Interest in robots for disinfecting surfaces and rooms has grown with widespread concern about the coronavirus. This week, UVD Robots ApS announced a reseller agreement with Sunay Healthcare Supply to distribute its disinfection robots in China.
“With this agreement, more than 2,000 hospitals will now have the opportunity to ensure effective disinfection, protecting both their patients and staff,” stated Su Yan, CEO of Sunay Healthcare Supply. “We found the UVD robot to be superior compared to other technologies and are pleased to — in a very short amount of time — enter into a reseller agreement with exclusive rights to supply the UVD robots in China.”
The outbreak of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, began in Wuhan, China, and has infected more than 75,000 people and killed more than 2,000 to date worldwide. In comparison, between 29 million and 41 million people contracted influenza from Oct. 1, 2019, to Feb. 15, 2020, in the U.S. alone, with 16,000 to 41,000 fatalities, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The U.S. has 479 reported cases of coronavirus, said the CDC.
While coronavirus is affecting Chinese manufacturing, global trade and tourism, and public health fears, robots can mitigate the spread of illness.
UVD robot wins awards, scales production to meet demand
Odense, Denmark-based UVD Robots is a subsidiary of Blue Ocean Robotics, and it has been providing disinfection robots to 45 countries. Last year, the company’s UVD robot received an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Award in Robotics and Automation (IERA).
The Robot Report spoke with Per Juul Nielsen, CEO of UVD Robots, about the development and production of the UV-Disinfection Robot.
How long has the UVD robot been on the market?
Juul Nielsen: We launched commercially a year and a half ago, in 2018, on a global scale except for China. It was too big a jump to start with.
We had run tests at hospitals in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan. We have a very strong presence in the Middle East, and a number of hospitals in Europe are already applying the UVD robots.
We’re entering the U.S. market now, and we expect to have product registrations and approvals sorted by the end of the year. We have a sales director in the U.S., and we’re hiring more sales engineers and partnering with distributors.
Ultraviolet light has been used for disinfection for years — what are the advantages of the UVD robot?
Juul Nielsen: UV-C disinfection has been clinically proven to eliminate bacteria and viruses for 40 years. It has been used mainly to disinfect drinking water and sewage plants from E. coli. A specific wavelength of 254 nanometers is known to have germicidal effects.
Around 10 years ago, hospitals in Europe and the Americas started applying manual UV-C systems. The first generation was a light pushed on wheels to disinfect operating rooms, and sales have been growing quite strongly over the past 10 years.
But these systems have disadvantages because UV-C light is limited by certain factors. Because of the shadow effect on the backside of obstacles, it’s very important to go all over the room and cover all angles.
The germicidal effect of UV-C light is also limited by distance from the source — intensity is guided by the inverse square law. The higher the power level, the shorter the time to disinfect.
The robot limits exposure by healthcare workers. It autonomously repositions itself close to surfaces instead of forcing someone to come in and out of the room. There is no lingering radiation — if you disinfect a small patient room with a single bed and an adjacent bathroom, it takes 12 to 15 minutes.
The minute the lights switch off, someone can immediately enter the room. When you enter the room, you’ll smell “ozone,” but this wavelength doesn’t generate ozone — the smell in the room is the burned particles of skin and hair in the air.
Where else can the UVD robot work?
Juul Nielsen: Not only can the robot work in small spaces, like hospital rooms and ship cabins, but it can also work in larger areas. Our robot is the only autonomous, battery-powered one available; others are just light sources on wheels.
The UVD robot could also work in hotels, offices, and the security-check areas of airports. When we spoke with Chinese operators, they wanted to get get our robots to hospitals first, then also to millions of hotel rooms to prevent a recurrence.
What effects have you seen from the coronavirus outbreak?
Juul Nielsen: When it started in 2019, things were quiet at first, but in January, we started to get a lot of inquiries from Chinese hospitals and companies about testing. Now, everybody’s talking about coronavirus, but we already had a robot to fight bacteria and other viruses.
On average, 100,000 people die per year from avoidable infections in hospitals. A big problem is that, until recently, infections have been treatable with antibiotics, but now, they’re mutating, so there’s no treatment — only prevention.
How difficult is it to scale up production, and is your own supply chain affected by coronavirus?
Juul Nielsen: Scaling up is a challenge, but we’ve been selling the robot and experiencing a high growth rate in sales. Coronavirus has accelerated that dramatically, but we’ve been preparing for higher volumes. Within the next four to eight weeks, we’ll be relocating to a new facility, where we’ll have five times more space for offices and especially production.
We have a strong supply chain and have been ramping up our warehouse with components. We have had some warnings from some suppliers about labor shortages and slowed production in China.
Last year, we were scaling up our position as the market leader. We expect this year to be a breakthrough in terms of volume in China, Asia in general, the Mideast, and in the U.S.
Juul Nielsen: We were slower to enter the U.S. market than the Mideast or Asia because the UVD robot was just CE-marked. The week before Christmas, we got UL safety approval, which was not mandatory but eases access to hospitals. Subsystems of the UVD robot are patented.
We’re doing trial installations in Florida hospitals. The UVD robot is relatively easy to set up. It can be fully autonomous or semi-autonomous. In half an hour, you can set up points in a room, map a corridor, and set up the charging station. Then, you just have to push a button to tell it to go to a room.
We haven’t seen competitors on the market with similar products. We’ve seen concepts at exhibitions and one other model in China, but no other disinfection robots are in operation yet in the U.S. We’re building a strong network of distributors for the second-generation UDV robot, which can save lives.