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West Japan city unveils ultraviolet-emitting robots on public transport to beat virus

A robot that emits deep ultraviolet waves is seen operating without human input inside a tram belonging to Okayama Electric Tramway, in the city of Okayama in western Japan on July 16, 2020. (Mainichi/Hanami Matsumuro)
A conductor is seen using the air catalyst Selfeel on handles and other equipment inside a tram belonging to Okayama Electric Tramway, on July 16, 2020. (Mainichi/Hanami Matsumuro)

OKAYAMA -- A robot that can emit virus-neutralizing deep ultraviolet (UV) waves inside public transport carriages and compartments has been developed by a company in this western Japan prefecture specializing in maintenance for trams, buses and other shared use vehicles.

    Ryobi Techno Co., part of the Ryobi Group, set to work on the robot as part of efforts to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus infections. On July 16, Okayama Electric Tramway Co., a member of the same group, revealed the contraption working on its tourism route tram, the vehicle for which is modeled after characters from the popular U.K. animated train show "Chuggington," to the press.

    Deep UV waves have a shorter wavelength than standard ultraviolet waves, and when emitted they are said to be effective in destroying the DNA of viruses and bacteria, which renders them non-infectious.

    Reporters on July 16 saw the 1.6-meter high robot running inside the tram car, where it emitted a blue light to neutralize infectious material. Additionally, employees sprayed handrails and windows, among other items, with the antibacterial air catalyzer Selfeel -- used by Osaka Metro Co. and other public transport companies. Ryobi Group says it will use both infection prevention measures on some 220 of its vehicles, including buses, taxis and ferries in the future.

    Mitsunobu Kojima, the group's representative, said, "We developed the robot to create a society where even amid the coronavirus crisis people can move around feeling secure. The use of both deep UV waves and air catalyzers is uncommon anywhere in the country. We'd like to go on to offer the service in a variety of locations from now on."

    (Japanese original by Hanami Matsumuro, Okayama Bureau)

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