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Robots with virus-killing UV light to be tested on Swiss passenger planes

A robot armed with virus-killing ultraviolet light is being tested on Swiss airplanes, yet another idea aiming to restore passenger confidence and spare the travel industry more pandemic pain.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

UVeya, a Swiss startup, is trialing the robots with Dubai-based airport services company Dnata inside Embraer jets from Helvetic Airways.

UVeya co-founder Jodoc Elmiger said the UVC technology has been used for over 50 years in hospitals and laboratories. The fact that the rays could be harmful to humans prompted them to seek an autonomous robot to carry out the task.

Elmiger’s team has built three prototypes, so far, one of which he demonstrated on Wednesday (March 31) inside a Helvetic jet at the Zurich Airport where traffic plunged 75 percent last year.

The robot’s lights, mounted on a crucifix-shaped frame, cast everything in a soft-blue glow as it slowly moved up the Embraer’s aisle. One robot can disinfect a single-aisled plane in 13 minutes, start to finish, though larger planes take longer.

According to Elmiger, Aircraft makers still must certify the devices and are studying the impact their UV light may have on interior upholstery, which could fade after many disinfections.

While privately-owned Helvetic has not needed bailouts like much of the industry, its business has also been gutted, with its fleet sitting largely silently in hangars. UVeya’s UV robots may help change that, said Mehdi Guenin, a Helvetic spokesman.

“If our passengers, if our crew know our aircraft are safe — that there are no viruses or bacteria — it could help them to fly again,” Guenin said.

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