Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, home of the Atlanta Falcons and FC Atlanta United, will use a pair of drones to sanitize fan seats and other areas after upcoming events. Specially designed D1 disinfectant drones are supplied by Lucid Drone Technologies and use electrostatic spray nozzles to dispense the non-toxic disinfectant chemicals. The drones will debut after the Falcons’ next home game on Oct. 11 against the Carolina Panthers.
The stadium claims this is the first professional sports stadium to use cleaning drones, and it says they cut the time it takes to clean stadium seats by 95%, freeing up staff to work elsewhere. The drones will also disinfect the handrails and glass partitions of the stadium. Two drones will be used, a third will be used as a backup, ESPN reports.
As the world has relied on how to reopen public spaces amid a global pandemic, remote cleaning solutions like these have become a high-profile way to effectively sanitize large areas, while still being able to keep cleaning staff socially distant from each other. In May, Pittsburgh Airport deployed a UV cleaning robot, and disinfection robots were also deployed to a containment area in Chennai, India.
But an excessive emphasis on surface disinfection has been criticized as a “theater of hygiene” by some experts in a recent report by Atlantic. This is because while the CDC says surface transmission is “possible”, “it is not believed to be the primary means of spreading the virus”. Instead, airborne transmission is seen as a much bigger problem, making social distancing and mask wearing more important to reduce transmission.
Disinfection of areas is not considered to be directly harmful, but the hygiene theater risks creating a false sense of security, Atlantic reports. In some cases, it can also suck resources from other areas.
Fortunately, it looks like sanitizing drones won’t be the only hygiene policy in place at the 71,000-seat Mercedes-Benz stadium. CNN reports that capacity will be limited, although it is unclear exactly how many fans will be allowed to attend, and there will also be 600 hand sanitizer dispensers around the building. Officials at Atlanta Falcons parent company AMBSE have previously indicated that face masks will be mandatory if fans return to games this year and the stadium will enforce a six-foot distance rule between seated groups, AJC reports.