ABANO HOSPITAL VENETO
Dr. Cristiano Huscher has long used robotics and artificial intelligence for surgical procedures at the Policlinico Abano chain of hospitals in Italy. So when six doctors contracted Covid-19 at his hospital in Sardinia two months ago, he once again turned to technology — in this case, UVD Robots® — to disinfect the rooms.
The robot moves autonomously through a room, using ultraviolet-C light to destroy the RNA in a virus and DNA in bacteria, effectively gutting the virus’ ability to infect people and multiply.
“This robot kills 99.99 percent of viruses, bacteria and fungal spores,” said Dr. Huscher, chief of oncological surgery, robotics and new technologies. “We don’t have any nurses, doctors or patients with coronavirus since we started to use the robots.” He expects the robots to eventually become mandatory at hospitals.
The Italian hospital chain is among a surging number of businesses rushing to adopt innovative technology to combat the coronavirus. These include robotic dogs that monitor parks for social distancing, thermal sensors that detect fevers from 10 feet away, and hand-washing sensors.
The CARES Act, which offers funding for tech upgrades in the United States, is also spurring companies to embrace shiny new technology faster — and more willingly — than in the past.
“This is going to accelerate it,” said Victoria Petrock, principal analyst at eMarketer, a market research, data and analysis company.
Tech that uses UVC light has been particularly hot. UVD Robots, a unit of Blue Ocean Robotics in Odense, Denmark, started developing its disinfection robots in 2014.“Each year millions of patients are infected, and thousands of patients die, due to infections acquired during hospitalization,” said Claus Risager, co-founder and chief executive of Blue Ocean Robotics.
Other companies making UV robots include Xenex, Tru-D, Puro Lighting and Surfacide. Many of these are stationary — rather than mobile — robots.
The ADDAMS robot, developed at the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California, goes one step further. It is equipped with a Universal Robots arm that can pick up items, open drawers, move objects and even open and close doors remotely while disinfecting the room with UV light and chemical hydrogen peroxide spray.
Trof. Satyandra K. Gupta, director of the school’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing, sees UV robots being used in hospitals, shopping malls, movie theaters, train stations, schools and grocery stores.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City recently began a pilot program to use Puro’s UV lamps overnight to clean subway cars and buses.
But UVC light can’t be blasted into rooms where people are. Prolonged exposure to it can cause skin cancer, cornea damage and other problems.
Healthe of Melbourne, Fla., has created disinfectant devices that use a different technology, far-UVC light, which scientists say is a safe version of UVC for humans. The technology uses a shorter band of wavelength that can’t penetrate the skin, and therefore won’t damage the cells and tissue under it, said David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University. But it can still zap microbes, bacteria and viruses on surfaces and in the air.
“One of the useful properties of UV light in general is that it doesn’t distinguish between drug-resistant bacteria and drug-sensitive bacteria,” Dr. Brenner said. “All it does is damage the DNA or RNA in that bacteria and kill it,” he added, noting that, “we realized it also applied to viruses.”
Fred Maxik, a former NASA scientist and founder of Healthe, said that he had been promoting the technology for about three years, but that it took Covid-19 to get people to respond. “I really did believe that a pandemic of this magnitude was possible,” he said. “It sometimes takes things as terrible as this is to bring it to focus.”
Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan is installing Healthe’s far-UVC tech devices at two of its retail locations.