What happened: Supercluster selects B.C. robotics projects for funding. Why it matters: Projects aim to use robots to help clean facilities amid pandemic?
Visits to Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) may soon feel like visits to the future as made-in-B.C. robots prep for deployment to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“People have started to see robots in a lot of places that they weren’t expecting to see robots, so this is no different than that. In fact, I think this will be a welcomed addition to the environment because of the current situation with COVID and with how people are aware less contact means better safety and security,” said Advanced Intelligent Systems Inc. (AIS) CEO Afshin Doust.
His Burnaby-based company is producing a robot that can map large-scale environments like hospitals, navigate to designated points that require cleaning and then perform hands-free and human-free UV disinfection.
The AIS project is among five selected to tap a total of $5 million from the Ontario-based Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster to pursue advances in robotics to help disinfect facilities during the pandemic.
Two Vancouver companies, A&K Robotics Inc. and Sanctuary AI, are also collaborating on a project funded by the supercluster that will develop and produce a self-driving robot known as Amrud, which will autonomously disinfect large floor spaces and high-touch areas.
The AIS project is currently awaiting approval from Mitacs, a non-profit that operates training and research programs for masters and PhD students, to engage with scientists from the University of B.C. to gain access to labs on campus, as well as access to VGH.
After the approval is granted, AIS will be able to begin on-site testing for the robots at one of those two facilities.
Doust is hoping the approval to come through in the next week or two.
“We have one robot that’s ready to go in now and in July we’ll be creating two more,” he said, adding AIS is working with a manufacturing partner in Canada to produce the robots.
“We do have plans for scaling this as the need arises and in order to produce more in the coming months.”
AIS got its start in 2014 trying to address labour shortage issues at horticultural nurseries through autonomous machinery, but it has since been branching out into agriculture.
The company has already developed the hardware and software necessary for robots to navigate locations and perform tasks, allowing it to deploy the UV disinfection robots relatively quickly into the pandemic.
Advanced Intelligent Systems CEO Afshin Doust with one of the company’s robots, originally built with the intention of serving the agricultural sector | Photo: Chung Chow, BIV