CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Imagine R2-D2 rolling around Bank of America Stadium zapping COVID-19 and other germs on everything from helmets to toilets with a high-intensity ultraviolet light, the way Luke Skywalker would zap a stormtrooper with a blaster.

That’s basically what the Carolina Panthers are doing to ensure as much as possible a virus-free environment as the stadium prepares on Sunday to host fans for the first time this season.

The Xenex LightStrike Robot, billed as a “germ-zapping robot,” looks a lot like the R2-D2 robot from “Star Wars.” The Panthers purchased three of them early in the pandemic — at a cost of a little over $100,000 each — to help assure players, coaches and other employees that they would be working in a safe environment.

Now the robots will be used to make the 5,240 fans attending Sunday’s game against Arizona feel safer by zapping germs in restrooms, concession areas, suites and other areas.

“What you put in an operating room at a hospital we want to make sure we had for our locker room and weight room and our suites and restrooms,” team president Tom Glick said. “We’ve been using them all summer and we’re using them in advance and after the game on Sunday.”

The Panthers are the first NFL team to use what Morris Miller, the chief executive officer of Xenex Disinfection System, calls the “world’s only proven coronavirus-killing Xenon UV-Ray Robot.”

Miller said the robot has been used for the past 11 years worldwide in more than 750 hospitals, including all the Mayo Clinic facilities.

“When Tampa Bay had an outbreak of MSRA [in 2013] and two players got it, that’s what brought our attention to the NFL,” Miller said.

Miller said the robot was proven by the Texas Biomedical Research Institute to be 99.99% effective at killing the coronavirus within two minutes of contact.

“The Panthers really wanted to take safety to the next level,” Miller said. “They reached out to at least a dozen hospitals in the Carolinas area. They asked what was the most powerful way to disinfect.”

That brought them to the LightStrike Robot, which can kill germs at a rate of 5,000 to 7,000 square feet per hour. The Panthers have about 2 million square feet of space at BOA.

“We can do in two minutes what traditionally takes a UV lamp 45 minutes to an hour,” Miller said.

The robot is 32 inches tall with a domed top, which gives it the R2-D2 appearance. The top rises to 52 inches when the Xenon lamp begins pulsing ultra-intense rays.

Beyond spaces such as the locker room, the Panthers have used it on helmets, shoulder pads and cleats.

“The good news, after the coronavirus ends, now the team can use it to make sure they don’t get MRSA and other infections affecting them in the past,” Miller said. “This is the science of disinfection.”



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