San Antonio robotics company Xenex Disinfection Services has become the first to scientifically prove its robot can sterilize a room of the SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – and it can do so in less than two minutes. 

The testing began in February after Xenex sought out a partnership with the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, which had acquired the SARS-CoV-2 contagion to begin research toward developing a vaccine. Xenex wanted to prove that its LightStrike germ-zapping robot could deactivate the virus using pulsating xenon lamps to generate bursts of high-intensity germicidal light, which kills viruses, bacteria, and fungal spores.

“Xenex is an evidence-based company; we’re focused on our claims being backed by scientific research,” Xenex spokeswoman Melinda Hart said. 

Xenex had started ramping up manufacturing in December after learning about COVID-19’s destructive presence in Wuhan, China. But as one of many disinfecting robots on the market, Xenex needed to set itself apart from the group.

Dr. Ricardo Carrion and his team of six scientists have been leading the research on the novel coronavirus and they were the ones who tested the LightStrike robot’s efficacy against it. During a two-month period, they placed the virus on various surfaces in a biosafety level 4 lab – the most secure biosafety level lab – and ran the LightStrike robot at one, two, and five-minute intervals. After each interval, the researchers tested the number of viral particles remaining on surfaces, Texas Biomed President and CEO Dr. Larry Schlesinger said.

At two minutes, the LightStrike robot killed 99.99 percent of the virus both on hard surfaces such as desks and tables, and soft surfaces such as cloth and masks, he said. 

Schlesinger said the lab conducted these tests and re-evaluations during a two-month span to ensure accuracy before publicly confirming the robot does destroy the live virus’ capability of spreading and reproducing.

Since the company’s founding in 2008, Xenex’s robots have been used in more than 500 healthcare facilities around the world, including locally at the University Hospital in San Antonio, Baptist Orthopedic Hospital, Brooke Army Medical Center, and the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans’ Hospital, according to the company, but now it can confidently say their robot kills the novel coronavirus.

A LightStrike robot costs about $100,000, Hart said, and Xenex also provides leasing options for customers. It does not currently rent its robots for single-use disinfection purposes, she said. 

Since the start of the pandemic, Xenex has seen its sales increase 600 percent, Hart said.

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“We’ve sold more than 70 [to] VA hospitals and 10 [to] DoD facilities,” Hart stated in an email. “The robots are being used in Austin to decontaminate rooms and areas in the Texas Division of Emergency Management, which manages the all-hazards emergency management plan for the state, and the Texas State Capitol building (to disinfect offices, conference rooms, and areas where the governor and his staff meet).”

The Department of Defense also is testing the LightStrike robot for use in decontaminating airplanes and research labs, Hart added.

“COVID-19 caused the world to stop in its tracks,” Dr. Mark Stibich, chief scientific officer and co-founder of Xenex said in an official statement. “As we discuss and plan for re-entry, disinfection of public spaces is a major priority to reduce the risk of disease transmission. Putting an effective infection prevention infrastructure in place now is essential.”

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett reports on business and technology for the Rivard Report.