A new and improved version of a germ-zapping robot has been unveiled by a San Antonio’s tech company, and it promises to rid rooms of the novel coronavirus and other pathogens more efficiently than before.

The LightStrike6 is “faster and smarter” than its predecessors, said Melinda Hart, a spokeswoman for Xenex Disinfection Services.

The robots, which in recent weeks have landed cameos on Grey’s Anatomy and Chicago Med, are 3 feet tall and bear a passing resemblance to R2-D2 from Star Wars.  

When activated, the robot emits a burst of intense UV light at unusual wavelengths – “a kind of light that doesn’t occur naturally on earth,” Hart said.

The cleansing light pierces the cell wall of pathogens like the novel coronavirus, breaking open the cell wall and causing it irreparable damage.

Jeff Buysse, the director of orthopedic surgery at Baptist Orthopedic Hospital, said the robot used by the hospital since 2017 is “extremely reliable,” and credited it for the surgery department’s ultra-low rate of infection.

“After you zap a room, it smells like a fresh rain,” he said. “Nice and clean.”

In May, Xenex became the first company of its kind to scientifically prove its robots can sterilize a room of coronavirus – the virus that causes COVID-19. The Texas Biomedical Research Institute reported that the robots killed 99.99 percent of the virus in two minutes.

Before the pandemic, the robots were used primarily in health care facilities to battle common infections such as staph.

Xenex began ramping up manufacturing at the end of last year, as the Wuhan region in China fell first to what experts knew would become a worldwide pandemic.

Since then, the company said it has seen revenue rise 600 percent as hotels, car dealerships, restaurants, and now airports seek to employ new measures against the virus’ deadly spread.

 “We’ve been working seven days a week since March,” Hart said.

Over previous versions, the LightStrike 6 can disinfect more rooms per day, allows more flexibility for customization to different rooms, and has handles on both sides, allowing for easier maneuvering. Improved cloud capabilities allow the robot to automatically install updates.

It is also more durable, to better withstand the constant dinging it endures when carted to different rooms.

In a minor change, but one Hart said comes from customer feedback, is the addition of a timer to the safety cone placed outside the room where a robot is in operation. The cone, wirelessly connected to the robot, can communicate how much time is left before the room is safe to enter. Human eyes can be irritated by the particular UV rays emitted by the robot, Hart said.

The cone is just one of the robot’s safety measures, which also include a motion sensor that aborts any operation when it detects someone entering the room.

The LightStrike6 costs $125,000, and can be expected to last around five to seven years.

Waylon Cunningham covered business and technology for the San Antonio Report.