Ottawa firm's COVID-killing robot gaining altitude in aviation market

RAY robot
Local startup Aero HygenX has created an autonomous robot designed to patrol aircraft aisles and kill the virus that causes COVID-19. File photo

An Ottawa startup’s virus-killing robot has landed its first customers as the firm ramps up production of technology it believes will be a game-changer in restoring confidence in the beleaguered aviation industry.

Aero HygenX launched in January 2020 when a “group of aviation geeks at heart” realized the COVID-19 pandemic was poised to deal a crippling blow to air travel. Its founders have created an autonomous machine that’s designed to patrol empty aircraft aisles while emitting ultraviolet light that wipes out virtually all germs in its path ​– including the novel coronavirus.

The first units started rolling off the production line at Gloucester-based Pryor Metals in February, and the high-tech disinfectant on wheels, dubbed RAY, has now officially entered service. 

RAY is currently being used on three De Havilland Dash 8-series aircraft that shuttle Hydro-Québec workers back and forth from remote work sites. Aero HygenX says it’s poised to announce another deal with a regional Canadian air carrier in the coming days.

Co-founder and CEO Arash Mahin believes the sky’s the limit for the growing Ottawa enterprise. He says he’s had no shortage of interest from airlines around the world as well as transportation providers in other sectors such as light rail.

“There is definitely a plan for global expansion,” says Mahin, who previously worked at Air Canada and Ottawa’s Searidge Technologies. “We wanted to get a good foothold in understanding the aviation space because our background is there, but we are seeping into other markets that see the application as well.”

The company’s self-propelled, battery-operated robot has full 360-degree coverage and comes equipped with motion-sensing cameras that detect objects in its way. The machine automatically changes directions and moves up and down aisles without needing any human intervention.

Chemical-free solution

With the global aviation industry struggling to regain altitude, RAY’s inventors say the device offers a chemical-free, environmentally friendly way to help boost the public’s confidence in flying.

Short-wavelength UV light has been used for decades to kill pathogens such as viruses and bacteria and is medically proven, Mahin explains, noting RAY can destroy up to 99.9 per cent of all germs in the air and on surfaces.

Mahin and co-founders Peter Bahraini and Kris Rupay have funded the venture mostly out of their own pockets so far, with some backing from other investors and a few government grants. 

Now at just shy of 20 employees, Aero HygenX expects to keep adding to its headcount as more customers jump on board, Mahin adds.

“We’re actively looking for capital, but we’re growing this organically as we speak,” he says. “We are definitely on the right growth path, I think.”