The COVID-19 plague has prompted a renewed look at the health risks in the shared mobility world. The interior of light-duty vehicles can easily allow for cross-contamination. The interior often includes multiple occupants in an enclosed space for extended periods, numerous frequent touch-points in that environment, and limited decontamination of the microbes. This could result in a renewed interest in car ownership where the driver can control the environment. Mass transit could become unattractive, restricted or like the New York City Subway cleaning program that just started, unavailable at night
Shashank Modi a Research Engineer at the Center for Automotive Research in Michigan notes that drivers of Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing services are concerned about their own health and that of their passengers. Company guidelines recommend ride-hailing drivers to wear masks and disinfect their cars regularly. “But are these safety measures sustainable in the long run? Is there a better way to instill confidence in shared mobility?” asks Modi.
Automakers are developing and applying vehicle sanitation technologies. Chinese automaker Geely Motors is installing “G-Clean Intelligent Air Purification System (IAPS)” system in all its production vehicles claiming filter efficiency like an N95 respiration system. There are also suppliers offering UV light devices for sanitizing vehicle interiors.
“Many materials companies are also developing ‘antimicrobial’ materials and coatings that may more effectively limit the spread of infectious diseases within a vehicle interior. These antimicrobial materials damage the protein, cell membrane, DNA, and internal systems of a microbe, causing it to die. An antimicrobial surface could have a detrimental effect against a range of organisms ranging from beneficial to harmful ones and could include mammalian cells and cell types typically associated with diseases such as bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and fungi,” says Modi.
CAR research identified various suppliers working on antimicrobial technology and several currently availability of commercial products for the automotive market. However, vehicle manufacturers have not yet deployed antimicrobial material technologies in mass-produced vehicles.
“We believe the COVID health crisis will likely force more automakers to accelerate the research and deployment of antimicrobial technologies. If successful, these technologies can reduce consumer anxiety around cleanliness and help enable shared mobility solutions,” says Modi.