Air Force Ready to Fight Ebola with Virus-killing Robot

141020-F-VN235-023Air Force doctors at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia have a germ-killing robot ready to help keep rooms clean should any returning service member show symptoms of Ebola.

The 366th Medical Group at Langley is responsible for housing and monitoring troops returning from Ebola aid missions to West Africa during a mandatory 21-day quarantine period.

The 5’2”-inch robot, named Saul, is essentially a germ terminator whose pulses of high-intensity, high-energy ultraviolet rays can destroy viruses lurking in areas where hazmat-suited humans using traditional cleansers cannot reach, according to the Air Force.

“Saul will provide an extra measure of safety for both our patients and our intensive care unit staff,” Col. Marlene Kerchenski, chief nurse of the 633rd Medical Group at Langley said. Saul’s role is to do a final mop-up in contaminated environments.

There are about 1,800 American troops in Liberia and Senegal for the Ebola mission, as well as about 100 contractors and close to 60 Defense Department civilians, according to the Pentagon. The quarantine is mandatory only for service members.

Langley-Eustis is one of five U.S. bases chosen by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey to look after troops returning from West Africa during a 21-day isolation period. The other bases are Fort Hood and Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. The quarantine is mandatory for service members, though not for Defense Department civilians.

The robot is made by Xenex of San Antonio, which has sold more than 200 of their “germ zappers” to hospitals, according to the company.

The ultraviolet ray pulses emitted by Saul are 25,000 times brighter than florescent lights, Geri Genant, Xenex’s health care services manager. The rays split open bacterial cell walls and kill pathogens.

“Xenex has tested its full spectrum disinfection system on 22 microorganisms, studying nearly 2,000 samples in several independent labs all over the world,” said Genant.

The machine has already shown it can kill a single strand of ribonucleic acid, a virus similar to Ebola, two meters out in any direction, within five minutes, at an efficiency rate of 99.9 percent, Genant said.

Kerchenski said Saul will be used throughout the hospital on a rotating basis.

“Our surgical services groups have already been trained on this, so we will use them as well as our service representative for a train the trainer type program,” she said.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • would b cool

    I hope it makes a cool scifi sound. It needs a cool scifi sound.

    • tiger

      What do you want, the thing from “Lost in Space?” Warning, warning. Danger Will Robinson!”

  • Kostas

    They need to define what they mean by the 99.9% efficiency. If they mean 99.9% of the viruses it would simply be useless, there are millions of viruses even in microscopic droplets….

    • Greg

      Nothing is 100% in science duh.

    • blight_weroasdfl

      Viruses are thankfully far less environmentally persistent than bacteria. You can combat both with systems such as UV, peroxide and bleach, but these systems aren’t foolproof.

      Re-designing hospital rooms to eliminate corners and nooks where cleaning is incomplete will be helpful. The other option is putting UV lamps into rooms and turning them on when people aren’t inside to ambiently sterilize a room when not in use: this will take care of anything exposed to the UV light. Hospital beds and the like with nooks where virions can hide out from light or chemical steriliants need a redesign to minimize surface area and to maximize exposed areas for ease of sterilization.

  • oblatt22

    The great thing about our military is that a lot of marginal and even dangerous things can be tried out easily. Whether its untested anthrax drugs or disinfection equipment with marginal utility such as this its ok to fail because there is next to no liability.

  • tiger

    Does it wash dishes?

  • bill

    Ribonucleic acid is RNA… and RNA is the information transcribed from DNA to code for proteins. It is not an acid, it is something that our body relies on every second. Eliminating the RNA eliminates the codes for proteins. How does that help us?

    • blight_weroasdfl

      The skin does a good job protecting the body from short term UV exposure. Bear in mind our ancestors worked under sunlight for decades as farmers or hunters, etc.

      Also, the radiation doses used will probably mean that the UV robot must be used on an empty room.

  • Gabriel

    The 366th is located in Mountain Home AFB in Idaho, the 633rd however is based in Langley AFB Virginia.

  • blight_weroasdfl

    Looks like my employer is getting the very same Xenex machines!

    Over the past two years, Clostridium difficile (C-diff) infections rates have remained stable, but certain …hospital units have seen rates rise to three- to five-times the average institutional rate. As a result, … is pursuing additional measures and new strategies to reduce C-diff infections further.

    Given the risk to patient safety, as well as the increasing visibility and significance of the problem nationwide, … is collaborating with The Joint Commission and four other medical centers to reduce C-diff infections by January 2015. To succeed, this project will require a multidisciplinary effort across Infection Prevention and Control, Environmental Services, and Antimicrobial Stewardship, as well as for staff nurses and providers.

    … now uses a new intervention: ultraviolet (UV) cleaning robots Dex and Phoenix. These robots pulse xenon UV light that can kill C-diff spores in five minutes. Environmental Services will pilot these robots on … through February 2015. Then, data will be reviewed to see what impact these robots have on C-diff infection rates.

    • blight_weroasdfl

      I will note that C. difficile spores survive stomach acid, so if you ingest them they will live to grow in your colon and give you problems. That is why hospitals have invested so much in sterilization systems.

      The average cost to a hospital for a single C. diff treatment is something like 100k. And if you’re elderly or immunocompromised, a C. diff infection is the last thing you need.