Quarantine Robots: The COVID-19 pandemic is here to stay, producing new variants and forcing us to make changes in our daily lives. When it was first identified in December 2019, many thought it was another virus to disappear soon enough. Now it is June 2022, and authorities say we have to learn how to “live” with it.
One of the biggest things the pandemic has changed since its outbreak is how we interact with others. People started to talk to each other over the monitor with the help of online networks rather than in person.
Then the void in our offline environment can be filled with automated, self-driving machines — or that’s what at least KT, a Korean telecommunication giant, dreams of.
At this year’s MWC Barcelona, KT introduced its quarantine robot, whose primary duty is to disinfect a contaminated area where people should enter with protective gear. KT says the robot, rolled out to the market shortly after the presentation, can be a solution to many problems we are experiencing now.
Introducing Quarantine Robot
Lee Sang-ho, vice president and chief of KT’s AI Robot Business Unit, told 4i Magazine that KT built quarantine robots in preparation for COVID-19 transitioning from a “pandemic” to “endemic,” which means the virus will circulate among people regularly, the number of cases will remain at a certain level, and won’t overwhelm a country’s health system.
“The demand for disinfection against the virus among multi-purpose facilities and living space has been soaring with the Korean society changing to the ‘daily virus prevention system,'” Lee said during the interview. “COVID-19 virus is known to survive up to five days in living areas, attached to objects and floors. This is why we need disinfection methods that effectively sterilise viruses without disrupting our daily routines.”
There are two different types of quarantine robots that KT launched. One’s body and sterilisation capacity are medium-sized, and the other model has a bigger body and capacity than that, allowing the customers to choose the size that will suit their purpose of use more.
KT’ Quaranting Robots
KT’s quarantine robots can perform disinfection in a specific area through its air sterilisation system, which is harmless to human health. There are several disinfection routines that users can choose from, ranging from scheduled sterilisation that cleans the area at a preset time to prompt sterilisation, requesting the robots to disinfect the area immediately.
Lee says that KT’s robots can clean the area even when people are nearby. Some other sterilisation robots currently available in the market can only be used in empty rooms as their primary method to sterilise is beaming ultraviolet light on contaminated areas or spraying disinfection liquid, which can be harmful to human health.
“The conventional quarantine procedure was to wear safety gear, ask people to leave the area, and spray the sterilisation liquid around,” Lee said. “But, instead of using health-hazard methods, KT’s artificial intelligence quarantine robots use a harmless technology that enables them to constantly sterilise the environment, cleaning over 99.9 percent of airborne viruses, even when there are people in the same area.”
Both quarantine robot models can also clean viruses on floors. The robots have ultraviolet LED panels attached at their bottom, which can clean germs on the ground while they drive. Lee added that the robots could also work as air purifiers, regularly cleaning fine dust and harmful gas.
Lee says that the robots are capable of driving themselves with the help of “LIDAR” and camera sensors. LIDAR is a short for Light Detection and Ranging, a method to measure ranges between objects using light that is in the pulsed laser form. He adds that the robots can also go to the charging stations by themselves. “Robots can self-drive themselves and don’t need human help to clean the entire environment,” Lee said.
The company also provides robots along with a wide range of services. The robots’ software runs on KT’s nationwide networks, first of all. KT also provides remote monitoring and check-ups through a 24/7 control tower. Users can control the robots, check the robots’ conditions, and receive quarantine reports through KT’s mobile phone app.
KT targets the business-to-business market to sell its quarantine robots. The robots were first sold to a few businesses that were interested to try until April, and now are fully available to all businesses. The robots are available under a monthly subscription, and the subscription fee is about 750,000 won ($620).
KT says that robots will be in demand at places where many people gather, for example, community service centres, public places, and hospitals. Lee says the company has noticed some demand from educational institutes where people have to stay long hours indoors, too. He expects KT’s robots to play an important role in protecting people in vulnerable situations, like unvaccinated children and older adults who are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19.
Cohabiting With Robots
In explaining why the telecommunication company joined the robotics industry, Lee says KT’s dream is to become a “robot service platform provider” that can promote the values of robots between robot developers and customers, based on its digital technologies, including AI, nationwide network, self-driving technology, and control towers. Lee says KT plans to provide customised services to solve our society’s problems.
In that regard, KT plans to grow its robot business as one of the company’s core businesses. Lee says the company’s development in the robot business will go well beyond just building machines and providing all-around robot service platforms for customers.
“The quarantine robots we designed this time are based on our analysis of customers’ demand to solve social problems,” the robot business chief said. “From the first concept (to the completion), the robots are customised to our customer’s demand. They are a representative product of KT’s robot service platform.”
Self Driving Robots
Some experts say that self-driving quarantine robots like the ones that KT built can be beneficial to not just a few businesses but overall society.
“Self-driving quarantine robots are emerging as a solution (for many problems) these days,” Bang Gul-won, professor of Future Automotive Engineering at Gwangju University, wrote in his study titled “Self-Driving Quarantine Robot With Chlorine Dioxide System” published in 2021. “If we use the self-driving robots, we can stop the spread of harmful viruses and prevent the outbreaks of diseases since they can contribute to continuous sterilisation of areas, reducing a tremendous amount of social cost,” he added.
As for the future robot development projects, KT said that the company would soon come back with delivery robots later this year. “In addition to the quarantine robots, integrated indoor and outdoor delivery service robots are being prepared before the second half of this year. We are preparing to commercialize delivery service robots that provide courier and food delivery services in apartment complexes,” Lee said in a report.