‘Violet’ working with hospital staff to tackle Covid-19

Violet, a robot whose mission is to help tackle Covid-19, is on duty at one of the main hospitals in the midlands.

The hospital is development partner with the Trinity College Dublin team working on Violet, led by Conor McGinn, assistant professor in the Trinity School of Engineering.

Dr McGinn said working with the Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore “has enabled us to effectively validate the technology”.

“We published research demonstrating that UV light, used in the context we’re using it there, has been very effective at killing germs, and we’ve been working with the staff there to understand how something like this can make their jobs easier, and keep them safe.”

Violet harnesses ultraviolet (UV-C) light to destroy viruses and limits direct exposure of cleaning staff to harmful pathogens. It is portable and compact enough to operate in spaces that can be difficult to clean – toilets, waiting areas, and public transport.

It also has a protective shield at the back of the light, and motion-detecting sensors so that people don’t have to vacate the area while it’s at work.

Violet doesn’t just work on coronavirus; UV-C irradiation has also shown to be effective on superbugs such as MRSA, and C. difficile, among others.

With support from the HSE, Violet has been tested in radiology treatment rooms at Tullamore hospital being used to treat Covid-19 patients who need diagnostic medical imagery.

Infection control procedures mean significant waiting periods after Covid-19 patients undergo radiology scans, leading to a reduction in hospital workflow.

Noreen Hynes, general manager of Midlands Regional Hospital Tullamore, said: “Violet represents a real step change in how hospitals and care settings can use technology to improve on current practices. Akara have existing pedigree in developing innovative, digital health solutions which are human-centric, and seeing Violet in action on our wards has benefitted our operational approach.

“In particular, Violet’s interaction with existing staff was excellent to see.”

Dr McGinn, who is co-founder of spinout company Akara Robotics, added: “Preliminary findings suggest that the Violet robot could disinfect rooms faster and more effectively than traditional chemical-based methods – which has the potential to protect staff and could go a long way to restoring capacity of critical front-line hospital equipment.

“Violet is the product of two years’ worth of innovation and hard work, but in reality, is a system which has been over 100 years in the making.

“Cleaning methods in hospitals and care settings around the world have largely gone unchanged since before the Spanish Flu in the early 1900s, and Covid-19 has accelerated the need to address this issue. Violet is the culmination of that history and presents hospitals with a system which doesn’t just save lives and money, but is designed to work alongside existing frontline staff.”

Akara is looking to raise funding to build a more advanced version of the robot, which it hopes to deploy on a permanent basis over the coming months.