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Baldwin Wallace University students tackle germs at 30,000 feet with new technology

Posted at 11:06 PM, Dec 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-23 06:57:41-05

CLEVELAND — More than 47 million people are on the move across the sky this holiday season. While on board their flights many of them will be sneezing, coughing and contaminating. New technology designed by a group of Baldwin Wallace University students is trying to help tackle those germs high above the ground.

"Airlines want to land the plane, get people off and get people on as soon as possible, so they don't have time to clean it," said Lucas Shalkhauser, a computer science major.

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is putting air travelers' health in the spotlight.

"I don't like the bacteria. I'm a bit of a germ freak," said Sam Kratsas, another computer science major.

Kratsas is part of a team from Baldwin Wallace that set out to reduce the spread of germs on airplanes.

"If planes were really cleaner, I'd fly a lot more,” Kratsas said.

Their focus was the tray table, a spot that ranks among the dirtiest areas of a plane.

"We put it up there, we kill 99.9 percent of bacteria on the trays," Kratsas said.

The students behind San-Air propose destroying those pathogens using ultraviolet light.

"When you put the tray table up there's this little bar of these LEDs that will come out from the back, rotate out from the back and then scan the back of the tray table then stow away," Shalkhauser said.

The system automatically cleans the plane without relying on a flight crew. The concept won first place at an aviation innovation contest hosted by Kent State University.

"It was a 48-hour competition, so we didn't actually build it," Shalkhauser said.

Part of the San-Air proposal also included an app to alert travelers on their plane's cleanliness.

"Awareness is half the battle, so if we tell people where the bacteria is they can watch themselves and they can use hand sanitizer and that can eliminate some of the germs and some of the sickness," Kratsas said.

While the students said the airlines could do more to reduce health risks, they know passengers can also do their part.

"Consider rescheduling your flight when you're sick because that's a big thing, people go on flights when they're sick and they spread the germs,” Kratsas said.

Those flying may also want to avoid using the pockets on the back of the seats. Flight attendants say they typically find things like dirty tissues, sick bags, and socks in them.