UV light has been used to disinfect for years, but new products on rise due to COVID-19

Posted at 10:49 AM, Aug 13, 2020

As disinfecting wipes and sprays fly off store shelves, companies are looking for new ways to keep surfaces coronavirus-free. Some are looking at repurposing UV light technology, a cleaning solution that’s been used for decades.

Ava Robotics and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology partnered on a project to create a robot that uses UV-C light to disinfect large areas.

“It was about a 4,000 square foot space. It was able to disinfect that in less than 30 minutes,” said Youssef Saleh with Ava Robotics.

The purpose -- cleaning large, busy spaces of virus and bacteria, specifically coronavirus.

“UV is not new. Robots are not new themselves,” Saleh said.

“It's actually been in practice in hospitals for probably four decades plus,” said Dr. Eric Hill, the Chair of Emergency Services at Medical Center of Aurora.

It’s usually used to sterilize rooms.

“Anything that the light hits, it can kill. So it has to be in direct contact with the light beam and it has to be in contact for a certain period of time,” Hill said.

“There are three factors of effectiveness of UV light, the first is the power itself,” Saleh explained. “Then there's the distance to the object that you're trying to disinfect, and then there is the amount of time.”

"We cannot see it, it's the same kind of UV radiation you’d get from the sun,” Hill said. “It works by destroying the DNA and the RNA of the organism. And it doesn't affect just viruses, it affects bacteria, viruses, mold, and spores.”

While it can kill germs, it can also do damage to us. UV light plays a role in diseases like skin cancer.

“It is dangerous for humans to be in direct contact with it,” Dr. Hill said.

That’s why the project with Ava Robotics and MIT also factors in safety for humans.

“Safety elements have to be part of the solution, thought through, and understood,” Saleh said.

The team is working on making the robot more adaptable to changing spaces, like warehouses, and potentially other large spaces like grocery stores and schools

But Hill says UV light isn’t a complete replacement for traditional cleaning methods.

“It does not take the place of things like wiping something down,” he said. “But after you do that...adding in a UV light system can really hit in a broad area...and get all the microorganisms that were in there.”

Hill also warns consumers that are interested in this to look at products closely.

“Several hundred dollars is realistic for a good UV light system,” he explained. “We have seen much more of a demand of it, if you go on Amazon the amount of UV light products I’ve seen pushed out is incredible.”