It’s a cutting-edge piece of tech that could keep patients safer.
It uses UV-C light to effectively kill microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria and spores and, also the new coronavirus.
The process is called ultraviolet germicidal irradiation through UV-C light.
And to show what it can do, stickers are placed around an empty hospital room – even in hard to reach spots like the bottom of a TV set.
The UVD robot even warns people to leave the room before it starts the disinfection process.
UV-C light is the strongest type of ultraviolet-light and the idea of exploiting its germs-killing power is not new. What sets this robot apart from other UV-C types is its ability to drive itself and self-operate inside a room.
The machine was developed by Blue Ocean, a Denmark-based robotics company that launched it on the market in 2018.
The machine is now imported in Belgium by Medtradex, a local company specialized in the decontamination and disinfection of the medical and industrial sector, transport and public institutions.
Ivo Schapdryver is Medtradex’ CEO. He says the UVD machine is unique.
“There’s no other – as far as we know – concept that is similar that brings both the UV-C light together with the robot that drives itself in a room,” he explains.
The machine is able to reposition itself in different corners of an area, effectively clearing it of microorganisms. Its inventors call this “drive-by disinfection”.
Geel and its surroundings have been particularly affected by coronavirus.
The Ziekenhuis Geel hospital has a total of 300 beds, some 120 of which are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients. There’s an urgency here to test the UVD robot’s effectiveness and put it to good use.
Key to the UVD robot is the power of its light. With a wavelength measuring 254 nanometres (NM), the light destroys microorganisms’ DNA and kills them.
The machine’s effectiveness is close to 100 percent when it operates at a 1-metre distance from an object, whereas from a 2 metre distance the robot’s capacity decreases to 25%.
This is why ensuring the UVD robot’s proximity to the spots it needs to clean is paramount.
The robot is also able to beam its light on all sides of an object; this helps avoid that some areas are not properly hit by the light, something that’s known as “shadow effect”, Schapdryver says.
“It’s really crucial to be effective that the light is close enough to the object that we want to disinfect and that we counter the shadow effect. So we want to make sure that we touch every surface by the light and this can be done by the robot as it drives itself through the room that is treated,” the Medtradex CEO explains.
During the test in Geel Medtradex, experts first conduct a mapping of the room that needs to be disinfected. Their job is to mark the spots where the robot’s intervention is most needed by putting yellow stickers on them.
Each robot is equipped with a tablet that guides it through the disinfection process.
After the robot’s lamps are turned on, the machine takes up a position inside the room and starts to clean one spot before moving autonomously to another.
The whole process can take between 8 and 15 minutes, depending on the room size. Because UV-C light is dangerous for humans, people must leave a room before the disinfection procedure and can’t come back until it’s completely over.
Once the robot has finished the job, the Medtradex team goes back to the area to check the colour of the stickers: if they’ve turned from yellow to purple the disinfection has been effective.
Schapdryver says that since the UVD machine operates on its own, it protects hospital staff from exposure to dangerous microorganisms.
“We see a huge benefit as the robot can enter itself the room so it’s a high level of security because you can avoid that someone needs to enter the room to disinfect. So it will really protect people after the disinfection but also avoids that people can be infected because they want to do their job and want to do the disinfection manually,” Schapdryver explains.
Jan Flament is the hospital CEO. He says he’s been looking for cleaning and disinfecting solutions to keep patients and staff safe during and after the coronavirus crisis.
“By giving the maximum possible hygiene in this hospital we want to make sure that our staff on the one hand but our patient on the other hand is safe when they come to this hospital during the coronavirus spread and pandemic, but also afterwards,” he says.
“We have to make sure that after a room is being used, it is perfectly disinfected because we don’t want to have a spread passed through in this hospital.”
One particularly interesting feature, Flament says, is the robot’s ability to get into difficult places that are harder to clean and can be missed by humans.
“As a cleaning person goes into a room, really cleans it, cleans all the hard surfaces; yet at the same time they do that basically on a checklist. You go from one spot to the other, you clean those places but of course you don’t know exactly where all disinfection is needed and sometimes you miss spots,” he explains.
“And what the good thing is from this UV machine or robot, as you could call it, is that it goes around everywhere.”
The UVD has undergone several trials and testing in Denmark, at the Odense University Hospital as well as other microbiological laboratories, Blue Ocean says on its website.
The UVD robots are sold across Asia, Europe and the United States. They were sent to China in February to help hospitals deal with the coronavirus emergency, according to Blue Ocean.
The UVD robot costs 80,000 euros (87,000 US dollars).
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.