Thursday, September 25, 2008

iRobot Developing "Floor Genie" - A Sterile Hospital Cleaning Robot, Files for Patent!

BREAKING: iRobot is developing a "Floor Genie" for sterile robotic cleaning of hospital operating rooms with a Connecticut startup called Optimus, Robot Stock News has learned.
iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT) filed for a patent on the new robotic cleaning system that would use disposable, sterile cartridges for cleaning environments such as hospitals and operating rooms. The cartridges could be attached to products such as the iRobot Scooba floor washing robot or something called a "Floor Genie," according to the patent application, and may include a UV germicidal light for disinfection.
The "Floor Genie," according to the website of a company called Optimus Services LLC based in Greenwich (link), is part of a new "Optimus Integrated Surgical Environment" designed to minimize infections and increase the number of surgeries that can be performed per day. The new state-of-the-art operating rooms feature rounded corners to better enable thorough robotic cleaning by the "Floor Genie," because research shows the corners are the most germ-infested. (Infections are literally killers in hospitals, which are constantly looking for ways to improve cleanliness).
The new surgical rooms will be ready for production in October, 2008, according to the company's web site, and they will cost $1.8 million a pop, the Greenwich Time and Stamford Advocate reported earlier this year [pdf (no mention of Floor Genie)]. Optimus lists iRobot as one of its partners on the Floor Genie and in general, but does not say when the "Floor Genie" will be available or how much it will cost on its own.
And given that I've never heard iRobot mention this product in the years I've been covering it, there's no guarantee that it will ever ship. The patent application itself was filed more than two years ago, but was only published Sept. 4, 2008.
Given that Optimus is a startup, iRobot presumably won't see much revenue in the short term, but sterilized, automated cleaning of hospital units would seem to be an acute need that could potentially be extremely lucrative, given the high profit margins for medical products (just see Intuitive Surgical - NASDAQ:ISRG).

Meanwhile, from iRobot's patent application:
...An invention that allows a robotic floor-cleaning device to repeatedly clean a sensitive environment while maintaining sanitary and sterile conditions would be of benefit. ...
An automated (robotic) floor-cleaner, such as the commercial available Scooba® or Floor Genie™, is adapted to allow sterile cleaning of sensitive environments, such as a hospital operating room. In particular, the floor-cleaner chassis is redesigned to be mounted on a deck containing cleaning devices that contact the floor. The cleaning devices mounted on the deck, which can comprise such cleaning devices as vacuum heads, brushes, cleaning fluid sprays, and conceivably sanitizing devices such as a UV germicidal light, are provided pre-sterilized. As such, the adapted floor-cleaner chassis allows the deck to be mounted to the bottom of the chassis; the floor-cleaner is then used to clean a floor, after which, the deck is removed from the chassis and disposed. The robotic-floor cleaner and sterilization system cleans floors between or even during cases. The system's disposable, sterile cleaning-cassettes ensure a sterile environment. Further, the robotic floor cleaner reduces the "turnover time" required between cases, as it operates simultaneously while the staff prepares the room for the next case.
Here is an excerpt from Optimus's web site listing for the Floor Genie:
Automated floor cleaning system (Floor Genie)
A robotic floor cleaner and sterilization system to clean floors between cases. This system, called the "Floor Genie," will have disposable cleaning cassettes, ensuring single use, and therefore a more sterile environment. Transmission of resistant organisms from case to case will be prevented. It is designed to reduce the turnover time required between cases, as it will operate simultaneously while the staff prepares the room for the next case. The room design also includes the elimination of squared corners, replacing these with 18 inch rounded corners so that they can be cleaned. Optimus’ studies performed in hospitals indicate that traditional room corners represent the areas of highest microbial contamination.
Here's a video talking about Optimus's vision for creating a sterile surgical room (no video of the "Floor Genie").

Also, I found a recently published presentation (Powerpoint in WMV format via this link) detailing the development of a hospital cleaning system using a swarm technique featuring an iRobot Roomba. The developer suggests that the Scooba would ultimately be preferable given the ability to mop using sterilizing cleaning solution. But it looks like iRobot is way ahead of him!

I have never heard iRobot mention this product in the years I've been following the company and listening to every conference call, and there is nothing on the company's web site about it either. I can only presume that they've kept it hush-hush to prevent competition.

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1 comment:

Claudio G. said...

I believe that apart very specific technologies nothing is patentable in robotics since: 1. all ideas are still public domain thanks to the fantasy of hollywood moviemakers; and 2. many of the applications are merely extensions of still well known devices for home care or some industrial application.
The only possibility for patent application I think is limited to specific models, not proper inventions.
BTW, the rounded corner in floors, for easy cleaning, is an old idea that can be found in many european builings such as schools and hospitals.