Scientists Create UV Light-Emitting Drone to Fight COVID-19 from Above

The novel approach can reduce the impact of a second wave of COVID-19 by sterilizing a wide variety of surfaces.
Chris Young
The @UVCDrone sterilizing a hospital roomNUI Galway

In these difficult times, scientists have had to band together to collaborate on innovations to tackle the spread of COVID-19.

We've previously reported on the surge in disinfecting robots that use ultraviolet light (UV) to kill the virus on hospital surfaces.

Now, Irish scientists have collaborated to develop an innovative autonomous drone that delivers sterilizing UV light from above in order to disinfect public surfaces and reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and other viruses.  


Fighting COVID-19 with aerial precision 

The novel method, which harnesses the versatility of drones, was developed by researchers at NUI Galway's Health Innovation via Engineering (HIVE) lab. Their aim is to provide an added line of defense against a likely second surge of COVID-19 as lockdown regulations are eased worldwide. 

The researchers developed an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called the @UVCDrone, which uses UV light to sterilize surfaces. The same team successfully developed a drone that can send life-saving insulin to remote locations last year.

Led by NUI Galway’s Professor Derek O’Keeffe and Dr. Ted Vaughan with Dr. Kevin Johnson from the University of Limerick, the team came up with a solution that could help to sanitize a wide variety of public places, including hospital wards, restaurants, trains, shopping centers, and airport terminals.

In a press release from NUI, Dr Kevin Johnson, from the University of Limerick said, “COVID19 is a public health emergency and @UVCDrone is another important tool to help us defeat it.”

Sterilizing public spaces with UVC light

UV light (10-400 nm) is not visible to the human eye and is divided into three bands: UVA, UVB, and UVC. The @UVCDrone utilizes UVC (100-280nm) which is a high frequency, short wavelength radiation. This can destroy the genetic material of microorganisms, preventing their capacity to reproduce — therefore sterilizing surfaces.

The light is harmful to humans, so the @UVCDrone can easily be programmed to deliver the UVC light on surfaces at night time, or at specific times when spaces will be unoccupied.

The drone uses an AI algorithm to fly autonomously around a space while emitting its light over surrounding surfaces. Once finished, it lands back in its dock for recharging.

Just two days ago, researchers at Penn State, the University of Minnesota, and two Japanese universities, also unveiled their research into developing handheld ultraviolet light devices.

Professor of Medical Device Technology at NUI Galway and Consultant Physician University Hospital Galway, Professor Derek O’Keeffe said: “We need innovative solutions to fight COVID-19 and our @UVCDrone solution allows the delivery of sterilizing ultraviolet light to a wide variety of public space landscapes from staircases to shop floors.”

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