MAE 4620 Final Report Autonomous Robot Team; Societal Pressures to Release a COVID-19 Vaccine in the United States of America

Okoye, Cynthia, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Furukawa, Tomonari, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Elliott, Travis, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

The technical project at hand is a semi-autonomous disinfection robot equipped with ultraviolet-C (UV-C) lights. The goal of this robot is to sanitize surfaces that are infected with germs such as viruses and bacteria. Also, disinfection effectiveness is improved with the utilization of a robotic arm. The Science, Technology and Society (STS) research topic analyzes the societal rush in the creation of a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine and its administration using the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) framework. One connection between the technical and STS topics is the recognition that the technologies in each case, the vaccine and disinfection robot, are remedies to the COVID-19 pandemic. The rush for a vaccine was caused by the rapid spread of COVID-19 infections which killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. It also altered the regular way of life. As a result of the introduction of COVID-19, there have been difficult transitions to virtual work and school, forced business shutdowns, reduced in-person activities, and more. A vaccine and a disinfection robot can help.
Using the SCOT framework, relevant social groups, interpretive flexibility, closure and stabilization are analyzed in the STS research paper. One relevant social group, regular American citizens, includes people who are hesitant to take the vaccine. People are opting not to take it since the vaccine is being made so quickly. Even with the vaccine, the virus is still present among the population. Throughout the pandemic, there have been increased measures for cleanliness, disinfection, and sanitization to effectively slow down the spread. Some individuals in the American citizen social group may rely more on safety precautions like detailed disinfection to help protect them against the virus. The disinfection robot team determined UV-C lights were the optimal means of sanitation. Though the primary target for the technical project is hospitals, the robot’s design can be evolved to be used in a variety of public spaces like libraries and grocery stores. People who chose not to get vaccinated may feel safer by the usage of practical disinfection methods like the robot.
Furthermore, this assurance is not only restricted to those who elect not to take the vaccine. The STS research also identifies healthcare providers as a social group. They benefit immensely from the disinfection robot since they are frequently in contact with contaminated surfaces. Also, individuals in the American citizen social group who choose to take the vaccine may benefit from this technology. Disinfection of public surfaces is advantageous for overall health regardless if one receives the vaccine or not.
Similar to the relevant social group of COVID-19 vaccine developers that is identified in the STS research, the disinfection robot team is incentivized to slow down the spread of the virus. The goals of both are in response to bettering the unfortunate circumstances that have arisen from the introduction of COVID-19. Additionally, both groups want to make their product as safe as possible for their users. For example, the disinfection robot team incorporates a wireless emergency stop feature to halt the operation of the robot whenever necessary. Vaccine developers go through meticulous research and plenty of trials to ensure the safety and efficacy of their product. Though the rapid development of the vaccine has caused hesitancy, safely overcoming the virus which has affected daily social activities can be done with increased cleaning through the usage of a disinfection robot or the administration of the vaccine.
Lastly, the COVID-19 vaccine was made quickly because of scientific advancements. This is similar to how the disinfection robot was designed and built in several months. Similar and existing methods and technologies led to the development of both the vaccine and the robot. Vaccines and robots have existed and been established yet are continuously being improved. A relevant social group in this context are developers. The developers of the disinfection robot and COVID-19 vaccine are educated engineers and scientists, respectfully. Ultimately, it is a matter of vaccine creators and the disinfection robot team to integrate their knowledge and creativity into existing systems to make a different, new, and advanced technological artefact—containing elements not possessed by their predecessors and solving unaddressed problems.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
COVID-19, Disinfection, Robot, Semi-autonomy, Mechanical Engineering

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Tomonari Furukawa
STS Advisor: Travis Elliott
Technical Team Members: Hannah Clark, Erin Dubas, Daniel Helmus, Charles Kellas, Connor Wynkoop

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