Rutgers robotic study finds new way to measure contaminants in paint

ExxonMobil partnered with Rutgers researchers to study how effective robots are when performing exposure studies with contaminants.
Photo by Photo by Wikimedia | The Daily TargumExxonMobil partnered with Rutgers researchers to study how effective robots are when performing exposure studies with contaminants.

Rutgers University teamed up with ExxonMobil to create a study in which robots painted drywall, generating data on potentially harmful contaminants. The purpose of the study was to see how effective robots could be in performing exposure studies. 

Kostas Bekris, associate professor in the Department of Computer Sciences, joined the PRACSYS Robotics lab in July 2012. 

He said the study was a three-way collaboration between ExxonMobil, the Rutgers Computer Science PRACSYS Robotics lab and the Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI), Bekris said. The study was conducted on Oct. 30, 2017 and ran for 2 weeks, ending on Nov. 11, 2017.

Bekris said using robots is a unique practice.

“From the robotics point of view it is an interesting challenge, as it involves interesting, non-rigid interactions with the environment that go beyond the typical pick-and-place tasks that robots are performing in automation applications,” Bekris said.

Using an arm tool provided by the PRACSYS Robotic lab, the robot was able to carry out the task, Bekris said. The data was collected by partners of the EOHSI.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can be found in paint, have been shown to cause various health problems, such as headaches, eye irritation and liver or kidney damage, said Kris Mohan, member of the EOHSI. The contaminants were tested by acquiring air samples during and after the painting.

Mohan also spoke on the advantages of using robots for this study.

“The robot won't be inhaling any of the chemicals being monitored nor getting tired during the work, unlike a human, thereby reducing study expenditures while giving a more clearer profile of what is being measured,” he said.

Rahul Shome, a graduate student in the Department of Computer Science and member of the PRACSY lab, talked more about their usage of the robot in this study.

They are trying to motivate people to use robots instead of humans to collect data, he said. This will better inform future exposure studies to become more safe and more reliable. 

Mohan said ExxonMobil actually contacted Rutgers about collaborating with the study.

“There aren't that many such facilities available in the country that can maintain experimental conditions for a longer period,” he said. “In this case, ExxonMobil is the one contacting Rutgers to use our facilities and providing financial support for the study.”

The results of the study found that robots can be used as a feasible way to conduct studies and acquire data in the future, Mohan said.

Professor Clifford Weisel, a professor in the School of Public Health and member of the EOHSI, spoke on how the results of this study will affect others in the future.

“The output of these experiments can be used in mathematical exposure models and can decrease the tedium of the experimenters that occur when people performed staged experiments,” Weisel said.

Prior to the experiment, a simulation was made with the motion being measured using software, according to the study. These motions would then be installed in the robot so they can be executed precisely in real time.

The results were then compared with experiments involving humans, according to the study. The results differed slightly due to the amount of pressure robots apply to the rollers in comparison to human subjects.