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?