Skip to main content
Move the World.
UV Robots Can Sterilize an ICU in 10 Minutes
A UV disinfection robot sterilizes an intensive care unit at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center. Credit: KATU / Infection Prevention Technologies

UV disinfection cleaning robots could make hospitals safer and cleaner than ever before. They're a major step up from traditional human cleaning methods, which take more time, are less effective, and often miss crevices that can hide nasty bugs. This is an especially big deal for intensive care units and clean rooms for immunocompromised patients, and it’s possible that automated UV cleaning will soon become standard practice throughout the healthcare system.

Normal bacteria (left) can't survive anywhere near dots of antibiotics; drug-resistant bacteria (right) are unfazed.

Normal bacteria (left) can't survive anywhere near dots of antibiotics; drug-resistant bacteria (right) are unfazed. Credit: CDC

Hospitals Save Lives—But… Hospitals are full of sick people, and that can make them dangerous places. Even worse, they are full of sick people on antibiotics, potentially culturing deadly drug-resistant infections. This makes sanitation a uniquely important challenge for healthcare workers and staff, and hospitals do the best they can to make sure that surfaces are sterilized. Unfortunately, there’s a ton of surface area to clean, and plenty of places for them to hide. In 2011, the CDC estimated there were 721,800 hospital-related infections and 75,000 deaths, with more than 40% coming from ICUs.

Quite a few infections come from staff failing to sterilize their hands or instruments properly, but many also come from microbes hiding out in nooks and crannies missed by human cleaners, such as the spaces between computer keys. Inevitably, some will even survive the cleaning solutions, too. Bacteria are surprisingly resilient and adaptive. For instance, earlier this year, NASA discovered that germs in their sterile spacecraft-assembly rooms were actually feeding on the disinfectants meant to kill them.

Sunlight Is the Best Disinfectant (Literally): A little bit of ultraviolent radiation from the sun will give you a tan, but UV rays also damage DNA, so over time too much sunlight will increase your risk of skin cancer. But we can leverage the DNA-shredding power of high-frequency electromagnetic waves for good, by using them to kill stuff that wants to kill us. For instance, X-rays and gamma rays are used to disinfect meat, vegetables, and spices, destroying mold, parasites, and bacteria (like E. coli and Salmonella) that can be hiding inside the food.

A bit further down the frequency scale, UV rays can be used to clean and sterilize surfaces. A number of companies make UV disinfecting tools, but Infection Prevention Technologies says their latest model—a big cylinder on wheels, covered with high-powered UV lights—can destroy all microorganisms in just ten minutes. The high-frequency rays are dialed in to the precise wavelength that damages DNA, breaking up even the toughest germs, like MRSA, from the inside out.

Lab cultures from real hospital ICUs have found zero bacteria in the room after running the disinfection robots for 20 minutes. As a bonus, UV rays reflect off walls and hard surfaces, allowing it to get behind and around some objects, for an exceptionally fast and thorough floor-to-ceiling clean. The ICUs still do traditional disinfecting, but the UV robot provides an extra layer of protection that cleaning by hand never could.

The Upshot: Hospital-related infections are a persistent problem, costing us billions of dollars a year and thousands of lives. They are an especially big danger to the most vulnerable patients, like premature infants, cancer patients, and the immunocompromised. By combining ordinary disinfection and UV irradiation, we can crush pathogens between a rock and a hard place. Use of UV sterilization in healthcare is only likely to grow from here, especially given the increasingly widespread use of automated robot services in hospitals.

Up Next

Public Health
Can an Algorithm Predict the Next Disease Outbreak?
zoonotic disease
Public Health
Can an Algorithm Predict the Next Disease Outbreak?
Researchers are using this algorithm to predict which regions are likely to see a zoonotic disease outbreak, and hopefully prevent the next global pandemic.

Researchers are using this algorithm to predict which regions are likely to see a zoonotic disease outbreak, and hopefully prevent the next global pandemic.

Intel
The Future of Cancer Research
The Future of Cancer Research
Watch Now
Intel
The Future of Cancer Research
Intel's Bryce Olson used genomic sequencing to help fight his cancer. Now he’s helping researchers use artificial intelligence to discover entirely new cancer treatments.
Watch Now

Intel employee Bryce Olson was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. When the standard of care didn’t work, Bryce turned to genomic sequencing which allowed his doctors to identify specific genetic drivers of his disease and specific treatments and clinical trials that were a fit for his cancer. This precision medicine approach helped send his cancer into remission for several years. Now that his cancer has returned,...

Superhuman
Patients are Finding Relief from New Essential Tremors Treatment using Focused...
These Doctors are Performing Brain Surgery ... Using Sound
Watch Now
Superhuman
Patients are Finding Relief from New Essential Tremors Treatment using Focused...
Bonnie D'Ettorre suffers from a nerve disorder causing uncontrollable shaking. Doctors at Ohio State are about to "burn it out" using a thousand beams of ultrasound.
Watch Now

Patients stricken with “essential tremors” have their lives upended by this nerve disorder which causes uncontrollable shaking. But doctors at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are helping these patients find relief by “burning out” the problem-causing part of the brain with a high-intensity focused ultrasound. This miracle treatment significantly reduces tremors without the potential for complications posed...

The Smartwatch That Could Save Lives
The Smartwatch That Could Save Lives
Watch Now
The Smartwatch That Could Save Lives
Epilepsy can be a scary and dangerous condition. Could this seizure-detecting smartwatch provide peace of mind and save lives?
Watch Now

A start-up called Empatica has created a watch that can sense when an epileptic user is having a seizure. The device will then send the data to the individual's smart phone, which in turn will notify a pre-selected caregiver via phone call or SMS message. Having someone on call at all times to assist an individual with epilepsy can be incredibly comforting to that person and can even save his or her life. Additionally, the...

The New Space Race
Can This Startup Give Everyone Access to the Moon?
Can This Startup Give Everyone Access to the Moon?
The New Space Race
Can This Startup Give Everyone Access to the Moon?
With advanced navigational technology, Astrobotic wants to provide a routine, affordable, and accurate delivery...
By Mike Riggs

With advanced navigational technology, Astrobotic wants to provide a routine, affordable, and accurate delivery service to the moon.

The New Space Race
What Happens When Stuff Breaks in Space?
What Happens When Stuff Breaks in Space?
The New Space Race
What Happens When Stuff Breaks in Space?
Despite rigorous prep, astronauts often have to improvise when things go wrong in space. And a lot more duct tape...
By Mike Riggs

Despite rigorous prep, astronauts often have to improvise when things go wrong in space. And a lot more duct tape is involved than you may expect.

The New Space Race
New Space Race Trailer
New Space Race Trailer
Watch Now
The New Space Race
New Space Race Trailer
Meet the next generation of explorers taking us higher and farther than ever before.
Watch Now

In July of 2011, the U.S. suspended its decades-long Space Shuttle program, officially ending an era of space exploration that began over half a century ago. Some have mourned its passing as a sign of the times – as evidence that we could no longer dare to dream. But unbeknownst to many, a new era of private space exploration has already begun... and it’s firing on all cylinders. The New Space Race is the story of a...

Superhuman
Meet the Mom Curing Her Daughter's Incurable Disease
Meet the Mom Curing Her Daughter's Incurable Disease
Superhuman
Meet the Mom Curing Her Daughter's Incurable Disease
Karen Aiach isn't a doctor and has never worked in medicine. But when doctors said her daughter wouldn't live past...
By Mike Riggs

Karen Aiach isn't a doctor and has never worked in medicine. But when doctors said her daughter wouldn't live past adolescence, she knew she had to get to work.