Amazon built robot that is designed to kill the novel coronavirus with ultraviolet light. The robot looks a bit like a hotel luggage cart, with a tall metal frame attached to a rectangular wheeled bottom. One side of the frame is outfitted with at least 10 ultraviolet tube lights.
In a video shared with journalists, the robot rolls down the freezer aisle of a Whole Foods store, aiming UV light at the freezer doors. The robot could be used in warehouses and at Whole Foods stores to kill the virus on surfaces, such as food, packaging, and door handles.
Amazon spokesperson Kristen Kish said the company’s Robotics group has been designing and testing the UV robot. “We have great ideas coming from all areas of the company,” Kish told media men. “Our Robotics group in particular has become an R&D lab for COVID innovation first using machine learning to detect social distancing opportunities in our building, to now beginning to design and test disinfecting with mobile ultraviolet sanitation.”
“While these mobile units are not currently being used in any Amazon or Whole Foods Market locations, we’re excited about the possibilities and will continue to innovate to ensure that we are supporting our employees, customers, and communities,” she continued.
Scientists have been studying the impacts of UV light on viruses for years. Studies show the light can mutate the genetic material inside viruses and other microbes and making it impossible for them to reproduce. In other words, UV light can kill viruses and germs. Researchers at Columbia University are currently testing the effectiveness of a certain type of UV light called far UVC light against the novel coronavirus. This type of UV lights can kill viruses without harming humans, according to Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research. If it’s found to be effective, businesses could consider using these lights to disinfect surfaces and the air. Outfitting a big-box store or warehouse with these lights could be costly, however.
One scientist estimated that it could cost about $100,000 to install the lights inside an average-sized Walmart store, according to the New York Times. A roving robot like Amazon’s could be a lower-cost solution, if it’s proven to be as effective at disinfecting.