Keeping VR Clean with UV Beams, featuring Cleanbox’s Amy Hedrick

Even in a virtual world, you still sweat. That’s why it’s important to keep your HMDs clean, especially if there’s multiple users. Cleanbox devised UV light technology for just such a purpose, then found a higher calling during the Coronavirus.

Alan: Hey, everyone. Alan Smithson here, with the XR for Business podcast. Today, we’re speaking with Amy Hedrick, co-founder and CEO of Cleanbox, a smart technology hygiene company that’s providing hospital grade decontamination of shared hardware, which I guess we can all agree right now, is very necessary in the current situation. In this podcast, we’ll also learn how the team at Cleanbox is helping hospitals maintain mask hygiene. All that and more, coming up next on the XR for Business podcast.

Amy, welcome.

Amy: Thank you, Alan. It’s great to be here.

Thank you so much for taking time. I know you are crazy busy, working probably 20 hour days right now. You are on the front lines, bringing hygiene in a time where it could not be more important. So thank you for joining us and taking the time.

Amy: It’s my pleasure. I’m happy to do it. And you’re right. It is very timely. Everybody’s focus right now — globally — is on hygiene and public safety and public responsibility, and how we can better stay safe when we’re able to go back out in the world.

Alan: Absolutely. So I’m going to get right into it. I know you were working with the VR community very heavily, but I think right now this is just kind of top of mind with everybody. So maybe in your own words, you can explain what Cleanbox Technologies does.

Amy: Sure. Well, OK, so Cleanbox technology provides hospital grade decontamination of shared hardware. We designed our core technology with– actually with XR in mind, with the idea and the belief that virtual and augmented reality had great potential in terms of business and enterprise purposes, as well as in healthcare, and of course, entertainment. Seeing the value there and thinking ahead of what would be the pain points that would prevent a successful global deployment, or a successful corporate deployment, and adequate actual consumer adoption. Few years ago, thinking back on how we would be able to meet some of those pain points and eliminate them and lower the barrier of entry, hygiene seemed to be one of those things that was easy to forget. So with XR technology, it’s so sexy and there’s a lot of very interesting and cool and unique things you can do with it. So the logistics sometimes gets gets a little bit lost. We came at the XR community from the point of risk mitigation. How could we reduce the risk of contagion transfer and thus some detrimental event happening within the industry? And we’ve grown since then.

Alan: So right now it’s an interesting time, because we’re all stuck at home. So things like location based entertainment facilities are empty. Where is your business coming from now? I know you– from speaking with one of your advisors, Terry Schussler, that you’re booming right now. You can’t fulfill the orders fast enough. Where’s this business coming from, if it’s not coming from location based entertainment?

Amy: Well, we’ve always been addressing multiple markets at once. Location based entertainment is, of course, first and foremost in people’s minds because that’s — I guess — the best education for the average consumer into what immersive technology can do. So it’s– and it’s very dear to my origins and we definitely take care of the LB community. On that note, I would say that there are plenty of organizations looking forward to the day that they can reopen, and realizing that not only just the idea of hygiene, but actual hygiene is really critically important to reopening those businesses and looking at bringing people back in. But in terms of our other types of clients, we work in enterprise, we work in health care. So anything from automotive to aerospace or airline industry, from retail to automation, mine safety training, there’s a lot going on in healthcare as well. We’ve been very, very active in multiple enterprise business verticals. So Terry’s right, there is a huge demand. And that’s because people are both still using XR right now, either in — for instance — frontline triage training for COVID-19 response teams. They’re also still using it — some of the frontline workers and companies that you would not necessarily think of using XR still — they’re using it for everything from keeping their frontline workers engaged mentally or emotionally — giving them a sort of a Zen moment, a Zen break — if they’re frontline or first responders, to exercise programs to training. So really, Cleanbox is in a lot of business verticals, because anybody that uses hardware on their face and head needs to have a way to protect the next person.

Alan: The one thing that you just mentioned was the VR being used for kind of just a moment of peace when you’re on the front lines of battling this disease. I think as a world, we’ve been pretty lucky with this particular virus. Yes, it’s spread around the world and it’s shuttered economies, but the mortality rate is low enough that we can at least keep hold of it. But our frontline hospital workers are going through a really, really tough time right now, working ridiculous hours and multi-shifts and stuff. So giving them the peace of mind to be able to just sit in a tranquil place and just zone out for a minute, I think is very necessary as well. Terry had mentioned once that you guys can also sterilize masks and things.

Amy: Well, let me– I guess I realize I haven’t really explained how our technology works.

Alan: Yeah, let’s get into it. What does that do?

