Of the many questions raised since the pandemic began, Luciano Castillo's was, “How can we engage students” from all corners of the University?
Castillo, a mechanical engineering professor, is looking for students from any major to join his vertically integrated project team that is developing autonomous disinfecting robots.
The purpose of the team, he said, is to not only develop a machine that will help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic but also to “enable and excite students (by) bringing their own knowledge to the table to help the (community).”
The summer section of the course will focus on developing and testing three technologies, Castillo said: the robot, a disinfectant “coating” and a special filter to use in masks.
The robot, with the primary duty of disinfecting air and surfaces, will be built with several sensors. These sensors, he said, will be able to take various measurements and detect places where high concentrations of bugs — like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 — could form.
At that point, the hot spots will be sprayed with the “coating,” which, the team hopes, will “inactivate the virus.”
Castillo also mentioned the possibility of the robot having an infrared camera that could tell whether a person is running a fever. “We’re working with the (Protect Purdue) team, helping reopen the campus,” he said. The camera is to identify potential positive cases, assisting the University in isolating them preemptively.
Castillo plans to have the team, with the financial and technological help of Intel, release the bots to campus for testing as early as July.
“In the summer, we will deploy (them) in teaching labs and cafeterias across Purdue, as a kind of laboratory” in order to fine-tune the sensors, he said, learning “what works, what could be better” for the fall.
Though Castillo does plan to expand the course and the technologies further next semester, he said Purdue is not the end goal. He hopes to share the innovation to the rest of the country, creating a start-up, then taking the robots to hospitals, supermarkets and other businesses.
With another robotic technology being created, Castillo acknowledges the fears of the automatization of another industry.
Are custodial jobs at stake with this invention?
Castillo said it may look like something like this will reduce the number of jobs, but it will actually do the opposite.
“Here, we’re creating a new market, new opportunities, and economic growth,” he said. “If we don’t do anything, we’re not adding value to (the community).”
The fourth Industrial Revolution, Castillo added, is going to happen whether we want it to or not. “What this pandemic has done is just accelerate it,” he said.
“(Our) No. 1 objective is to save life,” Castillo said. When we bring people back to the workforce, we’re putting them at risk. The robot can help make sure people are safe, he said.
Castillo emphasized several times that any type of student, whether it be business, design, computer science or engineering, is welcome and encouraged to join the project, though the website for the project noted that an understanding of "basic engineering" is required.
“We all have something to contribute … to add value to society in a time of crisis,” he said.
Castillo said the team is currently comprised of 20 individuals, with seven graduate students and four undergraduate students. He hopes to expand to a team of 40, half of that being undergrads.
The group has its first (virtual) summer session this Monday. If you’re interested in joining, contact Castillo at email@example.com or Nichole Ramirez, assistant director of the VIP program, at firstname.lastname@example.org.