting powerful ultraviolet-C (UV-C) light.

The robots will first be deployed at Northpoint City next month, and eventually to more malls owned by Frasers Property Retail, said PBA Group and Frasers in a joint statement last Thursday.

The robots move around autonomously and are guided by light-detection and ranging sensors. The UV-C rays emitted by the lamp module help decontaminate the environment by tearing apart strands of virus DNA.

As UV-C light kills around 99 per cent of bacteria and has been clinically proven to eliminate viruses, the robots will disinfect surfaces more effectively than manual cleaning and spraying disinfectant solutions, reduce the need for cleaners and also help protect the health of front-line cleaning staff.

To prevent mall users from getting too close and risking exposure to the UV-C light, which can be harmful to the skin and eyes, staff will either close the doors or set up a temporary opaque partition to separate people from where the robots are working.

The Sunburst UV Bot is also able to detect when people are too close to it, and will shut off its lamp.

"As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to unfold, it is critical for us to ensure the ongoing health and safety of our staff, tenants and shoppers," said Mr Low Chee Wah, chief executive of Frasers Property Retail, in the joint statement.

In malls, the robots will be used only after closing hours.

They can operate for around 2½ hours on a single charge, and are able to self-navigate to their charging stations.

Depending on the size of the mall, the number of robots deployed is likely to range between 10 and 20.

"This is just the start. PBA will have a family of robots for commercial spaces, on top of hospitals, transport, supermarkets, shopping malls. Eventually, we will be getting the robot into homes," the group's chief executive Derrick Yap told The Straits Times last Thursday.

"Soon we will also roll out these robots in Malaysia, Thailand as well as Hong Kong. We estimate over 500 robots in the mentioned region," Mr Yap added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2020, with the headline 'Robots that disinfect surfaces with UV light to join Covid-19 fight'. Print Edition | Subscribe