Amy: How does it work? We use UVC light in an LED to decontaminate any kind of shared hardware. It’s a 60 second process, and in that 60 seconds, we reach 99.99 percent eradication of any kind of contagion, from viruses, to bacteria, to fungi. We use UVC light. Traditionally, it’s been used in healthcare systems for decades. Why is it effective? It’s effective because it deconstructs the DNA or RNA strands of a contagion. UVC light’s been used in hospitals for the last 40 years-ish. So it’s a proven technology. What we do is in an LED, as opposed to a mercury tube. So we’ve eliminated the heat and the toxin components that would normally come with UVC decontamination. And that’s important because, of course, you’re wearing this hardware on your face, on your eyes, on your mouth, on your nose. So you definitely want to have a decontamination process that doesn’t include chemicals or anything that could be not safe for the end-user.

Alan: We’ve been sterilizing, because we bought masks for our VR headsets — the leatherette masks — and we’ve been sterilizing using alcohol swabs.

Amy: Well, I can tell you that alcohol is an effective form of decontamination on hard surfaces, but you have to leave it wet for two to four minutes for it to actually do the decontamination you’re expecting. You’ll actually see that if you read the back of your Lysol bottle or whatever other kind of decontaminate you have. If you want to reach that 99 percent, there is a certain way you have to go about doing that, which alcohol on electronics is– well, any kind of liquid on electronics is not really an ideal situation. So we’ve been looking at what are the best ways to decontaminate a product? Thinking about alcohol, you’ve got to have a user wipe it on a certain surface, which brings in human error components that would affect whether or not you’re actually decontaminating that surface. Alcohol’s also not effective on soft surfaces. So there has to be something that can continue to clean the entirety of a complicated headset. VR and AR headsets are a bit more complicated to clean than your average electronics, for instance. I mean, a cellphone is pretty easy to clean. A headset, you have shadows, and you have multiple types of materials on the surface, and multiple touch points. And they all have to be decontaminated evenly and equally, to make sure you don’t pass a contagion from one person to the next.

Alan: I actually have a question about that. What happens in parts that the light can’t see?

Amy: So it’s a– you’re right, UVC’s a line of sight technology, but all of Cleanbox’s products are engineered for maximum UVC efficacy. And what that means is that we’ve eliminated those shadows. We have an overlap in radius of our lights that’s been tested and gone through the R&D process and gone through independent lab testing, to make sure that there are no shadows and anything that touches your face or head. Another thing about UVC light is that if you want to decontaminate a surface — for instance — you need to have the right mixture of the distance from the surface, the time that light is evenly over that surface, and the intensity of the nanometre wavelength. So it’s a little bit more complicated than it sounds. [chuckles]

Alan: Absolutely. Sounds like you guys have some smart people working on this.

Amy: Yes. I have a really great team. I’m very proud of them.

Alan: I can imagine.

Amy: Yeah, well, you had alluded to masks, so I would– I’ll just mention that UVC light — as I mentioned — has been used in hospitals for decades, which means that it’s a trusted technology. So we know that it’s– our lights have been tested against H1N1. They’ve been tested against– they’re effective against SARS and MERS, something like bacterial, which is like MRSA, an antibiotic resistant staph infection. So we have a lot of– there’s a lot of data to support the use case. And because of that, we do have clients that have been saying, “Hey, we’re using this for PPEs, because UVC light is a known entity.” So we’ve been working with some of our clients, actually, to provide retrofits for our existing product that they’ve donated, and in parallel working on a product that is specific for masks. So that’s been keeping us very, very, very busy as a small team, but a pivot that we really felt was mission critical right now. I mean, I’m sure, Alan, you probably know people, frontline workers, first responders, people that are exposed to this. Well, fortunately, it doesn’t have a– as high of a death rate as it could. It still is impacting people’s lives. So this is a way that we knew that we could help, because we know that our technology is effective at eradicating contagions.

Alan: That’s incredible. We’re in probably the most unique time in, well, in our lives, definitely. And you have a technology. So how do you get this into the hands of governments? How do you get this in the hands of hospitals, so that they can– because mask shortages seems to be a problem. But if you could sterilize things quickly and reuse things, it seems to be a win-win.

