Safe Space Technologies' Mobile Disinfection Robot.

The coronavirus has a new enemy in Pittsburgh: robots.

The Pittsburgh-based company Safe Space Technologies makes robots that disinfect entire rooms using UVC (ultraviolet) light. They are intended for classrooms, offices, factories, gyms, cafeterias and other spaces of any size.

“We’ve come to know — and this is not new — that traditional cleaning methods, with chemicals applied by hand, are costly, labor-intensive and introduce the element of human error,” says Chris Proud of Safe Space Technologies. “That’s why we developed the autonomous disinfection robot. We think it’s a 21st-century answer to a very real 21st-century problem.”

The robot is a tall, thin set of UVC lights on wheels, with a sophisticated camera vision system on top.

“UVC light does not enter our atmosphere,” explains Proud. “It’s blocked by the ozone (layer). Because it’s never penetrated our atmosphere, viruses, bacteria, yeasts and molds have not had the need to develop defense mechanisms against UVC light.”

“In short, bacteria and viruses don’t have an immune system — have never had the need to develop one — against UVC light.”

Ultraviolet light isn’t a new technology. It has been used for decades to disinfect hospital rooms and surgical instruments.

The Safe Space Technologies robot is like a Roomba, where it goes about its business, cleaning a room on its own. Where it differs is not getting confused if it spots a person in the way.

“It won’t stop and turn around or not know what to do,” says Proud. “It will go around us.”

It can also detect the difference between people and other things in motion, like robots in a factory.

Safe Space Technologies employs 12 people in the West End and is currently hiring engineers to help with production and assembly. Manufacturing is done there, though the UV bulbs are imported from Germany.

Safe Space is a spinoff of two companies, which share the same building and have been around for 20-25 years.

It doesn’t take long for the robots to fully navigate and disinfect a room.

Shared Device Disinfection Cabinet from Safe Space Technologies.

“If you’re talking about large spaces like gyms or cafeterias, one robot in one hour’s time can disinfect 4,174 square feet,” says Proud. “It can run for a total of four hours. So you’re looking at 16,000-plus square feet in four hours of disinfection.”

Safe Space Technologies has two other products, a modular cart that provides UVC disinfection for rooms and a cabinet filled with UVC lights.

“We have a disinfection cabinet that we’ve been offering schools— you can hold up to 45 tablets in one cabinet, close the door, and within three minutes, all of those laptops or tablets have been disinfected at 99.99 percent.”

Though the company is new, they’re already in talks with 20 school districts across the country, including 10 in the greater Pittsburgh area. Plum Borough and Holy Family Catholic Schools are getting demonstrations of the technology in the coming weeks. Several Fortune 500 manufacturers are also using the technology, says Proud.

Safe Space Technologies is not the only Pittsburgh company to make UVC cleaning robots. Carnegie Robotics is using UVC lights in its floor-scrubbing robots at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.