United Airlines is now using high-tech robots to disinfect its planes during the pandemic

  • United Airlines introduced a new antimicrobial spray — and a new robotic cleaner — to help combat the coronavirus on airplanes.
  • The new cleaning product is in addition to the electrostatic spraying the airline does before each flight.
  • The robot is only at United's Chicago hub right now, but will be rolled out at the airline's other six hubs in the coming months.
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The next time you fly the friendly skies, you may have a new high-tech pal to thank for your clean seat.

United Airlines unveiled a new tool in its fight against the novel coronavirus this week: a new antimicrobial spray applied to planes overnight by a robot.

The airline will begin using an EPA-certified antimicrobial coating to planes, called Zoono Microbe Shield, which forms "a long-lasting bond with surfaces and inhibits the growth of microbes." The new coating is in addition to electrostatic spraying and other cleaning processes United already has in place.

"As part of our layered approach to safety, antimicrobials are an effective complement to our hospital-grade HEPA air filtration system, mandatory mask policy for customers and daily electrostatic spraying," Toby Enqvist, United's chief customer officer, said in a statement.

The Zoono coating will be applied by a robot called NovaRover, the airline said.

NovaRover looks like a short box on wheels with a tall stalk on top. It's roughly the width of a drink cart, and can fit down plane aisles. The robot sprays the coating as a fine mist that covers every surface within 12 feet, the airline said.

United also released a video of the NovaRover in action:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/aGUv_R5oU0c

"When you layer that in on top of our departure electrostatic spraying of the disinfectant, the masks we have customers wearing on board the airplane, the wipes that we provide to customers," said Scott Hildebrand, an operations director at United, "all of those things together make our airplanes very, very clean and safe."

The new spray — and the NovaRover — are currently being rolled out across United's fleet. The Rover is spraying roughly 30 aircraft a week at the airline's Chicago hub, but will be introduced to United's other hubs in the coming months. 

Notably, the airline said it will continue to use electrostatic disinfection on its planes before each flight, even when the Zoono Microbe Shield is introduced more broadly. The new antimicrobial will be applied every seven days during overnight deep cleanings.

United and other airlines have worked to implement new cleaning and safety procedures during the pandemic as they try to convince passengers that flying is safe. Flight crews have experienced lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population, which airline CEOs say is proof that these new procedures are working.

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