Disinfection and XR Scale Up
An interview with Amy Hedrick, CEO and Founder of Cleanbox, by Denise Silber, co-founder VRforHealth
(DS) Scaling up the XR industry (the collective term for Virtual and Augmented Reality technology) so that many more consumers and professionals can reap the benefits of immersive technology is on everyone’s mind. You, Amy Hedrick, were a writer at a think tank in 2016, when you realized that because immersive equipment is in close contact with the body, it needs to be efficiently decontaminated between users. You changed direction and created Cleanbox Technology to do just this. How did you set the “wheels” of Cleanbox in motion?
(AH) I was writing for a think tank about technology and its impact on consumer behavior, when I experienced immersive technologies being used in a transformative way. Having a long relationship with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, I ideated a way of triangulating their many archived historical materials with Hollywood storytelling and virtual reality to produce unique immersive experiences that were engaging and most of all, made you want to come back for more.
Although the project didn’t materialize, we identified a critical hurdle for large-scale use of immersive tech. As a quasi-federal organization with 30 million plus annual visitors, the Institution is held to the highest standards of health and safety protocol. Because virtual reality utilizes hardware that sits on the face and head, using it at scale demands higher need for effective, consistent and verifiable decontamination. Even in a pre-Covid world, a safe, reliable, and cost-effective solution to the problem of hygiene was essential. Not only that, we couldn’t use liquids or heat for hygiene because of the electronics, and we couldn’t use chemicals because those electronics touched people’s skin and faces. We needed a solution that could provide reliable, consistent results and was safe for the user and the hardware. And so, we began designing our patented UVC engineering using LEDs, the beginning of what would become Cleanbox Technology.
(DS) How did you make the move from idea to entrepreneurship and get this future successful start-up on its way?
(AH) It started with really catching the creative vision of everything that immersive technology could enhance and improve in education and experience—applications that would inspire adults and children, attract new audiences, provide new ways to learn and tell stories. But the next step was to identify what it would take for the technology to become a reality. Most people were focusing on the headsets or building software, and yes the headsets need to work properly and provide a comfortable user experience, and the software must be developed in a purposeful, effective way. But we also identified early on that hygiene and safety would be essential to actually scale and adopt these amazing immersive technologies. We wanted to address the complicated and hard to clean surfaces of these devices and there weren’t any viable solutions on the market.
So, evaluating the market maturity and identifying barriers of entry took us in a totally new direction. We started patent filings and later incorporated hardware company Cleanbox Technology in 2018. We built and tested prototypes, raised investment, identified, and built a customer base and created the first product all at once, all without the benefit of previous hardware experience.
Cleanbox has always been a health and safety company focused on employee health and wellness. In short, the defining purpose of Cleanbox is to provide businesses powerful, effective, and easy-to-use tools in the fight against contagions that make us sick and keep us from work, school and activities. Cleanbox products provide the highest efficacy against surface contagions, with consistent, human-error free results. The problems we solve extend beyond COVID-19 to protecting people from the contagions that make people sick every day.
(DS) Now you have working products and are equipping major companies in multiple verticals. How are you advancing in healthcare in particular?
(AH) Well, when it comes to virtual and augmented reality, specifically, we envisioned a long-term demand for what our engineering could provide across a variety of use cases and actually started with other industries, because healthcare is typically pretty slow-moving. One of my first scouting trips was to South Africa to look at the mining industry and their exploration of immersive technology for safety training. We looked at location-based entertainment, education, and enterprise. However, I soon discovered champions in healthcare who were really leading the way to a much faster adoption of XR for in healthcare. I learned that the Mayo Clinic started exploring offering VR because their customers were asking for it. I also came into contact with a number of small healthcare champions working in VR. They were joining together in the International Virtual Reality for Healthcare Association, an industry association created by Bob Fine, and Cleanbox became a founding member. I learned about all the good that VR was doing in health through both patient and physician applications from pain mitigation to training and to surgery prep and more. Healthcare is one of the most exciting verticals in which we work.
As a business, Cleanbox works with healthcare organizations whatever their need. For example, some labs at Johns Hopkins use Cleanbox Technology for a one headset operation, because using our equipment guarantees consistent hygiene results in their lab. Hoag Hospital System in California has tens of different Cleanbox products across their hospital. We have three products in our CX Series for HMDs, for single or multiple headsets being cleaned at the same time. And this works well for our clients as all of our products clean at 99.999% in 60-seconds.
(DS) That extra speed is not surprising, given your key goal at Cleanbox Technology to facilitate scale-up.
(AH) Yes, our work at Cleanbox is to make hygiene fit easily into any workflow process so those devices are cleaned between each use. And we actually reach standards that protect providers who are exposed to the re-use of the headsets by different patients throughout the day. We do that with a process in place that is repeatable, verifiable, safe for the end-user and it does not require extensive training.
