GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—Move over, Wall-E—a sanitizing robot has arrived.
Pratt Miller, an engineering and product development firm in suburban Detroit, demonstrated its "large-area autonomous disinfecting" robotic vehicle at Gerald R. Ford International Airport near Grand Rapids.
The Michigan Economic Development Corp. and PlanetM, the state's mobility initiative, co-hosted the demo.
The company, which has worked with auto makers such as Nikola and General Motors on various mobility projects, received a $50,000 grant from PlanetM for the robot in May. The grant was one of five given to Michigan companies to tackle coronavirus-related mobility struggles.
Pratt Miller said its robot has been surveying and disinfecting areas of the airport since July 13 and will continue doing so through July 17.
According to the company's website, the electric robot uses an "electrostatic disinfectant dispersal system" to spray Food and Drug Administration-approved disinfectant over wide areas, such as at trade shows and transportation centers. The robot is rechargeable, can run for five to 10 hours and operates autonomously.
Christopher Andrews, director of business mobility and innovation business development at Pratt Miller, said at the demo that the robot provides "data-documented coverage of the disinfecting area."
"If there were something in the way of the robot, and it had to stop the sprayers and not spray a section, you would have documented evidence of that," he said. "And the team that is running the disinfecting would be able to know that they need to come back with the robot or do hand-spraying."
He also told Automotive News in an email that while the technology operates on principles similar to those of robotaxis and other autonomous passenger vehicles, "the applications of running indoors without roads are different."
The vehicle "runs at a much slower speed, utilizes cameras and indoor lidar components to learn the environment," he said. "It does not presently utilize radar that we would use in larger outdoor vehicle robotics and autonomy applications that are heavier and run at high speeds."
An outdoor version will be available this year, according to the website.
Andrews added that development of the technology is ongoing.
"While this is the current system architecture, we are constantly evaluating the level of technology required for the ODD, or Operational Design Domain, for cost, market needs, features, safety and performance," he said.