This Health Agency Made a Package Barcode Scanner That Doubles as a UV Disinfectant

'We are not creating something new—we are just putting two things together'

The agency is hoping shipping services will adopt the product. The Bloc
Headshot of Patrick Kulp

Key insights:

Health-focused creative agency The Bloc is combining two everyday objects into what it hopes could be a useful weapon in the fight against coronavirus.

The shop has rolled out open-source specs for a handheld barcode scanner that doubles as an ultraviolet light disinfectant—with the hopes that shipping companies will adopt it as a convenient way to kill germs on packages as they are being tracked. Agency leaders say they are in talks with a “broad swath of companies large and small” about implementing the device, including a major food shipper, Nature’s Distribution, which has already signed on to adopt it.

While the agency hasn’t done its own testing, other trials have reportedly shown UV-C light to be an effective killer of Covid-19 (the agency stresses that it should never be used to disinfect human skin, only inanimate surfaces).

“We are not creating something new—we are just putting two things together,” said Bernardo Romero, The Bloc’s chief creative officer. “The realization [was] that since we’re using barcode light to scan the products by your door, why not use another type of light—one that has been proven to cure pathogens for over the past 10 or 15 years or so—and mix them together to be able to sterilize and to clean the boxes before they enter your house?”

The Bloc’s evp of growth and innovation, Prodeep Bose, originated the idea for the product, inspired by a portable UV light wand he has long used to sanitize his belongings on various international adventures.

“My personal research goes back a decade because I was looking for things to travel to different and difficult parts of the world where I need to sanitize surfaces,” Bose said.

The Bloc is opting not to patent the idea and wary of being seen as using it for cause marketing around a tragedy. They instead hope that big companies will latch onto the free idea and maybe even iterate and improve it in the same manner as open-source software.

Bose said he’s ideologically opposed to patents in general because they often lead to suboptimal technology dominating a marketplace if a big company buys up competing patents and squashes them. That may seem contradictory, given that The Bloc serves pharmaceutical clients who rely on and fight fiercely to preserve patents in order to recoup drug R&D costs, but Bose thinks another profit system is possible.

“Companies like ours, we are in the service business. We are in the idea business. We typically don’t have intellectual property. We like to pride ourselves in saying that we are in the people business,” Bose said. “So it’s companies and service professionals or service industries such as ours that can actually change the whole construct of patent-driven innovation.”

While the agency is happy to have various companies already taking interest, it has ambitious hopes of attracting the attention of a major shipping provider, like UPS, Amazon or FedEx.

“This guy named Robert Platt, a Northwestern Airlines pilot, was the first to put roller wheels on his black bag and called it a roller board. And then of course, Samsonite was the first company to pick up on it,” Bose said. “We’re hoping that we are the Robert Platt and FedEx will become the Samsonite and make it de facto technology.”

@patrickkulp Patrick Kulp is an emerging tech reporter at Adweek.