The world has turned upside down enough that the robots are coming to save us, not take over the world. Vendors at CES 2021 are showing off rolling cleaning machines that can disinfect public spaces. Companies are also promoting smart devices and even product coatings to keep germs at bay in the air and on surfaces.
Gartner analyst Jonathan Davenport said that companies have been building pulsed xenon ultraviolet (UV) light technology into simple robots to disinfect surfaces for years, but COVID-19 has seen demand leap substantially. Automating the cleaning process improves consistency and complements the cleaning staff, he said.
“For example, one provider told me that 50% of high-touch services in a hospital weren’t cleaned properly with traditional chemical solutions—the housekeepers just don’t have time to thoroughly clean a room,” he said. “The disinfection robot is much better at disinfection than human cleaners, and the robot is simply wheeled into a room and allowed to perform its cleaning cycle.”
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UV light kills germs and bacteria. It’s harmful to human eyes also so people can get in the room when a robot is at work.
These cleaning robots will help workers in some cases but replace them in others. Forrester’s May 2020 report “The COVID-19 crisis will accelerate enterprise automation plans” notes that recessions are often followed by jobless recoveries. This is due in part to the increasing automation of low-skill and manual jobs. The report author Leslie Joseph notes that 25% of supermarket assistant jobs in the UK were eliminated due to automation between 2011 and 2017 and predicts that the aftermath of COVID-19 will be the same.
In the short term, companies need tools and tactics to make workers and customers feel safe in shared spaces. Here’s a look at robots and other devices that can go right to work in offices, schools, and airports.
Robots armed with UV rays
The Unipin Ultraviolet Disinfection Robot can disinfect an area of 1,000 square meters in 100 minutes with a 99.99% disinfection rate, according to the company. It also uses video monitoring and face recognition. It has wireless connectivity and navigates with LIDAR. Cleaning routes can run on a programmed route or be guided by a navigator. The robot uses ultraviolet light, photocatalyst, negative ion as well as a HEPA filter mesh and a honeycomb ceramic filter element to clean the air. The device also can detect harmful gases such as formaldehyde.
Ubetech is also at CES 2021 with a cleaning robot designed for small businesses and schools. The $20,000 Adibot-S can be wheeled from room to room and the $40,000 Adibot-A is autonomous. According to the company, the bot can clean a 900 to 1,000 square foot room in 70 to 100 seconds. The robots come with an app and remote control for operation. The app keeps track of cleaning sessions and suggests cleaning times required for a given space.
The LG UV-C also uses UV light to clean spaces. The company said that the robot can clean a room in 15 to 30 minutes and can be monitored by a smartphone or tablet. The robot’s motion sensors watch a 16-foot space around it and shuts down if a person gets too close.
The Smart Sanitizer doesn’t move but it does screen people and disinfect their hands before they enter a space. The kiosk has a temperature reader and a UV light sanitizing compartment for keys, wallets, masks, and cellphones. A hand sanitizer uses UV light and sanitizer to kill 99.9% of most illness-causing germs and bacteria, according to the company. The kiosk also tracks the number of users moving through the building and tracks temperatures as well. Companies can provide gloves and masks at the kiosk as well.
Using enzymes to kill viruses
Another company at CES 2021 is using a new approach to cleaning air. The CleanAir Zone uses the electrical charge of harmful airborne particles to capture them inside a filtering device. This works in the same way that dust particles are drawn to a computer monitor. The system uses enzymes to kill the bacteria. The BioCAZ Solution is dissolved in water and uses oxidation to eliminate allergens, bacteria, odors, viruses, germs, cigarette smoke, and chemical fumes. It doesn’t use a filter so requires less maintenance.
The company has tested its air cleaning technology against COVID-19. According to tests run by Assured Bio Labs, the machine can clean the virus from indoor air.
Disinfecting designs inspired by nature
A Dutch company is fighting germs on a smaller scale. Lipocoat has designed a coating that is similar to the membrane that surrounds every cell in the body. This design component makes it less likely to cause an inflammatory response from the human body. According to the company, even if the coating sheds from a medical device, the body should be able to dispose of it as it would any dead or dying cell with no side effects. This coating can be used to coat medical devices to reduce the risk of infection. LipoCoat is also self-healing if a scratch exposes the medical device to the biological environment.