Knowledge is truly valuable when it can be applied in many ways and to different aspects of life. Innovation and technological developments create value when they can be leveraged to generate impact beyond a single application. Genuine innovators go further, transforming challenging situations into opportunities.
The worldwide emergency caused by the Coronavirus has awakened the innovative spirit of the Israeli startup Civdrone, which has adapted its knowledge of the construction industry to create a helpful solution for the healthcare sector. “We are a construction tech company and we have developed a drone with multiple capabilities for helping operators on the ground. With this knowledge and technology, we are now able to help with the Coronavirus situation”, explains Liav Muler, Civdrone’s Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer (CPO).
Civdrone team members have built an autonomous disinfecting robot that covers a 2.5 meter radius and can manoeuvre around hospitals to aid in cleaning. This can reduce the contamination risk for hospital and cleaning staff, as well as prevent the spread of the virus. After the piloting phase has been completed, the team are planning to go even further to create an intelligent robot that will take disinfecting to the next level.
High-level technology to design the best construction drones
Civdrone has been working with Enel since 2018, as the first company in Israel to join the Lab Company program in Infralab, which is our second innovation centre together with the Enel Innovation Hub in Tel Aviv. “Enel is a very open-minded company with a very innovative approach”, says Muler. He adds, “at Infralab, Enel has supported us in building our main product, and we have got a lot of support from the different representatives of the Innovation Enel industries in countries such as the United States”.
During this time, the company has been revolutionising the construction sector through technology. “Construction is a very old-fashioned industry, we still build almost as we did a hundred years ago. But ours is a younger generation that has grown up with computers, the internet, smartphones and data”, explains the co-founder. For this reason, trying to solve problems and improve processes through technology comes naturally to them.
The idea evolved from a real need in the construction industry and it can also be applied to the energy sector, in the installation of electrical power lines, for example. Both Muler and the company’s CEO and co-founder, Tom Yeshurun, studied civil engineering and “felt the pain of people having to work a long day putting markers in the ground for construction”. The process of placing stakes manually at a construction site “means a lot of effort, costs a lot of money, and sometimes implies mistakes'', Muler explains. After this realisation, they created their vision to use drones as a tool to identify key characteristics and show the locations at the construction site.
“Most drones in the world are used just as cameras, but we employ them as robots to do physical tasks in construction”, says the CPO. Civdrone uses precise navigation technology and RTK (Real Time Kinematics) to design a specific robotic mechanism that is able to place the markers accurately. To facilitate maximum efficiency, they created a landing algorithm and a customized drone, “We designed our own landing algorithms and made the drone in such a way that it will be suited to marking ground points. The development of the technology was needed because until now drones were never designed to land so frequently and with such accuracy.”
“It is the first autonomous drone for the construction industry with these characteristics: it is simple to operate, you just press the command on the computer and the drone makes the markings”, he adds. Every marker provides simple and clear instructions that can be read by any smart device.
After two pilot projects, the first in Texas and the second in Japan, with the major construction company Kajima, Civdrone was due to start the second round now. But then the Coronavirus struck.
An idea to combat the Coronavirus that can change the future of disinfecting tools
After observing the challenges the world now faces because of the Coronavirus, Muler realised that “our experience in navigation, robotics mechanism and systems, together with our team of six engineers with a high-quality background could help.” They came up with the idea of developing an autonomous robot that could easily disinfect areas in order to avoid the spread of the virus, which can survive on surfaces for days.
“The robot has a unique spread system and autonomous navigation skill, which allows it to navigate by itself indoors and cover surfaces both quickly and precisely. We are focusing on hospitals, but this could be used everywhere, as in airports and office buildings”, says the CPO. The company has received a grant from the Israel Innovation Authority and will be implementing the first pilot project at the beginning of May, with a view to launching the product on the market in July.
The Civdrone team is already going one step further. “Once we have successfully finished creating this robot, we will improve it with computer vision to detect what percentage of the surface the robot has covered and properly cleaned”, Muler adds. This would be a great technological advantage, as it would allow operators to receive comprehensive feedback regarding the quality of cleaning.
Looking towards the future, this disinfecting device could become a part of smart buildings. As the Civdrone team sees it: “If we make sure that the robot can talk with the building and be completely autonomous, we can connect it to the elevator, send it automatically to empty rooms and to the dirtiest locations”.
As previously mentioned, knowledge is truly valuable if it can be applied beyond a single application. This is a great example of leveraging the momentum gathered from the road that has already been travelled, in order to run faster and to foresee the future. As Muler concludes: “Now we are focusing only on the disinfecting aspect because of the Coronavirus, but this would be very useful as a permanent solution in hospitals, where there are always viruses and germs. This approach will help us to be prepared and minimise the risk when the next virus arrives”.