AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong is testing a CleanTech disinfecting booth in its lobby. (Courtesy AsiaWorld-Expo)
Walk-through disinfectant machines quickly moving toward the market
Sports and live music venues could take on a much different look after COVID-19, starting with fans being sprayed with sanitizer before entering the building or event space.
Walk-through disinfectant machines, plus smart wristbands worn by game-day workers that issue alerts when they cross social distance boundaries, are among the virus technology products quickly coming to market as arenas, stadiums and other public assembly facilities search for tools to provide greater protection for customers and staff.
It’s all starting to take shape in Asia and the region where the virus originated in China.
AsiaWorld-Expo, a convention center and concert hall in Hong Kong next to the city’s airport, is testing a walk-through disinfection device in the main entrance lobby. Branded as CleanTech, the three-in-one device combines multiple technologies to kill more than 99 percent of viruses and 100 percent of bacteria in 12 seconds, according to product information.
The device was installed in March at the convention center, which has been operating as normal with no disruption in service, said spokesperson Tracy Lau. Patrons must pass an automated temperature check before a door opens to enter the machine, and they are sprayed with a disinfectant mist before exiting the device.
“It looks like a giant Febreze machine,” said Brandon Lucas, a principal with Carbonhouse, a developer of websites and mobile applications for venues. His clients include AsiaWorld-Expo, whose website features a video on CleanTech as part of its new preventive measures policy:
The spray is safe, according to AsiaWorld-Expo officials. The machine is produced by BioEm Air Sanitizing Technology. The Hong Kong firm uses a purifying liquid made of mostly plant-based extracts, which was researched and tested by three local universities. AsiaWorld-Expo partnered with BioEm to showcase the unit at the convention center.
In an email exchange, Nancy Chan, the convention center’s general manager of business development, would not disclose the system’s cost.
Chan said feedback has been positive from both internal staff and customers visiting the facility and its restaurants. Business partners and governmental entities outside of Hong Kong have expressed interest in testing the system on their own, she said.
AsiaWorld-Expo plans to activate the device for major trade shows and conventions, pending event layout, admission points and traffic flow. BioEm has been working on various models of CleanTech and improving the technology with walk-throughs customized for parents with children and wheelchair-bound individuals, Chan said.
In an international port city, CleanTech is part of its mission to “go the extra mile by embracing revolutionary new sanitizing solutions,” she said.
In the U.S., a firm outside of Las Vegas is developing its own walk-through sanitizer, called the Xtreme Disinfectant Cube. It’s produced by Xtreme Cubes Corp., which is part of Ahern Rentals. Xtreme’s primary business is producing modular structures for commercial, industrial and residential use.
At first glance, the cube appears much less technical and polished than CleanTech, but the intent is the same — to provide another layer of protection for sports fans, concertgoers and the hundreds of full-time employees and temporary workers tied to an event.
To build it, Xtreme Cubes teamed with Maddox Defense, which specializes in security-based services and has worked with the U.S. military to develop solutions for human decontamination against biological warfare. For the new project, Maddox Defense formed a disinfectant company called ProGuardium to produce a high quality and safe disinfectant found in eye drops and mouthwash, officials said.
Xtreme Cubes is testing a prototype in Nevada, which includes participation by the local health department. The walk-through and spray process takes a few seconds to complete. Company officials are in talks with Kroger supermarkets to purchase 500 to 1,000 machines, but as of this week, no deal has been signed, sources said.
“We’ve created a tunnel structure that can be of any shape or size, depending on how many people and how quickly you need them to move through it,” said Randy Gonzalez, Xtreme Cubes’ vice president of sales. “It produces a fine mist that goes right on you. You raise your palms and lift your feet one at a time. When you come out the other side, you’re basically sanitized from any bacteria as you enter the facility.”
For Xtreme Cubes, the concept came from watching construction workers in the region get sprayed in the open air with a combination of bleach and water for protection before entering the job site, said Mike Klingenmeier, a sales representative for Ahern Rentals.
Don Ahern, owner of Ahern Rentals, came up with the idea of expanding the procedure on a bigger scale, Klingenmeier said.
“We’ve been kicking it around,” he said. “People want to go back to the casinos and T-Mobile Arena. I’m a season-ticket holder for the (Vegas) Golden Knights. We understand you can get the facility cleaned, but how do you clean the people as they’re entering the venue.”
The cost runs $25,000 to $30,000 per disinfectant cube, which covers the solution tanks, generators and spray nozzles. It’s a “plug and play” system with additional fees required for tank refills and maintenance, Gonzalez said. Those expenses could be offset by teams, schools and venues selling advertising space on the walls of the machine, he said.
The cube has a steel frame with plexiglass walls and large plastic strips hanging in front of the enclosure, similar to entrances for loading docks and walk-in freezers. Similar to CleanTech in Hong Kong, officials are working to incorporate thermal screening as part of walking through the sanitizing machine, Gonzalez said.
Xtreme Cubes has a 500,000-square-foot manufacturing facility across 80 acres in Henderson to mass produce the disinfectant devices to meet the demand. “We’ve had a lot of interest, which has outpaced the speed at which we can test the prototype,” Gonzalez said.
Walk-through sanitizers sound cool and there’s something to be said for providing a higher level of confidence for event attendees passing through these systems, but teams and venues must research the technology to make sure it’s safe and it works as intended, security experts said.
Liability concerns are another issue to consider for virus technology gadgets, they said.
“There’s a lot of snake oil out there right now,” said Mike Downing, chief security officer at Oak View Group and Prevent Advisors, a security consultant. (OVG owns VenuesNow).
“We’re researching hundreds of different innovations and technologies with regard to clean air, sanitization, thermal screening and touchless systems,” Downing said. “With things that involve cleaning products, there’s overwhelming evidence that they should be vetted by scientists and medical doctors that understand what happens when you mix chemicals. What is the effectiveness of this stuff and has it been tested?”
For OVG’s Arena Alliance, a group of about 30 big league arenas, plus OVG’s half-dozen arena developments globally, Prevent Advisors is forming an advisory board of doctors, immunologists, epidemiologists and medical researchers to help determine which virus technologies work best for those facilities in the post-COVID-19 age, Downing said.
Apart from disinfectant machines, Ottogee, maker of a smart wristband with a proximity alert and contact tracing system, is another tool to pursue, Downing said. Ottogee’s system has a data component that can trace the origin of a virus if someone wearing the wristband gets infected.
“It’s about establishing a prevention culture, to create this (platform) as a priority and a habit with smart practices,” he said. “Things like that get people’s mind-set right so we’re not bringing the old normal back into the new normal, because something’s got to change.”