Meet the Ultraviolet Robots Pittsburgh Airport Plans to Use to Combat COVID-19

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By Cassandra Stone

May 8, 2020

“Ultraviolet robots have been used in hospitals as a way to disinfect and kill microorganisms, so it is definitely something that makes sense for an airport.”

Pittsburgh International Airport will be incorporating robots to clean floors via ultraviolet light—the first airport in the U.S. to utilize such technology. The airport is teaming up with Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Robotics to deploy the self-driving, floor-scrubbing robots as a cleaning tool.

The robot solution is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as airports are high-traffic areas that will need enhanced cleaning methods for proper sanitization. The robotics system uses a UVC fixture to release intense ultraviolet rays onto the floor to sanitize each terminal after the scrubbers have cleaned it. UVC rays have been used to sanitize hospital rooms, laboratories, and in wastewater treatment to kill microbes and other organisms by stopping cells from reproducing. 

“The application of UV is part of a strategic airport-wide approach to cleaning as airport officials look to incorporate UV disinfecting technology in additional ways, including on handrails of escalators and moving walkways, elevator buttons and other high-touch areas,” Katherine Karolick, senior vice president of Information Technology for Pittsburgh International Airport, told KDKA.

The airport’s partnership with Carnegie Robotics is just the beginning of using robots to help disinfect the terminals, according to Christina Cassotis, CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority. She says the airport hopes to use ultraviolet-disinfecting technology to sterilize handrails, escalators, moving walkways, elevator buttons, and other parts of the terminals that are touched often by many people.

“The health and safety of airport staff and the traveling public are always the top priorities,” Cassotis said in a statement. “We know that restoring confidence in travel is going to be key to the industry recovery. That’s why we’re partnering with world-leading Pittsburgh technology companies to help develop solutions.”

According to the airport, the scrubbers will scour the floor surface with 88 pounds per square inch of water pressure. Chemical disinfectant can be added to the process for a deeper clean, and the UV rays then pass over, creating three different levels of cleaning for each surface.

“Passengers don’t just want to see a clean airport — they want to know it’s clean and they want to know it’s safe,” Karolick said, per KDKA. “Ultraviolet robots have been used in hospitals as a way to disinfect and kill microorganisms, so it is definitely something that makes sense for an airport.”

After the UV scrubber passes over the floor surfaces, researchers plan to examine it to determine if any microorganisms remain. The cleaning robots are currently being tested in the airport’s landside and airside buildings before being incorporated into daily cleaning routines.

Pittsburgh International Airport is hopeful that the robotic cleaning technology will help travelers feel more confident in air travel, which has seen a major decrease since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh International has seen the number of travelers decrease as much as 97% on any given day.

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