Hong Kong start-up Roborn joins race to pioneer UV light disinfecting robots
- Roborn aims to sell its UV light robot at under HK$200,000 each, a third to half of the amount charged by rivals in China and Europe
- Nano and Advanced Materials Institute is testing a coating that can provide up to eight months’ antimicrobial protection when sprayed on plastics, metals, ceramics, glass and wood surfaces
Hong Kong, a global financial centre less known for its robotics expertise, will soon have a local start-up join the international race to make more affordable mobile ultraviolet light disinfecting machines.
Roborn Technology, which started selling a body temperature-checking robot three months ago to help security staff at government offices identify people with elevated temperatures, has put its pilot UV light robot to test in a private medical centre and shopping malls.
“While nearly everyone wears a face mask in public places in Hong Kong, we still have sporadic new community infections, which raise concerns about contaminated surfaces in public facilities,” Mark Mak Hin-yu, Roborn’s co-founder, said in an interview. “Disinfecting with UV light can be a safer, more thorough and lower-cost alternative to manual cleaning with chemicals.”
But unlike their crowd-scanning and temperature-checking peers that greet people at entrances, the disinfecting robots are not to be seen while doing their jobs, because UV-C light is harmful to human skin and eyes. However, UV-C light, which can break down the DNA of microorganisms, is a proven technology for disinfecting air, water and instruments for more than a century, and was being used in hospitals as early as the 1930s.
A 100 square feet space can be disinfected within just a minute of the robot’s deployment, Mak said. Larger spaces need longer exposure time.
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In recent years, multidrug resistant organisms and hospital-acquired infections have been a major reason for the advent and deployment of UV-C light tube-carrying robots in patient rooms, bathrooms, operating and equipment rooms.
The global UV-C robots market is estimated to be worth US$173 million last year, and is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 32.6 per cent to US$5.6 billion by 2027, according to a report by Verified Market Research.
Major market players focusing on the medical sector include US-based Xenex Disinfection Services and Tru-D SmartUVC, besides Denmark’s UVD Robots.
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“Hospitals have already been using UV light to disinfect operation theatres,” Mak said. “What we hear from local hospitals is that they want to use the robots in medical waste storage areas, which need to be disinfected very regularly amid the pandemic. This is currently mostly done manually.
“Similarly, property management firms have told us their high-priority areas for regular disinfection are cargo lifts, toilets, waste storage areas and corridors leading to them, especially in shopping malls with restaurants where oily surfaces are tough to clean and disinfect.”
Roborn, founded in 2017, recently signed an agreement with a Hong Kong company to act as distributor of the robots. This company has many business and public-sector clients, Mak said, adding that it aims to sell its UV light robot at under HK$200,000 (US$25,806) each, a third to half of the amount charged by two of its rivals in mainland China and Europe. It has reduced cost by sourcing components through its office in Jiangmen, in China’s southern Guangdong province, and assembling the robots in Hong Kong.
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The robots are equipped with a 360-degree camera that can help property management companies keep a record of its sanitation work.
Meanwhile, Nano and Advanced Materials Institute, a Hong Kong government-backed research and development centre, has been developing a “durable antibacterial and antiviral coating” since 2013, which has been patented and is being tested at Hong Kong Science and Technology Park and United Christian Hospital.
“Many enquiries have been received about the coating [because of the current pandemic], and two trials were conducted recently in the Legislative Council Complex and Tuen Mun Nursing Quarter,” a spokeswoman said.
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This coating, which the institute said can provide up to eight months’ antimicrobial protection when sprayed on plastics, metals, ceramics, glass and wood surfaces, has been licensed to two companies in Hong Kong and China, and the first batch of products is expected by September 30, she said without naming the firms.
Wiping with water, bleach solution and 70 per cent alcohol does not compromise its performance, the institute said.