Company // Innovations

Micron Challenge Sparked Innovation of UV Robot Designs to Fight COVID

By René Hartner - 2020-10-08

Micron’s values — which include a focus on people and community, a commitment to collaboration and a drive for innovation — have never been so uniquely challenged as in the face of COVID-19. June was no exception, when Micron’s COVID-19 Task Force identified a need for a low-cost UV robot capable of eliminating COVID-19 and other pathogens in workplaces and health care facilities.

The need turned out to be crucial: An internal review concluded it would be one of the best ways to safeguard Micron employees. Today, however, commercially available solutions can range from $60,000 to upward of $100,000, a price tag few businesses and organizations can afford. If a low-cost solution could be identified, it’s significance would be enormous and encompassing, potentially reaching millions of people worldwide.

The need for innovative design ideas prompted René Hartner, VP of Corporate Business Development who is leading the COVID-19 relief efforts for Micron, to open a three-month, open-sourced design contest through and to sponsor seven university teams to search for a solution. The development guidelines were simple: develop a UV robot with off-the-shelf parts, open-sourced hardware and a production cost of less than $10,000. To guarantee safety, all robots had to be programmed to detect the presence of humans and animals.

More than 400 participants, among them inventors, engineers and researchers, answered the call.

“I was proud to see Micron champion this and our technical team stepping up to the challenge,” said Nancy Lomeli, senior manager for NAND Process Integration and contest judge. More than 70 designs were submitted from around the globe, a striking success and testament to the effort spearheaded by Micron’s technical project team. champions innovation, functionality and manufacturability

September saw a two-week judging period, during which a panel of 10 judges scored the Hackster design entries on functionality, manufacturability and innovation. There were three grand prize winners, who received cash prizes of $10,000, $5,000, and $2,500, respectively:

First-place winners KiNNeCTS were commended by the panel for developing solutions for challenging sanitization protocols through a design that featured tilt and rotation, extended tubes and an image-processing software to identify microbe hotspots. An autonomous computer-vision algorithm was included to prevent hazardous UV exposure to living organisms.

Moving forward: from manufacturing floor to office

Among all the submitted design entries, IIT-Delhi was recognized for developing the most manufacturable design for office use and for meeting Micron’s internal specifications. To continue protecting employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, Micron has begun production of a prototype — now set to begin testing at Micron’s sites in India within the next 12 weeks.

The exceptional time line of this project is the result of a continued commitment to innovation and teamwork by the Micron team and technical COVID-19 Task Force that developed the design specifications and contest guidelines, directed and managed the contest and panelists, and worked tirelessly to bring the project to where it is today.

Special thanks to core team members Evan Startup, Rick Stevenson, Kunal Parekh, Justin Stewart, George Mullin, Janine Rush-Byers, Peg Gamba, Farrell Good, Farrell Storm and Janet Hobbs.

What kept team members motivated was their deep desire to get a cheap solution to our communities. And we hope a widespread adoption will reduce the spread of COVID-19 and reduce fatalities. Above all, the success of the challenge speaks to the focus on Micron’s mission, even in the face of the unpreceded.

“The lessons I learned from Micron … will always inspire me,” said Raunak Singh, an 11-year-old participant who stunned our judges with his tenacity to take on the challenge by himself.

René Hartner

René Hartner

Joining Micron in 2018 as VP of Corporate Development, René Hartner leads Micron’s AI/ML inorganic transformative initiative. He has a 24-year track record in commercializing emerging technologies, transforming and restructuring underperforming businesses and leading corporate business development organizations. He most recently worked as VP of Corporate Development at SanDisk, which was acquired by Western Digital in 2015. He holds a B.S. in vehicle engineering with a concentration in aerospace engineering from the University of Applied Sciences in Munich and an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University.