From disinfecting drones to robotic nurses, Covid-busting technology is here

NEW DELHI: For the past four years, it was used to spray crops. But now, it has a new name and purpose. Chennaibased's new Garuda Aerospace drone is spraying disinfectant on all blocked cities in its new Corona Killer-100 avatar.

Garuda has deployed 300 in 26 Indian cities, including Varanasi, Raipur, and many others, at the behest of state governments and municipal agencies seeking ways to disinfect their areas with the least possible human intervention. We spray in public areas, hospitals, bus stations, anywhere Covid-19 can spread, says the startup's founder and president. Commercial pilot volunteers are directing these drones.

Across the country, startups are using the shutdown period to innovate and add to the state arsenal to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Their work has resulted in drones that spray disinfectants, drones that make public announcements or chase away crowds during a shutdown, disinfectant trucks, new types of disinfectants, and even robotic dispensers.

Truck with disinfecting technology

Tarun Bhalla, founder of an education and social robotics startup called Avishkaar, wanted to do something for the community and keep himself busy posting on social media that his company would help build any required technology. New Delhi MP Meenakshi Lekhi saw him and came over to ask if they could create an external disinfection machine for her constituency.

“In the last 10 days, we have been able to create a disinfectant machine that can be installed in any vehicle. We had to identify approximately 10 sellers and convince them to sell us parts. We have even been sleeping in the office for the safety of our children, says Bhalla.

A truck in which they put the machine has been driving through South Extension, Moti Nagar and Punjabi Bagh, which has led to more requests from Delhi's MLA and MP. They have also installed this system in an SUV for a private citizen and are collaborating with an NGO to create a sanitation tunnel for a food distribution center outside a Noida-based hospital, all at no cost.

They have also made a face shield and are currently working on building an internal sanitation robot that uses UV Type-C technology. Since UV light is harmful to humans, the idea is for the robot to be able to map the room and automatically disinfect it at night when it's empty. We know that UV radiation kills the SARS virus and other viruses in the coronavirus family, but the jury does not yet know if it can kill Covid-19. We have to find a way to test its effectiveness, he adds.

Bot to living room

Kochi-based Asimov Robotics is also using UV technology for its robot, which is meant to tend to patients inside quarantine zones. The robot is autonomous, can carry 25kg, and moves at a speed of 1m/sec. It has retractable trays to carry food. “If it goes to the Covid living room and there are 10 beds, it goes from patient to patient to give food. The tray disinfects itself through detergent and UV technology between bed to bed,” says founder Jaikrishnan T, adding that while the affect of UV hasn’t been tested on Covid-19, he believes exposure for longer than 6 seconds should deactivate the virus.

The robot also squirts hand sanitizer if both hands are placed in front of it. The company is testing and has been in contact with hospitals that could use the robot. But there are some challenges. “To map the area where the robot will be, we will have to enter the hospital. We are trying to do it remotely, but it takes longer.

Drone to detect fever

Marut Drones was mainly working on mosquito eradication last year, but started thinking of fighting Covid-19 in January. Founder Prem Kumar Vislawath says they have created five drones: one that sprays disinfectant, one that tracks movements and makes public announcements, a thermal analysis drone that can see if someone has high temperatures in a crowd, a medical delivery drone for supplies and a surveillance drone.

Currently, they have deployed 17 disinfection drones and six surveillance drones in eight districts of Telangana. They can also be used in a more specific capacity, for example, in the vicinity of a known patient. We are working with drone companies in different states and are getting 60 to 70 drones from them, says Vislawath.

In Bangalore, General Aeronautics is using two drones to disinfect at the behest of the municipal corporation. Having completed 100 missions and covered 1,25,000 square meters in the last 10 days, they hope that CSR funding will allow them to expand their scale.