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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Dynamics first made a name for itself with flexible printed circuit boards for the electronic smartcards that have been replacing traditional credit cards over the past decade. CEO Jeff Mullen said in an interview with VentureBeat that the same technology has enabled a portable UV solution.
Mullen said the device is the first proven to “inactivate” the aerosolized SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes COVID-19) continuously in fast-moving air.
Dynamics landed on our radar in 2010, when it won the DEMO award for its plan to bring credit cars into the 21st century with computerized and flexible smart cards and online payment systems. Mullen set the company up across the street from Carnegie Mellon University, where he got his MBA. Over the years, Dynamics raised multiple rounds of funding and established itself as a market innovator.
Now it is combining the edge-to-edge flexible electronics it used in credit cards with high-intensity UV technology to make its Nanowave devices.
“We’re a leader in edge-to-edge flexible electronics, where the entire device flexes,” Mullen said. “And one of our core technologies is ultraviolet. We have proprietary robots that apply massive amounts of high-intensity UV light to our electronics, and that is one of the reasons we can make them so broad and flexible.”
When the pandemic hit, the company was already working on a smaller version of the UV light devices. The team realized their device could be redesigned to combat the virus and started testing the technology in May.
Mullen said the Nanowave Air was the first device proven to inactivate the COVID-19 virus in fast-moving air at the federal NIH-Affiliated Regional and Biocontainment Laboratories. The technology inactivated the COVID-19 virus at the labs’ maximum airflow speeds while exceeding the viral detection limits of those tests, Mullen said.
Dynamics is now making the technology available in the U.S. for $3,450 through the company’s website.
What it can do
Mullen said the Nanowave Air can inactivate up to 99% of the COVID-19 virus at up to 5 liters of air per second. When air is moving through the device at this speed, the virus is being inactivated in less than two-thousandths of a second.
To create the technology, Dynamics had to first understand how to inactivate the virus for different applications and in different environments. Dynamics performed over 80 experiments against the COVID-19 virus in liquid, on surfaces, and in the air. In May 2020, it achieved what is believed to be the first documented inactivation of the virus with ultraviolet type C radiation.
For the past 50 years, ultraviolet light has needed minutes or hours to perform any meaningful level of inactivation. To do so in such a short time, the Nanowave Air device uses a flexible UV-C lamp that is physically contorted in the device to provide ultra-high intensity UV-C radiation.
“Dynamics has created one of the first viable tools for inactivating the COVID-19 virus,” Carnegie Mellon University professor Elias Towe said in a statement. “The performance of the device, as measured at major U.S. laboratories, is impressive. What is remarkable is that Dynamics modified some of their unique know-how in flexible microelectronic techniques and merged these with emerging UV-C light technologies to produce intensities sufficient to inactivate the virus.”
Nanowave Air includes four high-performance motors that pull air into the device at up to 300 liters per minute for instant virus inactivation. The motors are so powerful that inactivated air can be pushed over 10 feet away from the device. This capability is necessary to achieve a variety of high-performance air applications.
Air may be inactivated in a room at different speeds based on the number of devices deployed. A single device, for example, can process the amount of air in a standard 800 cubic feet in roughly 75 minutes. This may be particularly useful for reception areas, office spaces, retail spaces, bathrooms, elevators, meeting rooms, and even vehicles. For large spaces or faster processing times, additional units may need to be deployed.
Nanowave Air may also provide an individual with continuously inactivated air if a device is pointed directly at them. This may be particularly useful in dental offices, doctor offices, aesthetic salons, check-out lines, and cubicles.
Nanowave Air has airspeed settings of 100, 200, and 300 liters per minute so the device can be customized for different applications. It can push the air outward about 17 feet, which means it can circulate a lot of air in a room.
Nanowave Air has received certification from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) certification, Edison Testing Laboratories (ETL), and Conformite Europeene (CE). As certified by ETL, all UV-C is contained in the device. With these certifications, Nanowave Air meets the electrical and safety criteria needed to launch in numerous countries, the company said.
“We have this unique vantage point because of technologies we’re comfortable with and we use every day,” Mullen said. “It has the opportunity to be really meaningful. Of all of the ideas, this was the application that we could get to the market first and make a difference.”
What it looks like and does
It looks like a big black crayon sitting on a tripod. The air is pulled into the device from high-compression fans in the rear. Then it shoots clean air out the other side. The device weighs close to nine pounds, and you can pick it up with one hand. It is engineered so that UV light, which can be harmful to the eyes and skin, cannot escape.
The COVID-19 virus is about 80 nanometers to 120 nanometers in width. Typical air filters have a pore width of 300 nanometers, which means they cannot capture the virus in a standard filter.
There are a lot of “UV wands” on the market, but those are focused on cleaning surfaces, and you have hold them very close (i.e., almost touching). The products also say you have to hold them in place for a period of time (e.g., 10 to 30 seconds). To clean a kitchen table with a wand would take hours, Mullen said. And UV disinfectant cases for cell phones say you have to keep them in the cases for 10 to 30 minutes. Even more concerning, the emitted UV light can be dangerous.
“Putting all that aside, I believe the CDC has proven that numerous wands do not inactivate SARS-CoV-2,” said Mullen. “I think there are warnings and websites dedicated to this. You don’t want to ‘inactivate’ something and remove your gloves just to then get infected because your product didn’t work.”
Mullen reiterated that Nanowave Air can inactivate fast-moving air in less than 2 milliseconds and inactivate 300 liters of air per minute. This is important because it has been heavily reported, including by the CDC, that the primary source of COVID-19 transmission is through aerosols.
Dynamics’ device is expensive because it has hundreds of components, and the company designed it to maximize its speed to the market. Over time, the company hopes to bring those costs down.
“This is a physics engineering problem,” Mullen said.
The devices are being made at the company’s factory in Pittsburgh, and Mullen said Dynamics is gearing up for high volumes. He also said he is grateful for the team’s culture of fast-cycle engineering collaboration, which led to the product’s timely creation.
“It’s the team that is first, and everyone works together,” he said.
The company is continuing to work on other devices that could help in the fight against the pandemic, Mullen said.
“Dynamics is realizing the value of flexible electronics, which allows you to flex all of these devices that used to be rigid and had to be made in very specific shapes,” Mullen said. “We always talked about using flexible electronics to solve hard problems in any industry.”
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