San Antonio’s latest television starlet isn’t human. 

Violet, a germ-zapping robot created by San Antonio robotics company Xenex, made its TV debut on the popular medical series Grey’s Anatomy last week. A second germicidal robot will be featured on the newest season of Chicago Med in upcoming weeks.

With shows such as Grey’s and Chicago Med striving to portray the real-life difficulties doctors face during a global pandemic in their newest seasons, both ABC and NBC are working with the local robotics firm to accurately show how Xenex’s high-intensity germicidal light robots are being utilized in hospitals around the world.  

After scientifically proving earlier this year its robots can sterilize a room while killing the novel virus that causes COVID-19, Xenex’s LightStrike robot has seen exponential growth in sales as in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Xenex spokeswoman Melinda Hart said.

The company has been in recent headlines for being awarded a $20 million contract from Astronics Corp., a New York-based company, to manufacture more of the germ-zapping robots, and also after the NFL’s Carolina Panthers announced they’d be deploying the robots at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

The Xenex marketing team reached out to ABC in August to see if the network would be interested in borrowing one of the robots for Grey’s, Hart said. 

“Their executive producer called us to say they were very interested, and it all went super fast from there,” Hart said. 

Days after the call with ABC, the Xenex team received another call from “out of the blue” – this time from NBC asking if the robotics company had any robots available in the Chicago area that could be borrowed, Hart said. 

Writers and producers from both shows requested to see the scientific research that had been done with the Xenex robots to check that they were legitimate and understand more about how they worked, Hart said. 

“That’s been really interesting about this experience. Both TV shows did a lot of research in terms of wanting to look at the peer-reviewed studies to make sure that our tech works and does what we say it does,” Hart said. “It was fascinating to see the level of research they went into with both shows to portray everything accurately.”

Writers of the shows then worked with Xenex on how to operate the robots. A Xenex employee went up to Los Angeles where she stayed with the Grey’s cast for two weeks and taught the cast and crew how to use one, Hart said. A Xenex representative from Illinois drove a robot to Chicago for Chicago Med, she added.

The robot appeared in Grey’s season 17 premiere Thursday night where it is given the name Violet by Dr. Miranda Bailey who is speaking about the robot with Chief Richard Webber. 

“Bailey, what the hell is that?” Webber, portrayed by James Pickens Jr., asks. 

“Oh, not thather,” replies Bailey, who is played by Chandra Wilson. “She’s my new best friend, she hates germs just as much as I do.”

Wilson’s character goes on to describe how the Xenex robot works – using pulsating xenon lamps to generate bursts of high-intensity germicidal ultraviolet light, which kills viruses, bacteria, and fungal spores. 

For use on the show, the producers had to replace the xenon lamps with LED lights, so the cameras could pick up the pulsations, Hart said.

Xenex CEO Morris Miller said he would not have imagined a year ago that the company’s robots would be featured on a major-network TV show.

“The same [goes] for seeing our robots in airports, hotels, schools, and office buildings,” he said. “We knew there were opportunities and applications for our technology outside of health care, and it’s happening now because the pandemic has made disinfection a priority across all industries.”

While it is fun to see Violet on TV, Xenex remains focused on working with health care professionals to control the pandemic, Miller said.

“The need to provide hospital-grade disinfection, the kind that we’ve been delivering to the world’s best hospitals, is now top of mind for everyone,” he said.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct nature of the contract between Xenex and Astronics Corp.

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett reports on business and technology for the San Antonio Report.