Xenex Disinfection Services has one goal: to wipe out hospital-acquired infections, which claim some 100,000 American lives annually. The company's $125,000 LightStrike "germ- zapping robot" uses UV technology developed by two Johns Hopkins epidemiology PhDs and is now working in more than 500 hospitals and labs. As the coronavirus pandemic exploded, so did demand. While there is no clinical proof yet that LightStrike can zap Covid-19--tests are ongoing--the robot is clearly lethal to related pathogens such as MERS.
LightStrike uses xenon gas to create millisecond pulses of high-intensity, germicidal ultraviolet light, which deactivates the DNA of pathogens and prevents cell replication. It's also being used to disinfect precious surgical masks for reuse. When idle, the robot's light-emitting head retracts into the body.
A 2017 study at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston showed that combining standard manual wipe-downs in operating rooms with a two-minute cycle of robotic germ zapping reduced pathogens by more than 70 percent.
Name That Teammate
Each LightStrike leaves the factory with a name--the one pictured above has a Star Wars moniker. Others are named after Nobel Prize winners, scientists, or athletes. Hospitals sometimes hold their own renaming contests. R2Clean2, Violet, Sunny, Ray, and Germinator are popular choices.
It Saves Lives--and Money
Xenex initially promised to reduce infection rates by 5 percent. But hospitals report that rates are falling by 50 to 70 percent. Since treating one infection can cost tens of thousands of dollars, a LightStrike would need to prevent just a few infections to pay for itself.