Company Creates Drones To Disinfect Broadway Theaters

Company Creates Drones To Disinfect Broadway Theaters


When Aladdin returns to the New Amsterdam Theatre, all of its magic carpet rides might need to be cleared with an air traffic controller.

As Broadway executives debate different strategies for reopening theaters following the COVID-19 pandemic, a Buffalo-based start-up company named EagleHawk has developed drones to spray disinfectants in Broadway theaters. “This technology reduces the need for human exposure, [minimizes the] costs of P.P.E., and can save a great deal of time and resources,” commented Will Schulmeister, its chief operating officer.

In the innovative system, the disinfectant is stored on the ground, and pumped through a hose to the hovering drone, which then spreads it throughout the theater. Meanwhile, another drone drifts underneath it to make sure that the hose does not get tangled in any of the seats.

“Using a drone to disinfect large targeted spaces and public areas, such as Broadway theaters, is more efficient than having multiple staff walk around and wipe down each seat or [use] a hand spray,” argued Schulmeister. “[W]e can cover large sections of seats very quickly," and “it’s much safer, because now you don’t have crews carrying heavy backpacks full of liquid, not being outfitted in P.P.E., [and] not being directly exposed to chemicals,” added Patrick Walsh, its chief executive officer.

“A Broadway theater could be disinfected by a drone in less than an hour, and without putting people on the front line,” Schulmeister said.

While Broadway theater owners might be afraid of allowing the machines to flutter around their landmarked venues, the executives at EagleHawk insist that it is safe to operate inside. “We’re using a sensor that allows us to navigate indoors safely, so we can detect cables as small as a half an inch,” explained Walsh. The technology has been tested in several large venues, including KeyBank Center, the arena of the Buffalo Sabres professional hockey team.

In addition, spraying the cleaning liquids should not damage the fabric of the seats.

While following the government guidelines for cleaning surfaces to get rid of pathogens like SARS-CoV-2, “we can control the liquid spray enough to not over-saturate the seats and still meet disinfection requirements,” Schulmeister stated. “Additionally,” he said, “our drone system is chemical agnostic, so the notion is that we would be able to use an appropriate chemical that would not cause issue with those type of seats.” If the house manager does not like using a certain chemical, then it can be changed.

“I could see the new drone technology being a good choice for arenas, stadiums, and large performing arts centers with thousands of seats,” commented Susquehanna University theatre professor Erik Viker.

While the leading Broadway theater owners declined to discuss their plans for cleaning seats after the pandemic, some facilities folks do not think that using the drones would fly.

“Actors are super hyper-sensitive to anything sprayed in the air,” recognized a former theater executive. It is possible that the chemicals used to sanitize the seats might irritate some performers and affect their vocal abilities, much like dust and mildew.

In addition, the crews that clean Broadway theaters are members of the large SEIU Local 32BJ labor union. Although its leaders did not want to comment on the possible use of drones, it is believed that the organization would resist the introduction of any technology that would reduce the size of its workforce.Some smaller theaters have been experimenting with other possible alternatives, such as wands that emit ultraviolet light and machines that make antibacterial fogs. “We’re spending money on things to make the audience feel more comfortable,” commented one small theater owner in Florida.

Like the race to develop a vaccine, it is not yet known which cleaning method is the most effective at combating the novel coronavirus.

I am an entertainment attorney at Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP, where I negotiate theatre, film, and television deals. Previously, I worked at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Before entering the legal profession, I developed an algorithm to predict the lifespan of theatrical productions on Broadway. It garnered global attention, and helped change how Tony Award-winning producers think about the business of Broadway. I am a graduate of Cornell University and the University of Chicago Law School.





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