Necessity really is the mother of invention and, sometimes, the catalyst for investment. This is the story of how an orthopedic surgeon’s ‘basement’ invention is contributing to safer air travel.

The Germ Falcon is a device that cleans aeroplane cabins using UV light. It was invented seven years ago, but has only drawn proper industry interest since COVID-19 struck.

Once upon a time…

During the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, Arthur Kreitenberg (an orthopedic surgeon) was watching his daughter’s volleyball game. As part of their additional hygiene practices, the players didn’t shake hands. But they did all touch the same ball. Mr Kreitenberg invented the Germ Ninja as a way to disinfect the balls with UV light. Germ Ninjas travelled all the way to London’s 2012 Summer Olympics.

How did it end up connected to planes?

On a flight home, his son fell asleep facedown on the little fold-down table. He told his dad about another passenger’s concern about how unhygienic that actually is. And the seed for the Germ Falcon idea was planted.

How does it work?

The Germ Falcon looks like an ordinary drinks trolley, but with two mechanical arms that can reach over all the seats in the cabin. These wings shine UV light over all surfaces as it’s walked down the aisle. It can clean a whole cabin in ten minutes and only costs $10 per plane.

Is this brand new science?

If you’re like us, you didn’t know that UV light could be used as a disinfectant until right now. But this is not a brand new scientific discovery. The US Patent and Trademark Office has records, dating from 1995, of at least 30 different patents for mechanisms that use UV light to clean a variety of objects, water and air. And it is currently used in some hospital operating theatres.

Are there any problems with this kind of device?

There are no problems with what it can do – disinfect all the surfaces in a plane’s cabin, keeping it free of COVID-19.

But it doesn’t do everything. Obviously, it won’t prevent person-to-person contamination between passengers. And there is a small question mark over how well it will penetrate all the necessary nooks and crannies.

Why aren’t’ all the airlines using a Germ Falcon?

Despite attending many trade shows and conferences, and there being a lot of interest, Mr Kreitenberg has never secured contracts with any of the airlines. At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, they gave Germ Falcons to L.A. International Airport to clean planes coming back to the USA from overseas. This got some media attention and attracted interest from Honeywell International.

What’s next?

Arthur and his son, Elliot, have gone into business with this large conglomerate and they hope to have over 100 Germ Falcons flying free in the aviation industry by the end of July. And then ramp up production even more. Although they will be renamed the ‘Honeywell UV Cabin System’.

There are no reports of the finances of the deal from either party. But the Kreitenbergs are not resting on their laurels.  According to the Los Angeles Times: “They are now working on a version of the Germ Falcon that can be used in classrooms, offices, buses and train stations, among other locations. They call it the UV Hammer.”

I think we’re all secretly wishing that the Germ Falcon keeps it original name!

If you’re involved in this kind of UV light R&D, do get in touch. Apart from anything else, it’s absolutely fascinating. Anything to do with the fight against COVID-19 is being done at top speed and you won’t have time to sort out a tax relief claim at the same time. And there are bound to be elements of your project that qualify for R&D tax relief. Whether it’s through the SME R&D Tax Credit scheme, or the RDEC for larger companies. Just don’t lose out on that future investment.

Jamie Smith