While COVID-19 has affected the entire world, research shows that its impacts are disproportionately felt by low-income families lacking resources to follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
In Hong Kong, families living in cramped subdivided housing units (SDUs) are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by the pandemic. To address this crisis, Lingnan University (LU) and its partners launched Project Ultra Violite, which was supported by a HK$500,000 grant from the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust’s “COVID-19 Emergency Fund”. It engages and trains community volunteers to use UV-C Germicidal Light systems, designed and assembled by the Lingnan Entrepreneurship Initiative (LEI), to disinfect SDUs. There are 2 primary goals: lowering the infection risk in SDUs, and helping residents sanitize their homes so that they can focus on making a living during a challenging time.
Prof. Albert Ko of LU initiated the design process in February 2020, which grew out of LEI’s approach to ”humanitarian technology” in its Liberal Arts context. This concept indicates the adaptation of mature technology to meet social needs. The Project utilises a 253.7nm UV-C light, commonly used in hospitals and science laboratories to kill bacteria and prevent the spread of pathogens.
However, standard germicidal UV-C lights for laboratory use are bulky and unsuitable for mass disinfection services, especially in crowded SDUs in tenement buildings without elevators. Brian Katona, an engineer in the Design Team, explained: “The biggest task was figuring out how to make the lights portable, reliable and user-friendly for the community volunteers who do the disinfection. The individual components are fairly standard, but we had to assemble them to meet the specific needs in the field.” Additional safety measures like Bluetooth-enabled remote control and intelligent motion sensors for automatic shut-off were also integrated into the design. Depending on the size of the living space, disinfection takes about 30 minutes.
All volunteers receive pre-service training from engineers and practicing doctors to administer the technology and understand hygiene guidelines. As of mid-June, the free service received 1,022 registrations and 812 households were disinfected.
Project leaders hope to have 300 mobile UV-C systems and more community volunteers in future phases to provide regular disinfection services. Team members are currently upgrading the design to service larger spaces by using an automated guided vehicle. They are also considering donating UV-C lights to volunteers’ associations and Jockey Club-funded kindergartens, and training staff in these organizations to perform disinfection services. Further, with the help of LU students, LEI will explore opportunities to commercialize the lights.
For more on Project Ultra Violite, visit: https://www.ln.edu.hk/lei/project-ultra-violite