Restaurants embrace emerging technology to keep people, spaces safe during pandemic

IVP Biodefense Indoor Air Protection System mobile device at Argosy in East Atlanta Village. 
Courtesy of Armando Celentano/Argosy

IVP Biodefense Indoor Air Protection System mobile device at Argosy in East Atlanta Village. Courtesy of Armando Celentano/Argosy

Meet Woody, Sally and Alluriam, the latest names in the tech race to make food-service spaces safer during the pandemic.

Woody looks like a harmless, headless droid, with a glowing green ring around the neck. The white machine sits unassumingly at the entrance to Argosy, a craft beer bar in East Atlanta Village, yet scientific studies have proved that Woody can do something that a bouncer never could: kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

This IVP Biodefense Indoor Air Protection System mobile device is located at Argosy in East Atlanta Village. Courtesy of Armando Celentano/Argosy

Credit: Armando Celentano

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Credit: Armando Celentano

Then there’s Sally, the first-ever fresh food robot, now dispensing salads at Savi Provisions on Pharr Road in Buckhead. Sally enables the store to do away with the grimy, hands-on self-serve salad bars of old.

Finally, Alluriam is the app that the Select, an upscale restaurant in Sandy Springs, is using to track and facilitate the health of employees — and, lately, even customers — during the public health crisis.

Neither Woody nor Sally nor Alluriam offers a sure-fire solution to the virus, yet each of these technological innovations presents one more line of defense for keeping people and spaces safer — and the economy open.

The staff at Argosy named their virus-killing apparatus in honor of singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie. Courtesy of Armando Celetano

Credit: Armando Celetano

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Credit: Armando Celetano

‘This machine kills Covids’

The staff at Argosy cheekily named their virus-killing apparatus in honor of singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie, who scrawled the message “This machine kills fascists” on his guitar in the early 1940s. A photocopy of Guthrie and his guitar with the rephrased statement “This machine kills COVIDS” is taped to the top of Woody, the machine, whose real name is r1.

R1 is one of multiple indoor air-filtration units developed by Texas-based Integrated Viral Protection (IVP), whose FDA-approved, patent-pending Biodefense Indoor Air Protection System claims to kill more than 99.9% of the COVID-19 virus, as well as anthrax spores and other airborne pathogens.

Woody is one of two IVP mobile air-filtration units that Argosy owners Armando Celentano, Donald Durant and Benjamin Rhoades are using at the pub as part of a pilot program.

“My partners and I had been researching air-filtration technology since we closed down in March,” Celentano said. “No filters we found were actually effective at killing COVID. HEPA filters don’t stop it. Ion technology, UV — those weren’t functional. This is the first FDA-approved filter that has proven (to be a) 99.99% COVID killer for any air that passes through it.”

Celentano said the IVP air filtration system is “legitimate technology.”

Kenneth Thorpe agrees. A public health professor and chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Emory University, Thorpe facilitated Argosy as an IVP trial setting, after learning about the technology and realizing its potential for safely reopening the economy.

“The filters are the only cleansing system that will pick up anything in the air or surface and kill it immediately,” Thorpe said. “It uses a heated nickel mesh. It kills (the virus) with heat. Products that use UV-light don’t kill the virus. This one is the only one that instantaneously kills it — and at a fraction of the cost.”

Thorpe also noted that the biodefense system “not only deals with the current version of SARS-CoV-2 but, going forward, it would take care of different strains,” such as those emerging from the U.K. and South Africa.

Besides various mobile devices, IVP’s technology can be retrofitted into existing commercial HVAC systems. The breakthrough technology is being tested in a variety of indoor settings, including schools, health-care facilities, hotels and airplanes.

Celentano said that the two units at Argosy have been low-maintenance. Both are positioned in high traffic areas (Woody near the entrance and bar, the other in the mezzanine seating area) and are kept on 24 hours a day. The life span of the filter is 20,000 hours, requiring a change every two years. The sound, which Celentano described as that “of a powerful fan,” has not been intrusive. “Once we turn the music up, it’s almost undetectable,” he said.

Celentano’s only recommendation to the technician who installed his units was to develop a model with a less noticeable appearance. “I’d love an option that’s not just white,” he said. “Almost no restaurant or bar wants a completely hospital-white machine with a green LED light. In the future, I would prefer an option to turn off the LED light, and a dark gray skin that is less noticeable.”

