Robotics

Germ-killing robot that resembles R2-D2 from ‘Star Wars’ being tested in Rochester

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Autonomous robot disinfects for COVID-19 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

As COVID-19 restrictions ease up across every industry, there is an effort underway in Rochester to redefine cleanliness — an effort led by robots.

According to Brian Hart, CEO of Black-I Environmental, two leading Rochester health care providers in upstate New York recently began sanitizing hospital facilities and outlying clinics with a new breed of cutting-edge, autonomous robots.

“Robots give you a consistency that a human cleaner can’t provide,” Hart said.

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With a growing number of Americans receiving COVID-19 vaccines, the country is slowly returning to a sense of normalcy. But New York’s number of new cases is up 64 percent as new variants spread, so the fight against the virus continues.

The sanitizing machine resembles R2-D2 from “Star Wars” and uses ultraviolet light to destroy germs, viruses, bacteria, microorganisms and pathogens.

“The robot not only decontaminates surfaces, but its HEPA filters also purify the air, capturing up to 99.7% of all contaminants 0.3 microns or greater,” Hart said.

A robot operator, trained to use the technology, uses Black-I developed software on an app to map the robot’s cleaning route with a stylus. The operator then leaves the space to avoid exposure, allowing the robot to autonomously clean the area within minutes.

“It’s like a video game, believe it or not,” said Ty Hookway, founder of CleanCraft.

CleanCraft is a local cleaning company with 400 employees responsible for disinfecting 10 million square feet of health care, office and university space. Black-I partnered with CleanCraft to provide the robot in the Rochester area at an affordable cost to health care facilities.

When Black-I introduced the technology to CleanCraft, Ty Hookway said, he embraced the robot’s possibilities to enhance his company.

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“This is the most effective technology to disinfect,” Hookway said. “This isn’t about using scare tactics. This is about high-end professional service.”

Black-I Environmental is a subsidiary of Black-I Robotics. Brain Hart started the Robotics company after his son died while serving in Iraq.

“It was a real gut-wrencher,” Hart said.

After Hart and his wife spent years lobbying for better equipment for soldiers, he won a government contract to come up with a way to deactivate IEDs safely. That’s when Hart met Ed Schmitt, a Rochester native.

Hart had the robotics, and Schmitt had the instruments to make it work. The two men formed a partnership.

“I’ve always been at the early stages of technology development,” Hart said. “I always look for something that has some social or redeeming value.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S in early 2020, Black-I found a new war for their robots.

“COVID comes along, and people are being contaminated while trying to decontaminate,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt is the general manager of Black-I environmental. His father was exposed to COVID-19 in a nursing home last year, making his push to deploy the robots in New York state personal.

“Machines are far more consistent than human beings,” Schmitt said. “People should feel safe doing the things they enjoy.

Hart and Schmitt both felt that Rochester would be the perfect setting to test their creation.

“Rochester, without a doubt, has some of the most progressive health care networks in the country,” Hart said.

Even though there is a need for innovative, precise disinfection techniques throughout Monroe County, there has been pushback to the robots, according to the duo.

“I’ve been to nursing homes all over the state, and they tell me they don’t need this,” Schmitt said. “They say they’re perfectly satisfied with the protocols we’re using right now.”

“Nobody wants to be the first one, and everybody is worried about spending money,” Schmitt said.

The UV Robots start at $50,000, but Black-I’s partnership with CleanCraft has made the UV cleaning service accessible to those who don’t want to buy the machine outright. CleanCraft charges their clients by the square foot and has even established new robot operator jobs that will pay 20 to $25 an hour.

The new jobs boost current employees’ morale and contradict the common assumption that autonomous technology will take jobs from human beings.

“People are always afraid Robots are going take their jobs,” Hart said. “Once you think about all the robots that are involved in our lives, the idea that a robot would clean a work facility at night isn’t so scary.”

Nevertheless, the idea of a robot cleaning a hospital or sports stadium may come as science fiction to some — so the robots sit idle. Schmitt and Hart said they believe that their robot cleaners’ future rests in the hands of Rochester.

“People ought to start demanding that something be done to protect them,” Schmitt said.

Contact Robert Bell at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @byrobbell & Instagram: @byrobbell

This coverage is only possible with support from our readers.

Read or Share this story: https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2021/04/01/virus-killing-robot-tested-rochester-ny-black-i-environmental-ceo-brian-hart/7057842002/

“Robots give you a consistency that a human cleaner can’t provide,” Hart said.

Source: https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2021/04/01/virus-killing-robot-tested-rochester-ny-black-i-environmental-ceo-brian-hart/7057842002/

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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