Scientists in Galway and Limerick have developed an ultra-violet drone to sterilise public surfaces and help reduce the transmission of coronavirus.

The autonomous drone will operate across a wide array of public areas mainly at night when there are no people around.

Just last year a group of Irish scientists had a world first with their diabetes drone project - an insulin drop-off to the Aran Islands. When those parcels of medication arrived safely on the white wingcopter drone, all agreed that the seagull had indeed landed.

Now that same team from NUI Galway and the University of Limerick are back with another innovative drone project to fight Covid-19. This time they're delivering ultra-violet light.

The medical industry has a long history of being able to clean things up with UV light. But it is harmful to humans and needs to be delivered in a very controlled environment.  

The drone switches on at night when there are no people present in the areas being cleaned. The drone has a pre-programmed route to fly over and deliver the sterilising UV light leaving the public spaces sanitised for the following day.

Professor Derek O'Keeffe describes universities as "ideas factories" and he said the challenge for the team of clinicians, engineers and scientists was to come up with a way to clean surfaces that were uneven in different public spaces

They used their expertise to develop a drone that can carry ultra-violet light and then autonomously clean a public area when it is unoccupied

"We programme the drone to operate at night time when there's nobody around because we're using ultra-violet light band C, which is harmful to skin. The drone switches on and flys on a pre-defined path like a subway station for example.

"It cleans the area by delivering the UV light and it's environmentally friendly as opposed to chemicals. Then when it has finished cleaning and sanitising the area, it comes back and lands again to be charged and ready to go for the next day".

The research team say this latest drone project is part of a solution, a bigger toolbox, to try to defeat Covid-19 and other micro organisms in our environment.

They say there is no definitive solution but all these different techniques help and show new ways of doing things. The current technology for ultra-violet tends to be deployed sideways as in cylinders and robots that move around on wheels.

"What we're offering is a way to deliver a light from above like you would in a room. The lights are all in the ceilings because light can disperse further when it comes from a height.

"We think it's an innovative solution and it's great that we have a team to test and develop it here at NUI Galway".

The project is led by Professor O'Keefe and Dr Ted Vaughan, with Dr Kevin Johnson from the University of Limerick.

They expect to see their new drone technology deployed across a variety of public spaces like cafeterias, checkouts at shopping centres, airport terminals, train stations, public toilets and so on.