Manufacturers’ Monthly speaks with Baird Technology and Backplane Systems Technology about the challenges involved in the business of robotics during COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for many businesses during the past six months. During this time, some manufacturers are riding out the storm by taking the opportunity to develop innovation.
Baird Technology has maximised the opportunity during COVID-19 to focus on creating autonomous robots for infection control by partnering with Backplane Systems Technology, an Australian-owned and operated supplier of customised industrial PC systems.
Baird Technology CEO, David Baird, said one of the key aspects of the disinfection units it manufactures, known as NIGHTINGALE and AIR ANGEL robots, is its computing power.
“Backplane’s hardware is critical to our projects because we need the latest computer hardware to put in our algorithms. We’re starting to advance the levels of both machine learning and artificial intelligence,” he said.
Finding new customers during the pandemic means reassessing business models, methods of communication to potential clients, and adapting to customer needs as they are being presented.
“It’s a very unusual period of time and the way we’ve done things in the past for Baird Technology, focusing on face-to-face presentations of critical concepts and technological capability, that doesn’t lend itself well to Zoom meetings. A lot of the early adopters who we work with, they really are hands-on people, especially overseas, and that’s presented a difficult challenge,” Baird said.
Baird said while infection control using ultraviolet light (UV-C) has existed since the 1950s – traditionally within hospital wards in air conditioning units and hospital operating beds – he believes the current levels of surface disinfection is unprecedented.
“We’re seeing an upsurge in the understanding of UV-C, because there are no known pathogens, viruses or bacteria that are resistant to UV-C,” he said.
The NIGHTINGALE unit, designed specifically for the disinfection of enclosed rooms and spaces, provides low pressure UV-C lamps in the 254nm range mounted on a robotic base. The model is fitted with hazard warning light, 360-degree cameras with AI algorithm for human detection that shuts down the UV-C system if the presence of a human is detected.
The system also uses LiDAR laser surveying to map and plan the most efficient disinfection cycle, ensuring 99.9 per cent of viruses and pathogens are destroyed.
“It’s an autonomous, robotic, remote-controlled unit that maps the area and activates a plan based on the size of the area to maximise the disinfection of that space,” Baird said.
A version of the NIGHTINGALE unit designed to be used in planes, the AIR ANGEL, adopts the same processes but addresses the challenges of space restriction and seating arrangements.
“We required a lot more power for the AIR ANGEL, because there’s a lot more shadows present within the surfaces when you’re moving inside an aircraft, and this presents a challenge” Baird said.
“COVID cells, being lipid, are not a resilient virus, hence good hand sanitisation can destroy the virus. That’s also what UV-C does. It penetrates the outer layer and destroys the DNA and RNA to prevent the virus from actually replicating.”
As the pandemic continued to spread globally, Baird Technology and Backplane Systems used their expertise in robotics to develop a disinfection solution.
“With COVID coming in, we’ve noticed, around the globe, many companies rose to the challenge of providing equipment that could be used to disinfect buildings and so forth,” Baird said.
The safety features, programmed by a machine learning algorithm, ensure that if a human enters the room while the robot is in operation, the robot will lapse immediately.
“COVID-19 has created a unique opportunity, and we see longevity for product life cycle of both products,” Baird said.
A certified UV-C distributor and installer for Philips germicidal lamps, which Baird Technology has successfully integrated into the NIGHTINGALE and AIR ANGEL units to provide high levels of iradiation capability to disinfect rooms within a short time.
Baird Technology is currently building relationships with the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Egypt and the United Kingdom, the United States.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has assessed and accepted the NIGHTINGALE disinfection robot as a non-medical device.
“Given the current circumstance, our value proposition is reducing exposure to risk within the workplace. Within the aviation industry, we believe this is imperative for commercial airlines to protect staff and customers as well and build confidence in this severely impacted industry,” Baird said.
“Australian manufacturing is respected globally. We’re looking at moving these units out in large numbers over the coming months, and Backplane has played a huge part acting as support staff extension for Baird Technology.”
Assessing the challenges
The partnership with Baird Technology is one example of how Backplane Systems Technology has used the pandemic as an opportunity to highlight the potential of embedded industrial computing in a wide range of sectors.
The company was established in 1989 to service the needs of systems integrators. Since then, Backplane has grown to become a primary supplier of a wide range of industrial computer hardware solutions for a multitude of applications. These include defence, mining, emergency services, autonomous agriculture, robotics, rail, transportation, surveillance and utilities.
Backplane Systems Technology specialities include the supply of customised industrial PC systems, embedded rugged controllers for in-vehicle computing and harsh environments, AI and edge computing platforms, LCD displays and panel PCs, rugged tablets and PDAs, network appliances, data acquisition and control modules.
“One of the key markets we have focused on during 2020 is our edge computing product line, incorporating GPU compute technology designed for AI, machine learning and autonomous vehicles,” Backplane Systems Technology CEO Kristy Comb said.
“Backplane Systems Technology has invested significantly in this vertical market by commissioning a white paper Computing around Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Vehicles for Industry designed to educate and discuss the opportunities for businesses to integrate this emerging technology into applications in mining, manufacturing, rail, surveillance and road transportation.
“Our white paper has been an immense success during 2020 and generated the greatest level of engagement compared to other articles over the past six years. Backplane Systems Technology has attributed this achievement to the emerging trend in AI and autonomous applications, as well as the increase in people working from home,” Comb said.
As customers and suppliers shifted to working from home, Backplane adopted similar technologies to stay in touch and continue providing the latest in AI hardware.
“During COVID, face-to-face meetings with clients and suppliers became a risk for local, inter-state and international travel. To combat this, we quickly adopted a ‘business as usual’ approach by utilising video conferencing platforms.
“This was particularly successful when hosting project meetings with people across different states and internationally, and as such has been adopted as a standard practice within our business.”
Backplane Systems Technology has always maintained close working relationships with international manufacturing partners, attending annual worldwide product seminars to keep abreast of new and emerging technology and opportunities.
“When international travel become difficult due to border restrictions and health risks, our annual seminars were held via an interactive video conference,” Comb said.
By embracing current industry trends and quickly adapting to the new business norm, Backplane Systems Technology has defined a clear vision for future growth throughout the COVID period and beyond.