The high-tech COVID solution

Could high-tech cleaning help keep us safe from COVID-19? Stuart Hands from Essity looks at some of the latest tech innovations designed to improve hygiene and reduce the risk of cross-contamination during the pandemic.

The world of cleaning has become increasingly high-tech over the past few years. Smart systems that involve the use of mobile phones and sensor technology have become much more prevalent in the industry.

Meanwhile, automatic vacuums and scrubber dryers are also becoming commonplace, with today’s robot cleaners evolving to clean safely around obstacles before returning quietly to their charging stations for a battery boost.

The main purpose of technological cleaning solutions has generally been to improve efficiency and maximise productivity in the commercial and industrial environment. But in early 2020, everything changed.

The coronavirus brought the world as we knew it to a standstill as offices, restaurants, shops, schools and gyms closed down around the world along with all other non- essential public facilities. And when they reopened, the focus shifted from cost-effectiveness and productivity to the much more urgent topics of hygiene and safety.

Fears of a ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 meant that technology once again came to the fore. Scientists and designers went into overdrive in a bid to come up with high-tech solutions that would improve public safety.

For example, London's Heathrow Airport began trialling cleaning robots using UV rays to kill viruses and bacteria. UV technology was also fitted to the airport’s escalators to allow them to be continuously disinfected, while self- cleaning anti-viral wraps were used to enhance the safety of security trays, lift buttons, trolleys and door handles.

Other forms of transport also began using technology to keep staff and customers safe. In the north of England, for example, Warrington’s Own Buses claim to have become the world’s first bus company to have installed air cleaning


devices across its operational fleet. AirBubbl filters are said to be able to remove more than 95% of airborne viruses and contaminated particulate matter from the environment, and these filters have been fitted to all bus cabins to help protect the drivers.

Technology is also being employed on buses in Spain. Spanish-based bus and coach manufacturer Irizar has developed a system that automatically sprays disinfectant into its vehicles via a pneumatic nebuliser, while smart cameras and detectors pinpoint those passengers who have a raised temperature or who aren’t wearing a face mask.

In China, Europe and the US there has been widespread deployment of drone technology to sanitise large open public spaces. Outdoor drones are being used to spray targeted doses of disinfectant over parks, stadia, the exteriors of hospital buildings and car parks, while smaller drones are sanitising indoor spaces such as offices, theatres and museums. Some of these drones are equipped with artificial intelligence so that route programming can be carried out remotely.

In fact, companies everywhere are developing technologies designed to inspire public confidence as we venture back out into the world. Hotel guests, for example, are understandably fearful of picking up the virus from their room’s previous occupant, so a textile company has created pillows, pillow protectors and mattress protectors that are claimed to offer protection against COVID-19. The Fine Bedding Company treats its linen with Viroblock technology which is said to be effective against the virus for at least 15 washes.

It’s inevitable that people should come up with smart solutions to reassure the public and to attempt to combat the pandemic, but viruses themselves are relatively simple and can be deactivated quite easily.

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