Cleantech is usually focused on electric cars, batteries, clean electrical generation, and the like. But clean also has a more direct connotation for humans of being free from disease.
Danish company UVD Robotics makes germ-, virus-, and mold-killing ultraviolet robots for hospitals. The product has been in existence for a while, but now it’s signed contracts with Chinese hospitals and is shipping units to that country.
The working model isn’t really like a robotic vacuum cleaner that wanders around and keeps everything clean. UV light sufficient to kill viruses and bacteria is also capable of harming human eyes and skin. That’s why we wear sunscreen and wear UV-blocking clothes, after all, because the UV component of sunlight can cause all sorts of health challenges, up to and including skin cancer.
The UVD Robotics device is fairly capable and autonomous. When cleaning staff finish with a room, they can summon the robot from its storage and charging location. It can travel corridors and use elevators by itself. But it won’t start blasting UV light until a human operator goes through a safety checklist in the room.
This is a significant advance, but it’s not the only one. In 2018, a set of research that had been undertaken saw results. The researchers, David Welch, Manuela Buonanno, and several others, published Far-UVC light: A new tool to control the spread of airborne-mediated microbial diseases in the Scientific Reports sub-journal of the pre-eminent journal Nature. They had hypothesized that far-UVC light could kill bacteria but not harm humans due to the greater absorption of UVC by biological tissue. Basically, far-UVC can’t get far enough into the human body to do any damage.
However, bacteria and viruses are of micrometer or smaller dimensions, so far-UVC can penetrate and inactivate them.
What this advance allows is the potential for far-UVC lights to be set up in a variety of places and constantly be killing bacteria and viruses, especially airborne particles, which is a substantial advantage.
Where this falls apart, of course, is that surfaces are often in shadow, and this doesn’t kill molds, another major challenge. That’s where a Roomba version of the UVD Robotics device could add value, as it could wander the hallways and rooms constantly, bathing surfaces in odd corners with germ- and virus-killing light.
Another advantage of this new UVC study is that it’s both effective against bacteria which have evolved resistance to common drugs and it’s very unlikely that diseases and viruses could evolve to be resistant to it due to effective limitations on their scale. I, for one, welcome my new disease-killing robotic vacuum cleaners.