With a shortage of masks, PPE, and a lack of effective disinfection systems in place, the hospitals in India were facing a massive challenge. COVID was rapidly spreading in hospitals, and 14% of all COVID patients were healthcare workers.
When I saw my father, a frontline doctor, go to work every day in such unsafe conditions, I had to do something about it.
Sterilizing high traffic hotspots within hospitals is the need of the hour.
I joined an open-source hardware team, and we developed Sterilo, a fabric-based sterilizer to prevent cross-contamination in isolation wards. This project won the MIT COVID-19 challenge. This gave me the confidence to
co-found Dverse Labs, and launch UVfy, an autonomous disinfection system for elevators.
UVfy is an autonomous disinfection system for elevators that uses ultraviolet (UV-C) technology to kill dangerous disease-causing pathogens.
DISINFECTS IN 5 MINUTES
AI-BASED CONTROL SYSTEM
IOT REAL TIME MONITORING
EMERGENCY TURN OFF
As Co-founder, my responsibilities include product design, user research, funding, communication design, finance, marketing, business development, and website design.
Unlike a conventional double diamond design process, we followed a double helix process with knowledge loops - moving from business direction to the design to technology development and back. The problem and solution co-evolved owing to the dynamic market needs during the pandemic.
In the product development process, I was involved in user research, ideation, and concept development. The software simulation for testing the efficiency of the device was conducted by me. I conducted pilot tests and observed user interactions in context.
We spoke to over 30 doctors to understand hospital-acquired infections and their needs. We created a Giga map to understand all the elements and interconnections involved in the infection control system of a hospital.
Following our user research and secondary studies, we identified a clear need for disinfecting confined spaces like elevators without any human intervention. The risk of transmission was found to be 19 times higher in a confined space. Existing disinfection methods include fumigation, manual alcohol wipes, and UVC mobile bots. However, they are all ineffective.
Fumigation using hydrogen peroxide requires patient evacuation and 2-3 hours of exposure. In high traffic environments within hospitals, they cannot afford to close the operations of the space for longer time periods. On the other hand, having UVC robots sterilize after every patient visit hinders the use of the elevator and is not practically feasible. Manual wipes, if inappropriately used, can result in the transfer of pathogens from contaminated to clean surfaces. Moreover, ethanol based disinfectants, which is currently being used to clean surfaces- are not effective against multi-drug resistant pathogens.
Based on our design goal, we went on to generate ideas. We tested out these different configurations with PVC pipes and LED lights. We also carried out UV-C light simulations of the product inside an elevator model with the actual dimensions, and with different wattage. This gave us insights into optimal UV wattage for uniform illumination and minimal shadowing.
We conducted preliminary tests to optimize the control systems with various sensors in my apartment elevator before building the alpha prototype.
Since elevators exist in every multi-story building we didn't want to restrict our market to hospitals. So we conducted pilot studies in hospitals, hotels, and apartments.
The pilot studies also served as a way to prototype our business and validate our value proposition assumptions with prospective customers from these different market segments. What we learned was that the value seen by hotels was different from hospitals.
For hospitals, it was about reducing the pathogen count. The hotels, however, wanted their customers to see that the hotel was doing something for them- the value was in giving them a perception of safety. Since our product wouldn't stay on when customers are inside, they wouldn't know what it did. So they wanted us to keep the lights on- but since this would be dangerous for users, we brainstormed on other ways to communicate this. But then as we saw a more urgent need in hospitals who saw the value of the product as it was, we went on to position our product for the hospital market segment.