Should more public spaces be treated with UVC light?
Although the spread of infection is not a new challenge, COVID-19 has made us all more wary about public spaces with high touch areas. UVC, the highest energy portion of the ultraviolet (UV) radiation spectrum, offers a proven and effective way to disinfect surfaces, even in areas that would normally be difficult to clean.
Termed ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI), hundreds of pathogens, including coronaviruses, have been shown to respond to this form of disinfection. Indeed, the International Ultraviolet Association (IUVA) notes: “COVID-19 infections can be caused by contact with contaminated surfaces and then touching facial areas…COVID-19 virus can live on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 3 days. Normal cleaning and disinfection may leave behind some residual contamination, which UVC can treat suggesting that a multiple disinfectant approach is prudent. UVC has been shown to achieve a high level of inactivation of a near-relative of COVID-19’s virus (SARS-CoV-1). IUVA believes similar results can be expected when treating COVID-19’s virus, SARS-CoV-2.”
It is not surprising, therefore, that the public would feel greater reassurance if UVGI was used as part of the cleaning regime in busy areas, especially in the wake of COVID-19. In all the public places suggested, a survey of over 200 Americans showed the vast majority thought they should be disinfected with UVC. Although schools and universities, hotels and hospitals came out the highest, restaurants, libraries, gyms, supermarkets, department stores and airports were all selected by well over 60% of respondents.
While it is easy to suggest that more thorough cleaning and disinfection makes sense in public areas, why is UVC a good option? UVC is effective in controlling the spread of common illnesses including colds, flu, norovirus and deadly diseases such as tuberculosis and measles. It has also been shown to be highly effective against coronaviruses, including COVID-19.
Unlike manual cleaning methods with sprays and wipes, UVC light disinfects everything it falls upon and is over 99% efficient at killing pathogens. It leaves no residue and, once a cleaning cycle is complete, there is no need to wait until the area can be used again. The use of UVC rays is a proven method of disinfection and has been used to sterilize areas such as medical settings and food production areas for many years, making it an ideal option to augment manual cleaning of large areas, such as the facilities suggested in the survey.
Static UVC lamps are widely used in relatively small spaces where there is no overnight activity, a dental surgery for example, but this solution does not meet the requirements of large, busy buildings. This is where a mobile solution offers huge potential and benefits.
By adding UVC capability to an automated mobile robot or vehicle, a solution is created that can move around large areas, creating a continuous cleaning cycle without the need for additional human resource. Light would be transmitted on all sides of objects, leaving no ‘shadow’ areas that may be missed by static lamp placement and, for larger buildings, multiple robots could be used, working as a coordinated fleet to cover all areas.
Finding the right way
Buildings such as airports, hotels and hospitals are in use 24/7 and autonomous UVC robots need to incorporate safety measures to ensure people are safe during the cleaning process. They need to react predictably and reliably when they encounter an obstacle or detect movement which could indicate a human presence. They also need to find their way around and adapt to different environments, requiring an advanced, flexible approach to navigation.
Safety laser scanners at the front and rear of a robot combined with high sensitivity movement sensors, enable robots to detect obstacles and automatically shut down if a person is detected nearby. Natural feature-matching navigation technology offers an ideal solution for UVC robots, enabling intelligent, user-friendly navigation in busy areas. The technology uses a relatively small number of natural, permanent features within a venue as references for accurate localization. Unlike many other autonomous navigation technology options, natural feature-matching navigation, such as BlueBotics’ Autonomous Navigation Technology (ANT®), is appealing for venues such as hotels, hospitals and schools as it requires very little change to existing infrastructure, can be quickly deployed, and routes can be efficiently modified if required.
Combining natural feature-matching navigation with the proven efficacy of UVC provides a cost-effective way to clean busy areas more deeply and thoroughly. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised fears and awareness about the spread of infection but mobile UVC technology is not something to only be used in times of high rates of infection, but as a deterrent against the spread of future viruses.
A practical solution
Other results from the survey showed 82.5% of respondents would feel safer or completely safe staying in a hotel cleaned using UVC. Although specifically relating to hotels, it seems reasonable to deduce enhanced disinfecting policies and practices would give added reassurance and help to attract people back who are reluctant to return to a variety of venues following the COVID-19 pandemic.
UVC rays are known to be highly effective at killing viruses, including coronaviruses such as COVID-19 and MERS. Using natural feature navigation, with safety laser scanners and movement sensors, UVC robots can safely navigate even busy venues, giving an extra layer of protection from infectious disease without the need for additional human resources. For larger areas, navigation systems that utilize fleet management capability, mean multiple robots can be deployed simultaneously. The mini™ UVC robot by BlueBotics, for example, is a proven example of a safe, easily deployable autonomous UVC disinfection solution with the flexibility to adapt to changing needs and to work as a fleet of robots for larger venues.
In a world that is all too painfully aware of the risks of disease, autonomous UVC robots give venue operators a practical way to reassure customers, visitors and employees and stop the spread of disease. Although a vaccine is in sight, it would be foolish to assume we will never see the like of the COVID-19 pandemic again and these robots gives us an extra layer to our defenses, with real potential to save many lives.