IBM Patents Drones to Detect MRSA Contamination

A new patent that imagines drones buzzing around a hospital, finding sources of infection, and learning from that data was issued to IBM.

When Connecticut was dealing with 914 cases of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in 2012 medical professionals spent an excessive amount of time involved in sanitizing themselves and their equipment. James Kozloski’s wife Sumali is one of those medical professionals, and the IBM engineer was struck with inspiration to find a way to clean hospital surfaces with a tool that couldn’t be infected with MRSA. His solution was a drone that can detect and clean contaminated surfaces. The Patent Office issued Patent US 9447448 B1, Drone-based microbial analysis system, on September 20, 2016.

James Kozloski, Timothy Lynar, Clifford Pickover, and John Wager are all listed as the patent grantees. Kozloski chose Pickover as a master inventor, Tim Lynar as an expert in workplace safety, and Wagner the mathematician as team members to develop the drone idea. Building cognitive abilities into the drone allows the controller to learn over time about surfaces that will have more contamination, and which microbes might grow easier on certain surfaces or occur more or less frequently.

The patent discusses the drones and also an ‘electronic drone control facility’ that would store the data collected by the drones and then make future decisions for cleaning priorities and frequency. An IBM article also theorizes that the drones could monitor food supplies up and down the food chain looking for contamination. The farm, processing plants, and grocery stores might all be candidates for contamination detecting drones.

Drone-based contamination detection is a great example of more applications that can come from what feels like a constant increase in drone use, and a constant increase in the internet of things. Beyond hospitals and food supplies I can see manufacturing plants, schools, and even sporting arenas using drones to scan for contamination before large events.