It might sound like the plot of an action movie, but a Memphis-based company is sending two germ-killing robots to West Africa to fight the war against Ebola.
The TRU-D SmartUVC is a robot designed to disinfect hospital environments using ultraviolet (UV) light, and two of those robots have been shipped to Liberia.
UV light has been used to disinfect water since the 19th century and has since been used to disinfect food, air, and surfaces. What makes the SmartUVC different is its use of "Sensor360" technology, which gives the device the ability to change its dose of ultraviolet light depending on different factors in the room, like objects or surfaces.
"Any organism is susceptible to UV, but you have to deliver the proper dose," said Chuck Dunn, the president and CEO of the Memphis-based TRU-D SmartUVC, LLC. "We place the unit near the center of the room, and we measure not the UV light that comes away from the device and reaches the wall but the amount of UV that is reflected back from the wall to the center part of the room.
"When we measure in that manner, we ensure that proper dose is delivered to the backside of objects or shadow areas. It won't be very useful to just disinfect some of the room. What all the research and the third-party data shows, when we deliver this measured dose — which takes a variable amount of time based on the room configuration — we have thoroughly disinfected the room and it's safe for the next patient."
Liberia and surrounding countries like Sierra Leone and Nigeria have been fighting an Ebola outbreak since March.
"They're treating a lot of people who are infected with Ebola. Patients who don't know whether they [are infected] or need to be treated for something other than Ebola are afraid to go to the hospital," Dunn said. "The Liberian task force on Ebola reached out to us and asked if we could help. We sent two devices over there and a tropical disease specialist to train people on how to use it."
Dr. Jeffery Deal, the inventor of the SmartUVC device and a tropical disease specialist, left for Liberia on August 18th. He will help deploy the devices and monitor the progress of the training for Liberian hospitals. Dunn said the Ebola virus is "quite susceptible" to UV light. The device itself has two settings: one that is anti-bacterial and another that kills spores, which are harder to disinfect. By using the lowest bacteria setting, according to Dunn, the device can eliminate Ebola on surfaces.
"We know it's going to effectively eliminate the organism," he said. "One of the main things they want to demonstrate to the population there is that the hospital is a safe place for them to go. Many of them are dying in the hospital, so they think that's the worst place they could possibly go. To encourage that it is a clean, safe, disinfected environment that can make them better: That's a big part of the goal."