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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Dynamics made a name for itself with flexible printed circuit boards that it used in electronic smartcards that have been replacing traditional credit cards for the past decade. CEO Jeff Mullen said in an interview with VentureBeat that the same technology has become useful in creating a portable UV solution.
Mullen said the device is the first to be proven to “inactivate” the aerosolized SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes COVID-19) continuously in fast-moving air.
Dynamics first got on our radar in 2010, when it won the DEMO award for its plan to bring credit cars into the 21st century with computerized and flexible smart cards and online payment systems. Mullen set up the company across the street from Carnegie Mellon University, where Mullen got his MBA. Over the years, the company raised multiple rounds of funding, and it established its cred as a market innovator.
Dynamics is using the same edge-to-edge flexible electronics it used in the credit cards and is combining it with high-intensity UV technology to make its Nanowave devices.
“We’re a leader in edge-to-edge flexible electronics, where the entire device flexes,” Mullen said. “And one of our core technologies is ultraviolet. We have proprietary robots that apply massive amounts of high-intensity UV light to our electronics, and that is one of the reasons we can make them so broad and flexible.”
At the time that the pandemic hit, the company had already been working to make a smaller version of the UV light devices. And then it realized that it could be redesigned to combat the virus. The company started doing its first tests on its idea for the technology in May.
Mullen said the Nanowave Air was the first device to inactivate the COVID-19 virus in fast-moving air at multiple labs from the federal NIH-Affiliated Regional and Biocontainment Laboratories. The technology inactivated the COVID-19 virus at the maximum airflow speeds of the labs while also exceeding the viral detection limits of those tests, Mullen said.
Dynamics is immediately making the technology available for purchase in the U.S. for $3,450 on the company’s web site.
What it can do
Mullen said that the Nanowave Air can inactivate up to 99 percent of the COVID-19 virus at speeds up to five liters of air per second. When air is moving through the device at this speed, the COVID-19 virus is being inactivated in less than two-thousandths of a second.
To create the technology, Dynamics had to first understand how to inactivate the virus for different applications and in different environments. Dynamics performed over 80 experiments against the COVID-19 virus in liquid, on surfaces, and in air. In May 2020, the technology achieved what is believed to be the first documented inactivation of the virus with ultraviolet type C radiation.
For the past 50 years, ultraviolet light has needed minutes or hours to perform any meaningful level of inactivation. To do it in such a short time, the Nanowave Air device uses a flexible UV-C lamp that is physically contorted in the device to provide ultra-high intensity UV-C radiation.
“Dynamics has created one of the first viable tools for inactivating the COVID-19 virus,” said
Elias Towe, a professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, in a statement. “The performance of the device, as measured at major US laboratories, is impressive. What is remarkable is that Dynamics modified some of their unique know-how in flexible microelectronic techniques and merged these with emerging UV-C light technologies to produce intensities sufficient to inactivate the virus.”
Nanowave Air includes four high-performance motors that pull air into the device at up to 300 liters per minute for instant virus inactivation. The motors are so powerful that inactivated air can be pushed over 10 feet away from the device, a capability necessary to achieve a variety of high-performance air applications.
Air may be inactivated in a room at different speeds based on the number of devices deployed. A single device, for example, can process the amount of air in a standard 800 cubic feet in roughly 75 minutes. This may be particularly useful for certain reception areas, office spaces, retail spaces, bathrooms, elevators, meeting rooms, and even vehicles. For large spaces or faster processing times, additional units may need to be deployed.
Nanowave Air may also provide inactivated air continuously to a person. For example, a device may be pointed directly at a person in order to provide them with a constant stream of inactivated air. This may be particularly useful in certain dental offices, doctor offices, aesthetic salons, check-out lines, and cubicles.
Nanowave Air has three air speed settings of 100, 200, and 300 liters per minute so the device can be customized to create different airflows for different applications. It can push the air outward about 17 feet, which means it can circulate a lot of air in a room.
Nanowave Air has received certification from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) certification, Edison Testing Laboratories (ETL), and Conformite Europeene (CE). As tested by ETL, all UV-C is contained in the device and no UV-C leaves the device. With these certifications, Nanowave Air meets the electrical and safety criteria necessary for launch in numerous countries, the company said.
“We have this unique vantage point because of technologies we’re comfortable with, and we use every day,” Mullen said. “It has the opportunity to be really meaningful. Of all of the ideas, this was the application that we could get to the market first and make a difference.”
What it looks like and does
It looks like a big black crayon sitting on a tripod. The air is pulled into the device from high-compression fans in the rear. Then it shoots out clean air on the other side. The device weighs close to nine pounds and you can pick it up with one hand.
“We inactivate the virus in just a few milliseconds,” Mullen said.
The device is engineered so that UV light, which can be harmful to the eye or skin, cannot escape the device. It has a lot of UV shielding, and no light escapes with the air.
The COVID-19 virus is about 80 nanometers to 120 nanometers in width. Typical air filters have a pore width of 300 nanometers, which means they cannot capture the virus in a typical filter.
There are a lot of “UV wands” already on the market. They’re focused on cleaning surfaces. They require that you hold them very close (i.e., almost touching) a surface. And, the products say you have to hold them there for a long period of time (e.g., 10-30 seconds). To clean a kitchen table with a wand would take hours according to the claims of the wands, Mullen said. UV disinfectant cases for cell phones say you have to keep them in the cases for 10 minutes to 30 minutes. The emitted UV light can also be dangerous.
“Putting all that aside, I believe the CDC has proven that numerous wands do not inactivate SARS-CoV-2,” said Mullen. “I think there are warnings and websites dedicated to this. You don’t want to inactivate something and remove your gloves just to then get infected because your product didn’t work.”
Mullen reiterated that Nanowave Air can inactivate fast-moving air in less than 2 milliseconds. It can inactivate 300 liters of air per minute.
The CDC has reported, and it has been heavily reported, that the primary source of transmission is through aerosols.
“Wands are very, very, very weak and focused on surfaces,” Mullen said.
Dynamics’ device is expensive because it has hundreds of components, and the company designed it to maximize its speed to the market. Over time, the company hopes to bring the costs down.
“This is a physics engineering problem,” Mullen said.
The devices are being made in Pittsburgh at the company’s factory, and Mullen said the company is gearing up for high volumes. Mullen said he was grateful for the team’s culture of fast-cycle engineering collaboration, which led to the product’s fast creation.
“It’s the team that is first and everyone works together,” he said.
Dynamics continues to work on other devices that could help in the fight against the pandemic, Mullen said.
“Dynamics is realizing the value of flexible electronics, which allows you to flex all of these devices that used to be rigid and had to be made in very specific shapes,” Mullen said. “We always talked about using flexible electronics to solve hard problems in any industry.”
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