Gatherings at concert halls and stadiums are still widely limited to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But a Wexford-based startup thinks it has one way to get people back to these venues sooner: an electrostatic drone capable of blanketing high contact surfaces in disinfectant.
It looks like a drone used for spraying crops because it is, according to Aeras Fog Company co-founder Nick Bruckner. He and fellow co-founders Justin Melanson and Eric Lloyd retrofitted an agricultural drone with electrostatic disinfectant sprayers. The device sprays electrically charged sanitizing solution at a rate of up to 20 acres an hour.
The drone cuts down on how long it takes to sanitize a venue before or after an event. “PPG Paints Arena or PNC Park, we could probably do both of those arenas in a three-hour time span,” Bruckner said.
Aeras claims it’s more effective too. Sending the cleaning solution through an electrostatic delivery system forces positively charged sanitizer particles to seek grounded surfaces like seats and railings.
“It mitigates human error. When you think about a stadium or somebody walking around with a backpack fogger, you don't know if they're covering all of the surfaces," he said.
Aeras’ drone charges particles at a higher voltage than other electrostatic technology available, according to Bruckner. “We are charging the particles that are coming out of the drones in the neighborhood of 80,000 volts,” he said, allowing for more time for the positively charged disinfectant to seek and land on surfaces.
Aeras is in the final stages of securing a patent with the Federal Aviation Administration for their electrostatic drone. Bruckner expects to finalize the process in the next two weeks and bring a product to market within the next two months.
That timeframe is on the minds of local stadium owners. Bruckner says Aeras has done demonstrations at a number of local professional sporting venues, but declined to name them.
Bruckner says any disinfectant could be used with the drone, but expects most venues will stick to a list of products approved by the Centers for Disease Control to use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
It’s not clear if the fog sprayers would affect airborne COVID-19 particles. Aerosol transmission has received increased attention from scientists as a source of COVID-19 spread.
The startup first came together in April, soon after the coronavirus pandemic reached the U.S. and officials began closing down sports stadiums and other large venues. Bruckner said the company isn’t stopping with the electrostatic drone. Aeras plans to pursue another patent that puts its high-charging sprayers on backpack foggers to target harder to reach areas like V.I.P suites and eventually, Bruckner hopes, other facilities like schools.
“We just hope that we can play a role in getting people back to doing things that they enjoy safely,” he said.