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LightStrike’s virus-killing robot zaps airport viruses amid pandemic travel

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As air travel gains some steam and coronavirus-related shutdowns return in pockets of the country, one of the latest iterations of virus-fighting tech at the airport is a germ-zapping robot at San Antonio International Airport in Texas. It’s called LightStrike, and other airports are considering whether to invest in the $125,000 device that has been shown to be effective against the coronavirus. Some airports are watching to see whether travel improves over the coming weeks, according to officials at Xenex, the company behind the device.

“When you bring something like SARS-CoV-2 into focus, institutions like hotels, airlines, professional sports teams, they’re looking for what’s best-in-class to kill it,” said Morris Miller, CEO of Xenex.

Xenex says that its robot business has increased 600 percent amid the pandemic. Most of the increase is related to the health-care industry, but the robot also has entered new markets such as hotels, professional sports facilities and police stations.

Initially developed for use in hospitals and recently picked up by a local school district in Texas, LightStrike is 43 inches tall, about the size of a wheelchair, and has to be pushed along by an operator to reach targeted areas.

The high-tech plug-in pushcart uses powerful bursts of UV light to combat viruses on surfaces within a seven-foot radius in each direction, according to Mark Stibich, an infectious-diseases epidemiologist and chief scientific officer at Xenex.

It’s been known for decades that UV radiation can destroy viruses by chemically altering their genetic material. However, different pathogens are susceptible to UV light at varying wavelengths. Many traditional UV devices use low-intensity mercury bulbs, which means they may take longer to kill organic material such as viruses. By contrast, LightStrike robots have a powerful xenon UV-C light source capable of damaging the DNA and RNA of viruses in a matter of minutes.

When plugged in, the machine stores up a charge and releases the UV light in quick, pulsating bursts that also happen to be gentler on surfaces than continuous UV rays generated by mercury, according to Xenex. The device is not safe for use on humans, and the company built in a motion sensor, so the robot automatically turns off if a person comes within a certain range.

In a test run at San Antonio-based Texas Biomedical Research Institute, the robot destroyed the coronavirus in two minutes. It has also been effective at obliterating some superbugs such as C. diff, a bacterium that causes severe diarrhea and is resistant to many disinfectants.

To combat the coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19, Xenex encourages operators to leave the UV-C light in reach of highly touched surfaces for at least two minutes to maximize efficiency. The surfaces are immediately safe to use and touch after the disinfecting cycle is complete. The number of cycles required to disinfect a room depends on the size of the space, the company says.

While robot cleaners can provide an additional layer of protection against spreading the virus, their value is questionable at airports, according to some epidemiologists. Sure, the technology represents a way of disinfecting surfaces such as handrails, kiosks, water fountains and bathrooms, but that’s not the primary way for the virus to travel. Also, disinfecting points of physical contact has little effect on circulating air that might transport respiratory illnesses, experts say.

Still, the devices may help the struggling travel industry motivate some people to start moving again.

“Surface transmission is one of the least likely ways that an individual would catch coronavirus,” said Mercedes Carnethon, professor of epidemiology at Northwestern University. “Perhaps robots are a measure that’s reassuring to individuals, but it’s not really going to have a large-scale impact.”

Hand-washing is still encouraged if you come in contact with highly touched or unclean surfaces, which may pose a small risk if you touch your face.

Despite innovative tech and the latest talk of possible vaccines, the U.S. air travel industry still has a long way to go to reach pre-coronavirus levels. In the seven days ending Nov. 17, air travel was down 63 percent compared to the same period last year. That represented a modest improvement over a 66 percent drop tallied a week earlier.

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Tony Hsieh’s Fatal Night: An Argument, Drugs, a Locked Door and Sudden Fire

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Tony Hsieh, who developed Zappos into a billion-dollar internet shoe store and formulated an influential theory about corporate happiness, deliberately locked himself in a shed moments before it was consumed by the fire that would kill him.

Last November, Mr. Hsieh was visiting his girlfriend, Rachael Brown, in her new $1.3 million riverfront house in New London, Conn. After the couple had an argument about the messiness of the house, Mr. Hsieh set up camp in the attached pool storage shed, which was full of foam pool noodles and beach chairs.

Those details appeared in reports released Tuesday by New London fire and police investigators, the first law enforcement accounts of the incident. They said Mr. Hsieh could be seen on a security video from Nov. 18 looking out the shed door about 3 a.m., even though no one was about. Light smoke rose behind him.

When Mr. Hsieh closed the door, there was the sound of the door lock latching and a deadbolt being drawn.

The entrepreneur, 46, was traveling with a nurse. He planned to leave before dawn for Hawaii with Ms. Brown, his brother Andrew, and several friends and employees, according to the police report. While in the shed, he asked to be checked on every 10 minutes. His nurse, who was staying in a hotel, said this was standard procedure with Mr. Hsieh.

Investigators said they didn’t know exactly what had started the fire, partly because there were too many possibilities. Mr. Hsieh had partly disassembled a portable propane heater. Discarded cigarettes were found. Or maybe the blaze erupted from candles. Investigators said his friends had told them that Mr. Hsieh liked candles because they “reminded him of a simpler time” in his life.

A fourth possibility is that Mr. Hsieh did it on purpose.

