Interview with Stefan Walko, Managing Director & COO, ICA Traffic GmbH
Hospitals are considered to bea primary route of disease transmission. That is why patient rooms, operating rooms, and waiting areas should be disinfected regularly and thoroughly - and not just during the coronavirus pandemic. At the virtual.MEDICA trade fair, ICA Traffic GmbH will showcase the HERO21 robot, a disinfection unit that uses UVC radiation.
Stefan Walko, Managing Director & COO, ICA Traffic GmbH
In this MEDICA-tradefair.com interview, Stefan Walko explains how the innovative disinfection robot works, describes the drawbacks of common disinfection techniques and reveals what he expects from the virtual.MEDICA 2020 trade fair.
Stefan Walko: The robot can move fully autonomously through a building – from its charging dock to the desired location – and disinfect a targeted room. We are using the robot platform of one of the world's leading manufacturers that has studied this subject for decades. During a brief learning phase, the robot is driven into the room via a joystick and heads into every corner. Using laser sensors, it scans all items – pieces of furniture and objects – and remembers them. In the real world, objects are moved and don’t necessarily stay in the same place. The robot is able to detect this change and takes a different route to get to its target destination and disinfect as many objects as possible. Each room can be saved under a specific name, for example, "Operating Room 1". The operator can select said room via an app, allowing the robot to then autonomously move to the destination. In compliance with current safety regulations and standards, the operator must check that there are no persons inside the respective room before pressing the start button to initiate the process. The robot then proceeds to disinfect the room using UVC radiation. This takes between 5 to 10 minutes for 30 square meters of space. The disinfected room is subsequently cleared for re-entry.
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For a room of 30 square meters, the robot needs about 5 to 10 minutes for disinfection. Then the room can be entered again.
How is this robot better than conventional methods of disinfection?
Walko: The classic method for disinfection currently used at hospitals is the so-called scrub and wipe technique where staff uses disinfectants to sanitize surfaces. Since there are many types of medications and different disinfectants, bacteria build resistance to these ingredients over time. This means you have to continuously develop new types of disinfectants and bring them to market. The UVC disinfection robot kills virtually all germs.
UVC radiation has a higher energy and shorter wavelength and does not occur naturally on earth because it is filtered out by the ozone layer in the atmosphere. It is capable of inactivating a wide spectrum of viruses and bacteria by deeply penetrating into the DNA or RNA of the respective microorganism and damaging it. This process enables us to neutralize germs on surfaces or to remove aerosols in the air. It is more effective than traditional disinfection with scrubbing and wiping. Theoretically, we don’t even need to know which types of microorganisms are present. However, if we identify the type of germ, we can optimize the robot’s operation. You can completely inactivate coronaviruses in just a few seconds, for example. Another great advantage is that we can automatically record all steps and analyze them if required.
This also protects healthcare workers. With conventional methods, a person disinfects a room while wearing protective clothing. Even so, there is always still a risk of infection. Meanwhile, the robot continuously sanitizes itself during operation.
The HERO21 disinfects rooms using UVC radiation.
Is this the future of disinfection?
Walko: I definitely think this disinfection method is more than sustainable. Right now, the problem is that the Robert Koch Institute (a German federal government agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention) has not yet approved it as a standard procedure. Meanwhile, both the US and countries in Asia have applied UVC technology to disinfect hospital surfaces for quite some time. The process is also popular as a water treatment technique or application in the food industry. Our challenge is to also establish this process in Germany and make it a standard in hospital hygiene in the future.
What do you expect from attending the virtual.MEDICA 2020 trade fair?
Walko: This is our first year of attending the show. Our primary expectation of virtual.MEDICA is to raise awareness and educate. On the one hand, we aim to show people how the technology works, and how efficient and relevant it will be in the future. Our experience has shown that disinfection describes a process that largely depends on the specific application and its unique requirements. That’s also why we want to gain a better understanding of everyday hospital and health care processes on our part to optimize product integration. We plan is to have exciting conversations so we can improve our processes in the future.
The interview was conducted by Elena Blume and translated from German by Elena O'Meara. MEDICA-tradefair.com