Pandemics: Solving problems with existing technology

I feel fortunate to be able to work from home. I worry about those who cannot WFH.

My brother works in the auto parts business (transportation is deemed essential) and I wanted him to be aware and not bravado about the risks involved. He shot back with the infeasibility of sanitizing every incoming box or pallet. Shops order the wrong parts all the time, and have to return things. What if a mechanic in that shop had the virus?

The warehouse simply does not have the space and labour to sanitize every incoming box and palette. Plus it would use ludicrous amounts of 70% isopropyl alcohol, paper towels, etc. Conventional means of sanitizing are simply not fast and efficient enough, and have a huge amount of downstream problems.

I imagined a conveyor belt similar to airport baggage X-ray equipment, but on the floor level so it could handle a shipping pallet filled with heavy automotive parts. The shielded “X-ray” section would use LED UV-C lights to destroy viruses on the outer surface of every box and pallet that went through.

The bottom would be 2 rows of alternating LED bars and drive sections, so even very heavy boxes would move along, yet the LED bars would be staggered for full exposure.

LED bars on movable arms would do the rest. 1 bar would sweep upwards to get the front (while moving forward along with the box), then rotate and expose the top as the box kept moving, and sweep downwards to get the back (also following the box), then reset its position for the next box. 2 bars would move in on the sides.

Since WayTools/NextEngine made affordable 3D scanners, such a scanner would interpret the positions of the boxes and pallets entering the machine:

  • to guide where the LED bars would go
  • to space out boxes so the front and back could be swept
  • to rotate boxes (the conveyor belt is a series of belt strips that could be driven at different speeds, similar to how a tank turns, but it rotates boxes instead) so that the front/top/back bar only needs to move in the XY plane

It’s entirely built with existing technology! UV LEDs exist in almost every flat-panel LED TV, and in many other places. Conveyor belts are a “solved problem”. Computation and object detection are solved.

My imagination wandered and revisited aspects of this machine:

  • safe (no UV exposure to workers or eyes)
  • cheap (modular, interchangeable identical parts, no exotic components)
  • compact (use in existing warehouses or post offices)
  • serviceable (click-out latches to swap parts, indicator LEDs to convey working or failed segments, a built-in repair guide, HDMI so you could plug in any monitor or TV if the display broke)
  • energy efficient (auto start/stop, and only needed sections of the LED bars are lit, ditto conveyor belt sections)
  • resilient (capable of instructing you to swap a burnt-out LED section such as a frequently used middle section of the bottom bar, or the bottom section of a side bar, with a working and less-used section; ditto for the conveyor belt sections). You could count on this machine to keep working even when damaged and spare parts unavailable.

And then I realized: if a dummy like me could come up with this, then we simply need to work with each other - so many problems that seem insurmountable are actually solvable.

I don’t know how useful this UV-C conveyor belt would be, but if it panned out, it would keep all our supply chains and grocery warehouses - and its workers - safe. It would cost very little to build, have very low operating costs and almost no environmental impact. If it was helpful it could be designed and built super quickly because nothing new needs to be invented.

How about your ideas? How do you think we could use existing technology to solve really big problems like our COVID-19 issues? Maybe in ways that might seem odd or unconventional, but on closer examination stick to scientific principles and proven technology?


A nice idea; but using a plastic cover and leaving the stuff in the sun for a day or two would work also.

Most glass is opaque to short wavelength UV-C; but a lot of plastics are transparent to those same short wavelengths.

This is no solution for things that are perishable or not heat stable.

From an infection control standpoint, it is typically easier to sanitize the worker, and target common/public surfaces for disinfection. Divide up the receiving and storage areas into clean and contaminated, and use masks and gloves to reduce the need for continuous washing and sanitizing of hands. Even so the discipline required to safely navigate this sort of workspace is considerable and the stakes for errors are high.


FidgitCube - thanks for your heroic work helping patients get through this unique time in history.

We believe healthcare workers deserve a major upgrade in ppe technology, so that it becomes far easier to stay safe while caring for others.

We should not have to endanger lives as we work to save them. Better tools are needed.


I think that’s a great solution where labour and space are cheap (because disrupting the flow of inventory by 1-2 days has varying levels of impact depending on use case). But it’s good to be aware of that option. Perhaps some warehouses where land is cheap, will be designed with skylights etc.

Edit: Ah, I now reread your suggestion in context of my original question (i.e. some boxes with return parts coming in). I’ll send the suggestion his way. Thanks!

If you have plans for “a major upgrade in ppe technology” can you let us pre-order it too? I’m thinking, if we could just have masks and face shields good enough that stopped Coronavirus, and had enough for everyone, we could just go back to normal, right?

And all the nurses and doctors wouldn’t have to get sick or die just because they gave a damn. They really need better PPE!

I mean, this one is terrible and I know I would get laughed at (or maybe even beaten up) if I wore one of these, and that’s if it even worked very well with all the leakage.

Sorry to dump on fellow Canadians, but really, we are sorry about BlackBerry, Justin Bieber, and William Shatner too. If it weren’t for Celine Dion and Joni Mitchell we would be irredeemable, but then now everyone thinks we have accents.


Look familiar?



I didn’t RTFA, but if this device uses forced airflow through a filter, then the gaps don’t matter. The noise would annoy me though.

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I’m sure if WayTools worked on one it would be whisper quiet. In the same way conventional keyboards are heavy and bulky because they are not designed from an essentials point of view, I think these PAPR clones are noisy because they are so wasteful.

An average adult tidal volume is only 0.5l and the resting respiratory rate is 12-20 breaths per minute, or 6-10l/minute. You could pull that off with a silent laptop fan! I mean, of course the whole thing would need to be redesigned, like TextBlade.

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Is there truly a need for a keyboard that travels - if people are dying by the 10,000s per week, and the doctors and nurses that are treating them - are dying too?

Someone else thought this was a good idea:


Hope the captain doesn’t decide to go back for his saddle :wink:


Really we should ask the captain to look into this disease transmission issue. I’m almost certain that better PPE would stop the virus dead. It comes in through your lungs and mucus membranes, of which you have the eyes, nostrils, mouth. Basically the problem with humans when it comes to airborne pathogens is our heads. (You don’t catch it from the “other” mucus membranes because we wear underwear and pants and stuff.)

People don’t want to wear masks because you can’t hear them, you can’t read their expressions, and then as a wearer it is stuffy, uncomfortable, moist, harder to breathe, the dumb designs hurt your ears, and you can’t eat or drink with the mask on.

And vaccines aren’t the solution! We have to get a different flu vaccine every year! And they have 3 guesses which strain, and if they guess wrong then everybody gets sick. COVID spreads way faster than any flu I’ve ever heard of, so vaccines aren’t the solution. COVID mutates so fast that if you catch it they can tell which strain you got (Eastern NA-like, Europe-like, Washington, Iran-like, China-like).

We could so kill COVID with better PPE. It’s time to reimagine PPE!

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