“It is possible that carelessness or even an intentional act by Hsieh could have started this fire,” the fire report said. The report added that Mr. Hsieh may also have been intoxicated, noting the presence of several Whip-It brand nitrous oxide chargers, a marijuana pipe and Fernet-Branca liqueur bottles.

The exact role of drugs or alcohol that night is likely to remain unclear. Dr. James Gill, Connecticut’s chief medical examiner, said in an email that “autopsy toxicology testing is not useful” if the victim survives for an extended period. A final report is pending.

Firefighters who broke down the door found Mr. Hsieh lying on a blanket. He was taken to a nearby hospital and then airlifted to the Connecticut Burn Center, where he died on Nov. 27 of complications from smoke inhalation.

Mr. Hsieh’s death shocked the tech and entrepreneurial worlds because of his relative youth and his writing on corporate happiness. Zappos was a star of the early consumer internet, helping convince the cautious that buying online held few perils. Mr. Hsieh became chief executive in 2001, promoting to all who would listen the notion that companies should try to make their customers as well as their employees happy. He relocated Zappos from the Bay Area to Las Vegas.

Amazon bought Zappos for $1.2 billion in 2009. The next year, Mr. Hsieh published “Delivering Happiness,” a best seller. “Our goal at Zappos is for our employees to think of their work not as a job or career, but as a calling,” he wrote.

Mr. Hsieh remained at Zappos but turned his attention to a civic project to revitalize downtown Las Vegas. Many investments and many years later, the project was at best an incomplete success. In the last year or so, Mr. Hsieh concentrated on Park City, Utah, where he spent tens of millions of dollars buying properties and became so manic that friends said they had discussed an intervention. Few outsiders knew that he had quietly left Zappos.

On the night of the fire, according to police interviews, Mr. Hsieh was despondent over the death of his dog the previous week during a trip to Puerto Rico. He and Ms. Brown had a disagreement that escalated, at which point Mr. Hsieh retired to the shed. An assistant checked with him frequently, logging the visits with Post-it notes on the door. Mr. Hsieh would generally signal that he was OK.

As the group prepared to depart in the middle of the night for the airport, Mr. Hsieh asked for the check-ins to be every five minutes. But four minutes were all it took for the fire to become deadly. Attempts by those in the house to break down the locked door were unsuccessful. Three Mercedes-Benz passenger vans arrived to take the party to the airport about the same time that firefighters arrived.

Ms. Brown, an early Zappos employee, did not return calls for comment. A family spokesman also did not respond to a message for comment.

Firefighters were regular visitors to the house in mid-November. On Nov. 16, they were summoned at 1 a.m. by a smoke detector that was wired into a security company. A man who answered the door said the alarm had been set off by cooking, according to department records.

The firefighters left but returned minutes later, prompted by another smoke detector. “On arrival found nothing showing and a male stating again that there was no problem,” Lt. Timothy O’Reilly wrote in a summary of the call. Firefighters said they had entered to take a look around.

Lieutenant O’Reilly and his colleagues found smoke in the finished basement, along with “melted plastic items on the stovetop along with cardboard that was hot to the touch,” which were apparently plastic utensils and plates. They also found a candle burning in “an unsafe location” and extinguished it. While the smoke in the basement dissipated, the firefighters offered fire safety tips.

The investigators’ report also recounted an episode early in the evening of Nov. 18. Mr. Hsieh’s assistant checked on him in the shed and noticed a candle had fallen over and was burning a blanket. The assistant asked Mr. Hsieh to put out the flame, and the entrepreneur did.

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Insurers defend covering ransomware payments

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Insurers reject claims that by covering ransomware bills they are funding organised crime.

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Apple says iOS 14.4 fixes three security bugs ‘actively exploited’ by hackers

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Apple has released iOS 14.4 with security fixes for three vulnerabilities, said to be under active attack by hackers.

The technology giant said in its security update pages for iOS and iPadOS 14.4 that the three bugs affecting iPhones and iPads “may have been actively exploited.” Details of the vulnerabilities are scarce, and an Apple spokesperson declined to comment beyond what’s in the advisory.

It’s not known who is actively exploiting the vulnerabilities, or who might have fallen victim. Apple did not say if the attack was targeted against a small subset of users or if it was a wider attack. Apple granted anonymity to the individual who submitted the bug, the advisory said.

Two of the bugs were found in WebKit, the browser engine that powers the Safari browser, and the Kernel, the core of the operating system. Some successful exploits use sets of vulnerabilities chained together, rather than a single flaw. It’s not uncommon for attackers to first target vulnerabilities in a device’s browsers as a way to get access to the underlying operating system.

Apple said additional details would be available soon, but did not say when.

It’s a rare admission by Apple, which prides itself on its security image, that its customers might be under active attack by hackers.

In 2019, Google security researchers found a number of malicious websites laced with code that quietly hacked into victims’ iPhones. TechCrunch revealed that the attack was part of an operation, likely by the Chinese government, to spy on Uyghur Muslims. In response, Apple disputed some of Google’s findings in an equally rare public statement, for which Apple faced more criticism for underplaying the severity of the attack.

Last month, internet watchdog Citizen Lab found dozens of journalists had their iPhones hacked with a previously unknown vulnerability to install spyware developed by Israel-based NSO Group.

In the absence of details, iPhone and iPad users should update to iOS 14.4 as soon as possible.

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