Wednesday, November 25 , 2015, 11:17 am | Partly Cloudy 60º

Bacteria-Killing Robots Make Debut in Patient Rooms at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital

Clean machines use intense ultraviolet light to eliminate bacteria and prevent hospital-aquired illnesses

By Shaun Kahmann, Noozhawk Intern | @NoozhawkNews |

(Noozhawk video)

In an effort to drive down infection rates, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital is adopting twins: Shelby and Lacey, two germ-killing robots capable of making patient rooms nearly bacteria-free.

Manufactured by Xenex Healthcare Services, the robots reportedly can reduce the presence of bacteria in hospital rooms by as much as 98 percent in five to 10 minutes by bathing them in ultraviolet light 25,000 times more intense than the sun.

Cottage Health System CEO Ron Werft said Cottage is the first on the Central Coast to deploy the $100,000, “R2-D2-looking” robots as part of a broader strategy to combat the growing problem of hospital-acquired illnesses, or HAIs.

“We are very proud of our low infection rates, but we won’t be satisfied until that number is zero,” Werft told Noozhawk.

Scroll down for a video showing the robot demonstration at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. 

A 2011 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found as many as one in 25 patients had contracted an infection from the hospital in which they were staying. Although recent efforts have reduced the prevalence of some HAIs by as much as 47 percent, it continues to be a serious issue.

“The cost to the health-care system runs into the billions of dollars and causes hundreds of thousands of deaths per year,” said Dr. David Fisk, medical director for Cottage’s infection control program.

When ultraviolet radiation makes contact with human skin, it permanently alters its DNA structure. In humans, this can cause burns or cancer in extreme cases, but it completely obliterates bacteria.

“Imagine UV light like a radio dial,” Xenex science director Sarah Simmons said. “You can tune into different stations, and we can tune into different types of DNA damage to bacteria.”

There are four different types of damage the robots can inflict on bacteria. Two of them can break chemical bonds in bacteria, causing lethal “typos” in their DNA.

The other two are a bit more graphic, as they can “actually shred the DNA into tiny pieces and smash them,” according to Simmons.

“People ask us if it can kill Ebola — absolutely. If it’s single-celled and has DNA, we’re going to kill it,” she said with a laugh.

Each robot resembles a trash can that can raise its own lid to reveal emitters that project ultraviolet light.

The robots are specifically designed to target bacteria most commonly found in hospital rooms, and are meant to be operated when the rooms are unoccupied. They will be used in conjunction with conventional cleaning methods.

The devices are up to 20 times more effective than standard chemical cleaning, according to Cottage. The hospital publishes its infection rates on its website.

— Noozhawk intern Shaun Kahmann can be reached at [email protected] Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk,@NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

comments powered by Disqus

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.