“Germ-zapping” robots are helping battle COVID-19

Technology |  2 min. read
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(Photo Credit: Xenex website)

As COVID-19 continues to spread and disrupt our ways of life, technologies – both emergent and traditional – are helping us adapt to the new reality.

One focus has been on identifying ways to sanitize spaces more quickly, ridding them of the virus and other pathogens.

To reduce the need for frontline workers having to clean spaces constantly, businesses are increasingly turning to autonomous robotic options. As one robotics company describes them, “mobile robots prevent business disruption and allow manufacturers to operate business as usual on a daily basis.”

These robots, made from durable plastics, derived from petrochemical building blocks, can be equipped with UV lights or disinfecting sprays that eliminate bacteria, viruses, and spores.

While this might sound like science fiction, a number of these innovative devices are already in use in hospitals, manufacturing facilities, offices, and public spaces.

Using pre-programmed routes and machine learning, these robots can cover entire rooms, achieving near-universal bacteria elimination. It is similar to the Roomba vacuum millions of people have in their homes but with a much bigger mission.

Xenex Disinfection Services’ CEO Morris Miller explains why the materials used are key to long-term success of these robots: “we’ve gone through three different iterations of plastics, and they’ve become more protective over time, so that literally the machine can be slammed against the wall [which happens, regularly] and… three or four years later, those look [and work] like they are brand new…”

Polycarbonate, from the petrochemical building blocks propylene and benzene, is a highly desirable material for impact resistance and can be used as a protective housing for the base of a mobile robot. Further protection can be added by strategically placing bumper guards made from neoprene (from butadiene) or styrene-butadiene rubber (from ethylene, benzene and butadiene) for corners and other spots prone to breakage. And let’s not forget the traction needed for mobility on a variety of surfaces and conditions. Rubber tires and tracks usually involve synthetic rubber composites that start with butadiene.

Importantly, the UV lights reduce the need for antibacterial and disinfecting chemicals or sprays, leaving them for use in other circumstances.

For those that do use disinfecting spray, utilizing an electrostatic charge allows them to “ensure a wider and further spread of the disinfectant, behind and over hidden surfaces.”

As the pandemic continues, technology and innovation will continue to play a role in helping us return to a more normal way of life. And products made from strong, durable plastics and other petrochemical components, will be a part of making it happen.

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