Androids could support Andrew Lloyd Webber’s call for theatre audiences to return from June, as a study using breathing robots has found that spectators will be safe.
University College London experts have devised £20,000 robots which exhale droplets, and the devices with mannequin heads have been used to replicate the breath of audience members in theatres.
The spread of stand-ins for Covid-19 droplets was measured with laser technology in tests tweaking the robot’s exhalation from a whispered a “Hello” to Pantomime shouting and musical singalongs.
UCL’s modelling has proven that wearing a mask reduces the spread of droplets by, even in enclosed auditoriums.
“Andrew Lloyd Webber is right,” Professor of biophotonics at UCL, Laurence Lovat said.
“If theatre-goers wear appropriate masks and follow other rules already in place, theatres
become safe places to go to.”
“Across all the tests: singing, breathing and speaking, these results show face masks
provide significant and robust levels of safety against Covid-19 transmission.”
Tests can measure a number of variables, from how a mask is worn, to whether the audience member may have a handheld fan.
Prof Lovat said that lab testing has proved that theatres will be safe, with further testing planned in West End venues to assess airflow and the spread of droplets in different settings.
Only three robots placed in problem areas – close to air conditioning systems or places that could affect airflow – can give an accurate picture of how Covid-19 could spread around a room.
Two different types of masks,surgical throw away a mask and reusable Virustatic Shield masks, were used and proven to be effective at reducing the spread of droplets.