Irish robotics start-up Akara has taken one of its healthcare robots to the UK, with early results suggesting it can enable more medical procedures by reducing the downtime of critical hospital rooms.

The robot that decontaminates air is being trialled in the endoscopy unit of a major NHS hospital. The machine is being used in procedure rooms where the air has a higher chance of contamination.

After certain medical examinations, hospital rooms need to be left vacant for periods of more than 25 minutes to let clean air come in through vents. Akara said its robot can reduce this downtime to 10 minutes, allowing more procedures to take place.

The robot has been in the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (RCHT) since June. RCHT deputy director of infection prevention and control, Joanne Taylor, said the machine has “definitely improved things for patients” thanks to the reduced downtime.

“Based on time savings made during the trial period, we estimate that its use could enable as many as 2,400 additional procedures a year, which would have a very significant effect on reducing the waiting lists,” Taylor said.

Akara Robotics was spun out of Trinity College Dublin in 2019 and has focused on developing AI and robots for the healthcare sector. This started out with Stevie, a social care robot designed to interact with older people and help out in nursing homes and retirement communities.

In 2020, the start-up revealed its disinfection robot Violet, which could autonomously navigate a room and disinfect it using ultraviolet light. Working with the HSE, it has been deployed at Irish hospitals.

Akara said the idea for the air decontamination robot was born out of Covid-19 pressures, where thorough cleaning of air was paramount to avoid infection spread.

Start-up founder Dr Conor McGinn said technology is needed to clean the air as it’s “simply not a job that people can do”.

“While ventilation helps, the cost and time needed to upgrade rooms to the levels needed is rarely practical,” McGinn added.

“Our disinfection robots are mobile, allowing them to be rapidly deployed in minutes to the regions that need it most while their sensors and AI enable them to dynamically respond to the environment in ways that aren’t possible with static purification units.”

The trial has been carried out in collaboration with the University of Plymouth and DIH Hero, a European innovation hub that aims to accelerate innovation in healthcare robotics.

The early-stage results of the trial were presented at the Infection Prevention Society Conference in October.

Last year, Akara Robotics shared plans to expand its team and create a production facility in Dublin.

Leigh Mc Gowran

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