USAG Wiesbaden gets COVID-busting robots to disinfect buildings

WIESBADEN, Germany – U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden recently got two robots that will help disinfect the air and surfaces in buildings using ultraviolet light.

Staff at the Mission Command Center and fitness center received training and programmed their robots Nov. 20. The air purifying robots can be controlled with a tablet device and move around the rooms, avoiding furniture and walls, similar to a robot vacuum cleaner.

The robot does not replace following COVID-19 protocols or cleaning and sanitizing with disinfectant solutions.

In fact, U.S. Army Europe and Africa takes a layered approach to keep personnel safe from the virus, said David Fulton, director of U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s Mission Support Element. He said keeping the building sanitized and ensuring staff follow all protocols is key to stopping the spread of COVID-19 at the facility.

The first layer is hand washing. U.S. Army Europe and Africa rents six troughs for hand washing at the garrison: at the MCC, Wiesbaden Army Health Clinic, Exchange, Clay shoppette, Commissary and the Wiesbaden Army Lodge. They are currently testing small heaters to bring hot water to all of the hand wash stations and working on getting pop-up tents and softer paper towels.

“I want people to be comfortable, with warm water and cover over them, so that in all weather they’ll stop and wash their hands,” Fulton said.

Signage is in place instructing people what to do, to ensure everyone follows protocols.

After washing hands, people entering the MCC have their temperatures checked with a thermal imaging camera. Mask wear and social distancing create more layers of protection.

On top of that is sanitizing the air and surfaces. This is where the COVID-19-buster robot comes in. Air is sucked in and passes through a light that sanitizes it of bacteria and viruses, he said. “Anything within about a meter and a half of the light; it’s neutralizing the pathogens.”

They are also working to get mobile ultraviolet germicidal irradiation systems to sanitize the air in conference rooms.

“The first line of cleaning will always be that organization doing its own disinfecting with the standard stuff,” Fulton said. The robot just brings an added layer of cleaning to higher traffic places, like the MCC and fitness center.

“This building is a very safe place to work, and that just improves our readiness,” he said. “We still have a good number of folks who are working remotely, and they’re able to be effective at doing that, and because they’re working remotely, we’re able to spread out more. All these layers allow people who need to be here in person to do their work to come in without fear of getting sick or bringing that home to their family.”

Maria Diaz, installation fitness coordinator, said the fitness center staff and patrons are grateful to Fulton for procuring the robot to continue keeping staff and customers safe. She noted that patrons must still do their part and be vigilant with cleaning, sanitizing and following protocols.

“Since we’ve opened, we haven’t had a single case here, and that’s a credit to the people who use the gym; they are wiping things down; they are doing the social distancing; they are wearing their masks.”