The Latest Weapon in the Fight Against Superbugs: Robots

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It sounds like something out of science fiction: a robot that rolls into a hospital room and zaps germs using ultraviolet light. But that’s precisely what biotechnology startup Xenex has created — and CEO Morris Miller says there’s a huge market for it.

“On a daily basis we are cleaning 5,000 to 7,000 rooms,” he told the tech news website Silicon Hills Aug. 26.

The Xenex robot uses pulsating UV rays to kill bacteria, viruses, mold, and fungus on 99.9% of surfaces in the rooms it cleans, and each robot can disinfect between 30 and 62 rooms per day.

The Xenex robot uses pulsating UV rays to kill bacteria, viruses, mold, and fungus on 99.9% of surfaces in the rooms it cleans, and each robot can disinfect between 30 and 62 rooms per day.
The Xenex robot uses pulsating UV rays to kill bacteria, viruses, mold, and fungus on 99.9% of surfaces in the rooms it cleans, and each robot can disinfect between 30 and 62 rooms per day.

That could be a potentially game-changing ability given the rise of so-called Hospital Acquired Infections and treatment-resistant superbugs.

Last month, Westchester Medical Center In Valhalla, NY, reported that it had reduced infection rates of Clostridium difficile, a dangerous bacterium, by 70% after implementing Xenex robots in its intensive care unit. It’s among more than 300 hospitals, surgery centers, Veterans Affairs facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and long-term care facilities that have started using the robots — which bear a resemblance to Star Wars’ R2-D2.

Xenex isn’t the only player in this emerging market, either.

Due largely to the ebola crisis over the last year, the market for these germ-zapping robots is expected to reach $80 million by 2017.

“[Using a disinfection robot] takes the guesswork out of previous protocols and ensures confidence in clinicians and patients alike,” explained Chuck Dunn, president of TRU-D LLC — Xenex’s biggest competitor — in a ZDNet.com article earlier this month.

Will we ever see these types of robots available for household use? After all, just your average kitchen dishcloth can contain 4 billion living germs.

The answer is maybe, though probably not any time soon.

“[Germ-eradicating robots] are executing well in their chosen field,” Paul Castella, co-founder of Targeted Technology Fund I and II, an investor in Xenex, told Silicon Hills. “There’s a ton of possibilities for expansion into other areas.”

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