Yesterday, PIT announced the deployment of two self-driving robots that use ultraviolet (UVC) rays to more thoroughly and efficiently clean floors throughout its terminals and other facilities. As reported by PIT's Blue Sky News, the airport claims to be the first in its industry to use robots with the ability for UVC cleaning, a method more commonly used in hospital settings.
“Passengers don’t just want to see a clean airport — they want to know it’s clean and they want to know it’s safe,” says Katherine Karolick, senior vice president of information technology for PIT. “Ultraviolet robots have been used in hospitals as a way to disinfect and kill microorganisms, so it is definitely something that makes sense for an airport.”
The robots were created in partnership with the Carnegie Robotics, a Pittsburgh-based company that develops robotics sensors and platforms for a variety of industries. The robots first scour and disinfect the floor with 88-pounds per square inch of water pressure. UVC rays then pass over the area to detect any remaining microorganisms.
The robots are designed to avoid running into passengers and objects blocking their path and can be piloted manually if needed.
While the effects of UVC on COVID-19 are not yet known, reports have shown that the method can kill other forms of the coronavirus, including severe acute respiratory syndrome, more commonly known as SARS.
The robots are part of a larger plan at PIT to incorporate UVC in cleaning beyond the floors to touch-points like handrails and elevator buttons.
It's also part of the efforts by PIT's leadership to find technological solutions to improve airport operations. This includes the PIT X-Bridge lab, an on-site 10,000-square-foot space that includes a design studio, maker space, and testing area.
The idea of using ultraviolet rays has floated around since the COVID-19 outbreak took hold. At a recent press briefing, President Donald Trump and William Bryan, an undersecretary with the Department of Homeland Security, even questioned if solar UV light should be used to treat the virus, which was quickly dismissed by medical professionals, including Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House's COVID-19 task force who was at the briefing.
However, as explained by the World Health Organization website, there are three types of UV light. UVA, which accounts for approximately 95% of UV radiation that reaches the Earth's surface, and UVB, which are harmful and exposure can lead to skin damage or skin cancer. UVC, while also dangerous, has a shorter wavelength than its counterparts and is less likely to penetrate the skin, making it easier to harness.
In April, researchers at Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research even claimed to develop a lower-grade form of UVC called Far-UVC that could potentially be more widely used to kill airborne pathogens at high-traffic places like airports, all without having any harmful effects on humans.
As airports prepare to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, PIT CEO, Christina Cassotis, believes the UVC robots will help travelers feel safer.
“The health and safety of airport staff and the traveling public are always the top priorities,” says Cassotis. “We know that restoring confidence in travel is going to be key to the industry recovery. That’s why we’re incorporating world-leading Pittsburgh technology as part of the solution.”