Robots are taking over the COVID-19 clean-up job

College of Science and Engineering, May 19, 2020

During the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, health and sanitation workers nationwide are putting themselves in harm’s way to disinfect public places for the deadly virus. A College of Science and Engineering team in the Minnesota Robotics Institute’s (MnRI) Distributed Robotics Lab is building a robot to lighten their load.

Dubbed the DISinfecting Tele-RObotic sYstem (DISTROY), the machine will be equipped with a robotic arm to disinfect areas like hospital waiting rooms or airplane cabins. Users will then be able to operate the robot remotely through a virtual reality headset, moving its arm as if it were their own. 

“The objective of the project is, first of all, to mitigate the spread of the contagion,” said Vassilios Morellas, a research professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “And second, to increase the confidence in people and let them get back to their normal lives.”

Morellas is co-leading the team, along with MnRI director Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos, research engineer Ted Morris, and industry collaborator Mike Bazakos. They are in the process of applying for a National Science Foundation or National Institutes of Health grant to fund the project.

An illustration of a human in a virtual reality set controlling a robot.
Controlled remotely through a virtual reality headset, the DISTROY robot will be able to spray disinfectant in hard-to-reach places. Photo courtesy of Vassilios Morellas