Amy: Yes. Well, we have clients already in healthcare, in various departments, in different hospitals, and healthcare centers and universities. And so they’ve been using our product right now, because they already have it. We’ve provided a retrofit so that it equally decontaminates both sides of the masks. But getting a mask-specific product out to hospitals, we have a lot of corporate partners that are helping support the work that we’re doing. They say, “How can we be involved? How how can we help you guys get product to healthcare centers?” So I’m working on a number of fronts to push that forward, and make sure we can get this out. The product that we build, that we can provide is something that can be used on an ongoing basis, so throughout the day. A healthcare worker can use it in between patients, or a first responder between emergency responses. And this way it’s something that is a very light footprint. It’s a small product. It’s a 60-120 second cycle. And it can be stationed throughout lots of different stations in a healthcare center. That’s something that we can do. This way, they don’t have to export the mask first, then have it repurposed and then reintroduce back into the healthcare system. Hopefully that makes sense, and I explained that well enough.

Alan: Yeah, absolutely. I guess for companies that are selling these solutions, let’s say, for example, they’ve got a VR collaboration. So you recently sponsored the XR Collaboration Platform Resource Guide, at XRcollaboration.com. And it’s a global resource guide that helps people make decisions on using virtual and augmented reality solutions for collaboration, now that we’re basically creating more social interactions in a time of social distancing. So with that, what would your recommendation be to these companies that are selling these solutions to customers, and how can they get a hold of you and then kind of bundle the Cleanbox solution with that?

Amy: Well, we do have a lot of people in pre-pandemic that have already been kind of going down that path. So we’ve been anticipating the growth of XR already in enterprise and healthcare. So I think that some companies are further along in that process. But obviously, hygiene is a really critical– we’ve always believed this is why Cleanbox exists, is that hygiene is a critical piece of the puzzle, that sometimes is the last piece that you need, but you’ll always need it. We work with all types of clients in various types of packagings, bundling other kinds of agreements that we’re happy to make and we have set up. So you can always reach out to me by email. My email is ahedrick@cleanboxtech.com. Or you can always send an info@cleanboxtech.com email, and someone from the sales team will reach back out to you. But we are also global. So we’re entirely made in the US right now, which has been actually good for us, because we’ve had fewer manufacturing challenges, I suppose. We’re still running operating, manufacturing, shipping product. We have had no interruptions for that. We do ship everywhere in the world.

Alan: So website again, cleanboxtech.com, correct?

Amy: Yes, correct. On the site there is all of the product that we have right now for HMDs. And then we have other product in the pipeline, too, that I think will be interesting to a lot of companies that are looking for other solutions, in addition to their headsets.

Alan: So, Amy, what are the different models that you have?

Amy: Well, we have three products on the market right now: CX-1, CX-2 and the CX-4. The CX-1 cleans one headset at once. The 2 cleans two, and the 4 cleans four. Very, very simple.

Alan: That seems pretty obvious. [laughs]

Amy: [laughs] It seems obvious when you say it that way. It’s a 60 second cycle, regardless of which product. Whether you’re cleaning one at once or four at once, it’s still gonna be that one minute cycle time. And then on that note, we do actually have a new product coming out this summer, which is our ad hoc box, and that’s intended for other types of small electronics, shared electronics, whether it be your cellphone, or your earbuds, or your tablet, or your handheld haptics. So I think people will be excited to see that one as well.

Alan: And do you want to speak about the pricing?

Amy: Well, I will tell you that we do offer tiered pricing. If you want to reach out to us at info@cleanboxtech.com, we can send you a pricing sheet for all of our products. And then that way you’ll know where any kinds of discounts or other kinds of offerings we might be able to help you with.

Alan: Excellent. Before we go, what is one problem in the world that you’d like to see solved using XR technologies?

Amy: Hmm. There are so many. Well, I think– let’s take it back to healthcare quickly, and I’m going to use an example that’s not my own example, but a surgeon that has been using XR for– ahead of a brain surgery, knowing that that taking– that that technology can impact the level of efficacy on that actual surgery, and increase the chance for a patient’s recovery and better that process. I would say that that’s a major flag to wave for a successful use cases, that I would hope can drive the message that this is a new technology that can completely impact not only the time that it takes to complete a process, but it can impact the efficiency and the success rate of that particular job. I don’t see it as a threat in any way to existing structure. I see it as an enhancement, as an opportunity for change and an opportunity to do a better job, whether you’re a physician, a surgeon, an educator, even an entertainer. It’s a tool. And I’m hoping that more and more people will start to see all of the options in that toolbox.

Alan: Well, that is very well said. Thank you so much, Amy, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us today. And I want to say thank you to everybody for listening. And also, if you haven’t already subscribed, please hit the subscribe button on your podcast. Make sure you subscribe, so you’re always alerted of the new stuff. You can also find us at XRforbusiness.io. And one last message, please download the free guide, Resource Guide to XR Collaborations. It’s available now at XRcollaboration.com.

Looking for more insights on XR and the future of business? Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify. You can also follow us on Twitter @XRforBusiness and connect with Alan on LinkedIn.

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