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Covid update: 11 February 2021

11 Feb 2021

A round up of this week's coronavirus-related news and countermeasures from the photonics industry.

Research into the spread of coronavirus has been joined by a robot that, unlike a person, can cough out a precisely specified and repeatable consistency of droplets and aerosols. The coughing robot helps determine the effect of masks and various air purifiers on the spread of droplets and aerosols. Measurements made with the robot are also used to verify the accuracy of computer simulations.

Since autumn 2020, a joint project by Finland-based research agency VTT, Tampere University and THL (the Finnish Institute for Health & Welfare) has studied the mechanisms of the droplet and aerosol transmission of Covid-19 and the methods for reducing the risk of transmission.

The droplets of a cough or sneeze dry quickly, but the remaining small particles may remain in the air for hours. Small aerosols are also formed when you breathe, talk and sing, for example. Business Finland is supporting the research with approximately €300,000 in funding.

For the research project, an artificial human head has been built that can cough, sneeze and breathe to produce well-defined droplets and aerosols consisting of liquids and solids. The robot has been installed in VTT's test room where external factors such as temperature, ventilation and humidity can be determined precisely.

“With this device, we can do is produce an aerosol size distribution that is fairly similar to the aerosols produced by a person coughing, sneezing or breathing”, said Topi Rönkkö, Associate Professor of aerosol physics at Tampere University.

Simulations have already been run for different situations to demonstrate the impact of preventive measures such as masks in reducing the travel distance of a cloud containing droplets and aerosols produced by coughing. The project will use the measurements produced with the robot and test room to run more simulations in order to verify previous ones.

In the project, the droplets coughed by the robot are also supplemented with surrogate viruses mimicking the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the Covid-19 disease in order to find out how the viruses travel in a given space. It also helps develop virological diagnostic methods for direct airborne measurements. This data is used to develop different methods for preventing the spread of Covid-19.

‘Smart’ robots target viruses and bacteria

Service robots can help ensure that buildings and means of transport are cleaned and disinfected regularly and with consistently high quality. Since October 2020, twelve institutions of German research network Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft have been working on the development of new technologies for this field of application.

Led by Fraunhofer IPA (Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation), the partners are pooling their expertise in the Mobile Disinfection (MobDi) research project, which is part of the Fraunhofer vs. Corona action program.

In the MobDi project, participating Fraunhofer institute experts are developing new hardware and software solutions for mobile service robots. These will be designed to disinfect potentially contaminated surfaces in buildings and means of transportation as needed and gently with a robot. The developments should also help to automate the transport of materials in clinics and thus counteract the spread of germs by staff.

The project partners are each developing specialized service robots for disinfection in buildings and transportation. The technical basis for disinfection in buildings is Fraunhofer IPA's “DeKonBot”, which the institute developed last year in the previous project of the same name. The researchers will further improve its tool for wipe-disinfection in the project and optimize the platform as a whole with regard to subsequent series production.

The robot for disinfection in transportation vehicles is being developed at Fraunhofer IFAM. Particularly challenging is the development of a modular drive support for overcoming gaps and steps. For both robots, the project partners are creating various tools that disinfect by wiping, spraying, UV or plasma treatment. The robots can switch these automatically as required.

Improved perception

Thanks to intelligent perceptive capabilities, the disinfection robots will be able to clean in a targeted manner. A new multimodal 3D sensor from Fraunhofer IOF (Applied Optics) will be used for this purpose. Using this sensor, the robots can independently recognize objects they have to disinfect. The object recognition system of Fraunhofer IPA and the material recognition system of Fraunhofer IPM evaluate the sensor data using machine learning methods. In this way, they achieve robust recognition, even if the objects look slightly different in each application environment.

A multilayer environment model developed by Fraunhofer IOSB (Optronics, System Technologies & Image Exploitation) brings together all the necessary information and thus enables the robots to plan cleaning sequences independently. It contains a map of the environment, the position of all objects to be cleaned, and their material.

For targeted and gentle cleaning, the project partners are conducting tests with the various cleaning and disinfection processes on widely used surface types such as stainless steel and plastics. In addition to analyzing the individual processes, they are also investigating possible combinations of different cleaning and disinfection processes.

Sensor Electronic Technology and Seoul Viosys, providers of UV LED technology and subsidiaries of Seoul Semiconductor, have announced the development of a portable surface disinfection unit, the Photon Stand, as a new Violeds UV-C LED technology application.

Designed to disinfect Covid-19 occurrence areas, such as hospital rooms contaminated by infectious patients, or other locations, such as schools and children’s day-care centers, the Photon Stand surface disinfection unit kills more than 90% of viruses and bacteria within 10 minutes.

The Photon Stand is the latest application of Violeds technology; Seoul’s UV-C LED photon solution has also been shown to disinfect multiple types of bacteria and viruses. Seoul’s Bio research team has confirmed that the device disinfects more than 90% of viruses and bacteria within 10 min for a room up to 29m2, and 99% within 10 min for a room up to 14m2.

Schott grows business and hails India plant in combating coronavirus worldwide

Specialty glass and optics group Schott, reporting its latest set of trading figures, said it is setting the course for a new phase of growth with its ongoing investment program. Despite a generally weak economic environment due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Schott continued to develop its key financial figures positively in the 2020 fiscal year or maintained them at the good level in its key markets including India.

“Even in currently difficult economic times, we have stayed on course,” said CEO Dr. Frank Heinricht. “This is mainly thanks to our preparatory work in recent years. We have demonstrated stringent portfolio management and launched many innovations on to the market. This has made us more robust as a company and paid off this year.”

Global sales increased by 2.2% to €2.24 billion. With an increase in sales of just under 6%, Schott was notably successful in Asia. The foreign share of sales increased to 87% including sales of €50 million coming from India.

“Despite unprecedented challenges of last year, Schott India has grown its sales, and expanded its production capacity and workforce – all while maintaining the best quality and safety standards. The Indian Government’s 137% budget increase in healthcare as part of this year’s Union Budget further brings impetus for our efforts to support Atmanirbhar Bharat’s journey as the pharmaceutical hub for the world,” said Pawan Shukla, Schott Glass India’s President & Managing Director.

Since Schott manufactures 11 billion pharmaceutical packages for vaccines and liquid medications every year, the company has a particular importance during the ongoing pandemic. Three out of four projects worldwide that are currently involved in manufacturing a Covid-19 vaccine rely on its glass vials. By the end of 2021, the company will have delivered enough vials for two billion vaccine doses. Investments in the pharmaceutical sector will amount to around $1 billion by 2025.

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