LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robot named Eden.
Xenex's robots emit light that dismantles organisms' DNA and disinfects hospital rooms. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

In the wake of the first confirmed case in San Antonio Thursday, a locally based company is hoping to deploy its robots in the fight against coronavirus.

A spokeswoman from Xenex Disinfection Services, a company headquartered in San Antonio, said Xenex representatives reached out to Lackland Airforce Base and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials last week, after learning 91 evacuees from China would be quarantined at the base for 14 days.

The company’s 3-foot-tall disinfection robot works by emitting UV rays from a pulsing xenon light bulb that quickly dismantles the DNA of viruses, bacteria, fungi and spores. Unable to reproduce, the pathogens can no longer spread, Xenex spokeswoman Melinda Hart said.

Xenex robots take anywhere between two and 20 minutes to complete a full disinfection cycle and have been proven to work against Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome – a type of coronavirus – in five minutes, Hart said.

The local case of coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, brings the national total up to 15 confirmed cases. Xenex is prepared to provide its room disinfection robots to any local facility that is treating confirmed or suspected coronavirus patients, Hart said Thursday afternoon.

“We have been contacted by numerous healthcare facilities worldwide who are treating suspected coronavirus patients and provided all of our hospital customers with protocols specific to disinfecting rooms where suspected coronavirus patients have been treated,” Hart said.

Amy Rowland, CDC spokeswoman, said while CDC officials saw Xenex’s email last week, the agency is not contracting with the company.

“We have no knowledge of this company,” Rowland said on Thursday.

Xenex’s disinfection robots are located at over 500 hospitals throughout the country, including locally at the University Hospital in San Antonio, Baptist Orthopedic Hospital, Brooke Army Medical Center, and the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans’ Hospital, Hart said.

Founded in Houston in 2008, Xenex moved to San Antonio, produced its first prototypes in 2010, and entered the market in 2011. The first Xenex robot in San Antonio operated at the veterans’ hospital in 2013.

The latest model of the robot costs about $100,000.

On its website, Xenex claims its robots can reduce infection rates by 50 to 100 percent.

Jeff Buysse, clinical surgery director at Baptist Orthopedic Hospital, said Baptist Orthopedic first got a Xenex robot in 2017, seeing the need to take all possible precautions against patient infections.

After adding the Xenex robot to its cleaning routine, Baptist Orthopedic has seen a sharp decline in patient infections, Buysse said.

“We have a real, ultra-small infection rate, 0.3 percent,” Buysse said.

This is critical for an orthopedic hospital in which full-joint surgeries are performed, as infections on full-joint replacements can be problematic, cause additional surgeries, and take up to six months to heal, Buysse said.

Though Xenex’s unsolicited offer appears to have been rebuffed by the CDC, the company has been contacted by Chinese Government representatives about how the technology can be deployed overseas, Hart said.

As of Thursday, there have been 59,804 cases of coronavirus in China and 1,367 deaths, according to the National Health Commission.

Xenex has been working with Chinese officials to confirm the protection of intellectual property before deploying any robots to China, Hart said.

“While our robots have not been tested against the Wuhan strain specifically … we are confident our robot could easily kill the virus,” she said.


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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.