We also help the end user avoid disposables. This reduces the organization’s eco-footprint and actually saves businesses money. There is no continual purchase of extra disposables, no laborious manual hygiene process. And we are building in a tracking feature, so that each headset will have a history of all the disinfections it has undergone!
(DS) That’s excellent. With all those advantages, how is onboarding going? Aren’t there always concerns in organizations around innovation?
On the plus side, in healthcare, there is of course an understanding of hygiene independently of immersive technology. But, yes sometimes there are concerns about changing protocols, even if it’s for the purpose of adopting a better tool. It’s just human nature to push against change a little bit. So, we like to explain that we are not only making the hygiene process more verifiable and more repeatable than before, but we are also making the workflow easier for the professionals. You can clean 5 times faster in a Cleanbox product than the equivalent use of wipes. Our products are light weight, portable, stackable and easy to use. They can be used with battery packs. The CX Series provides drying and storage. We are here to make the process easier while ensuring its safer.
If an organization currently has headsets and is using alcohol wipes, in order to reach decontamination in a healthcare setting, they will go through a process that takes time and is laborious. It includes using multiple wipes, waiting for the surfaces to dry, repeating the process, being extra careful while cleaning the lenses of the device. Many people don’t realize that to effectively decontaminate using wipes, you need to leave surfaces wet for 2-4 minutes! You can’t do that with HMDs or most electronics, and frankly most people just don’t take the time. Cleanbox is here to make that process easier, faster and better for the devices being cleaned, resulting in a higher level of decontamination every single time. Our products have an overlapping radius of light. We don’t use bulbs so there is nothing to replace or dispose of. Cleanbox’s UVC engineering provides a cumulative dosage in the 265 nm range, that is highly effective while also safe for constant, repeated use on electronics and other sensitive materials reaching the hard-to-reach spots that sit on your face—every single time. Our CX Series of products dry the headsets as well. That’s what we call simplifying workflow, and easing the checklist process.
(DS) This is all such new technology. How did you bring in the technical expertise you needed?
(AH) We’ve developed all our core engineering and designs internally, while tapping into various external experts in decontamination, biology laboratories, clinicians and hygienists in hospitals and clinics. We want all of our clients to understand the science and be able to elevate their own work environment as a result.
(DS) It sounds like there could be a good Return on Investment of Cleanbox equipment for the organizations who acquire them. What information do you have on that?
(AH) Cleanbox’s core value proposition is reliable, repeatable, and safe UVC decontamination that fully decontaminates targeted surfaces in 60-seconds, every single time. We help reduce the waste created by disposables and provide a safe and easy to use tool that decontaminates 99.999% on multiple types of materials, without damage to those materials.
Cleanbox products are 5 times faster than the equivalent use of wipes. Cleanbox products are durable and can be used over and over again. Cleanbox provides leasing and financing options, starting in 2023 to help make it an even easier business decision.
It’s about time, process, reliability, and reduced waste, and we do have data to share.
(DS) We are so excited by your work to elevate the industry through disinfection. Cleanbox is a young company and yet at the forefront globally. What’s your recipe?
(AH) We are highly motivated by our mission. If we help keep providers and patients safe and help reduce contagion transfer, then we are doing something worthwhile! And our focus is very specific: achieving high levels of decontamination in short cycle times in a repeatable way. We are active in multiple memberships of experts in safety and hygiene, standards and protocol, employee wellness, UVC, hardware, and immersive technology. We are in regular contact with researchers, academics, physicians wherever they may be, and continue to learn with them. So, we do have a pretty good idea of the issues. We then work to make the science simple to understand for everyone, so that we can all move forward together. And last but not least, our work is to identify business pain points and make those solutions happen!
(DS) Quite an incredible story, Amy Hedrick! Thank you for this fascinating conversation!
Cleanbox Technology is a global leader in SmartTech Hygiene for corporate, healthcare, education and government markets. Cleanbox products use proprietary, patented UVC LED engineering to easily, quickly, and safely clean many types of “Shared Items” to healthcare-level (99.999%) decontamination in 60 seconds. Founded in 2018 by Amy Hedrick, Cleanbox has gained the trust of thousands of customers in over 50 countries with clients such as Childrens’ Hospital Los Angeles, Ford Motor Company, Veterans Administration, Lockheed Martin, and United Airlines.
Global Market Leader in Safe, Fast and Effective Cleaning of Shared Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality (XR) Headsets, Glasses and Peripherals: The Cleanbox CX Product Line is well established as a mandatory requirement for the safe use of Shared XR Items with a significant market share of Fortune 100 clients across industries that use XR for training, marketing, engineering, medical and other commercial applications. Cleanbox products are incorporated in standard operating procedures (SOPs) for multiple XR production and pilot programs in healthcare, education, government, transportation, manufacturing, and retail.
With the introduction of the Cleanbox OmniClean Product Line, Cleanbox is gaining global leadership in the Safe, Fast and Effective Cleaning of a wide range of shared manufacturing tools, respirator masks, testing equipment, stethoscopes and many other items