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The Market for UV Light-Wielding Robots Is Growing

The makers of a robot that uses UV light to sanitize public spaces are finding new opportunities to deploy their products. Recently, the Texas Capitol building began using 12 of the robots to protect lawmakers and staff.

Ultraviolet lamps.
Ultraviolet lamps.
Shutterstock/Sergey Ryzhov
(TNS) — San Antonio's disinfecting robot manufacturer, Xenex, kicked off 2021 by expanding both its facilities and its business.

With sales soaring 600 percent in 2020, due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, the privately held firm outgrew its old space. But it found a new home in a business park two miles away, near Wurzbach Parkway and San Antonio International Airport.

"We've gone from 30,000 square feet spread across three different offices in the same complex to about 40,000 square feet, all under one roof," CEO Morris Miller said. "That includes production, engineering, science, management, sales, marketing, accounting — everybody's together."

While some employees are working from home, others are working in the new space. The smell of fresh paint and new carpet permeated the air Tuesday. Many of the walls are a deep purple.

"Somehow we arrived at the robot having a purple color — it just kind of resonated," Miller said. "When you think about ultraviolet light, that happens to be purple, and because we're the leader in the ultraviolet space, I thought that makes sense."

As the company settles into its new digs, it continues to sell LightStrike Robots to hospitals, hotels, restaurants, office buildings, sporting venues and schools around the world.

Last week, the company announced two robots are now helping the San Antonio Spurs sanitize the AT&T center.

And when the 87th Texas State Legislature opened Jan. 12, the Texas Capitol building deployed 12 of the barrel-sized machines that use broad-spectrum, high-intensity ultraviolet light to help protect lawmakers and visitors from pathogens.

"The State Preservation Board employs a full spectrum of cleaning and disinfecting efforts to counter the spread of COVID-19 at the Texas State Capitol," said spokesperson Chris Currens in an e-mail. "The cleaning robots are one element of that effort, along with other innovative products."

The Capitol building is the first statehouse to use LightStrikes, but they are in numerous federal buildings, including 110 military and Veterans Affairs facilities, around the country, according to Miller.

One key to the robot's effectiveness is the company's proprietary technology that allows the machines to deliver ultraviolet light that's 4,300 times more intense than traditional methods, he said. A University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center study found Xenex robots kill 22 times more germs than manual housekeeping alone.

"It's just a huge differential in power, and it's that power that ends up destroying the pathogen," he said. "Our light is on so quickly that it doesn't damage surfaces or materials."

While the machines cost more than $100,000 each, operators can sanitize up to 7,000 square feet an hour, according to Miller. And, they're not intended to replace housekeeping staffs — they're meant to augment people, he said.

"It's called cobotics ... the combination of robots and people cooperating to get things done," he said. "A person can put (a robot) in place, disinfect, put it in another place, disinfect — every two minutes moving it around.

"That cooperation, that cobotics — it makes it fast, makes it work."

©2021 the San Antonio Express-News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.