The mobile units at Argosy cost about $6,000 each, and are on loan during the trial, which ends in March. “I hope to be able to purchase them post-trial,” Celentano said, “but we’ll see what situation we’re in then.”

He said he recognizes that the device is “not a catch-all.”

“This is only one layer in our multiple-layered COVID safety health plan. It starts with masks, social distancing, sanitation and testing,” Celentano said. “This gives us another tool in that multi-layered system.”

Savi Provisions has a salad bar food dispenser designed by Chowbotics. Courtesy of Heidi Harris/Our Labor of Love

Credit: Heidi Harris/Our Labor of Love

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Credit: Heidi Harris/Our Labor of Love

New-age salads

Other food-service operators in town also are looking to technology for answers to problems exacerbated by the pandemic.

“I was always interested in AI (artificial intelligence) and automation in our operation,” said Paul Nair, founder of Savi Provisions, an urban market with multiple locations throughout metro Atlanta. “Then came the pandemic, where you can’t have open salad bars.”

The solution he settled on is Sally, a food dispenser designed by Chowbotics, a food robotics company founded in 2014 by Georgia Tech grad Deepak Sekar. Sally looks like a vending machine, but instead of dumping out empty calories in the form of soda, snacks or candy, it offers salads.

The contactless order and fulfillment process is what give salads from Sally their appeal during the pandemic. After downloading the Chowbotics app, and entering the Savi robot ID number (937591), users then build their bowl with any combination of up to 22 ingredients — including proteins — or select from pre-programmed offerings, like a Caesar or Cobb salad, and place their order. The app sends a QR code to the user’s smartphone. Upon arrival, the user scans the code at the machine, picks up an empty salad bowl, places it under the dispenser, and Sally does the rest. Salads cost around $8.

The Savi Provisions salad bar dispenser automatically shuts down ingredients that are past their fresh date. Courtesy of Heidi Harris/Our Labor of Love

Credit: Heidi Harris/Our Labor of Love

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Credit: Heidi Harris/Our Labor of Love

Nair noted that lettuces, toppings and dressings stocked inside the machine are guaranteed to be fresh. That’s because, when an ingredient is past its fresh date, it no longer is available as an option on the Chowbotics app. “The machine automatically shuts it down,” Nair said. “It would not dispense it.”

Nair hopes to add Sally clones to all Savi Provisions locations, if the Chowbotics pilot at the Pharr Road location is successful. And, Nair is working to bring Savi-branded Sallys to office cafe settings.

In addition, he noted that, while Sally only dispenses cold food, Chowbotics is working on a model that would dispense hot food. “I believe this trend is going to stay in self-serve for food,” Nair said.

The Alluriam Employee Availability Planner or EAP app, provides access to a system for use by any company that has in-person, public visitors for the provision of services or delivery of goods. It is used to assure customers that the company is taking measures to assure their safety and to assist managers plan operations by informing them of their employee's current projected availability to work. The app is being piloted  in restaurant settings, including the Select in Sandy Springs.

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

The allure of Alluriam

Dave Green, owner of the Select, has been at the vanguard of restaurant safety during the pandemic. One of the latest technologies he has adopted is an app called Alluriam. Initially developed for the insurance industry, as a scheduling app that companies can use to track employee work availability, Alluriam has been modified to suit the specific needs of a restaurant.

“We made it into a hospitality-driven system to prevent the probability of any employee outbreak,” Green told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview last October, when the app was in its beta phase.

Essentially, employees download the Alluriam app and, upon arriving at the restaurant for their shift, they take their temperature, record that on the app, and answer health questions that can flag potential exposure to COVID-19.

“Imagine, for a moment, they say yes,” Green said. “What happens is, they receive an immediate call from a call center.”

A health care worker — registered nurse or above — becomes the employee’s coach. “Once assigned a coach, that coach stays with you,” he said. “They guide you. They send them for testing. The coach will automatically make the arrangement and schedule it. When they get results, if it’s positive, then we know we have prevented someone from coming into the building.”

The app also assists managers in tracking the work availability of employees. “The beautiful thing about it is that, as soon as we know someone is negative, they say they will upload the information, share it with management, so that management will know their availability. It closes the loop to give the manager a dashboard to know how to schedule,” Green said.

He noted that Alluriam is both encrypted and HIPAA-compliant.When employees sign up, they agree to allow the manager to get that information. When they sign into the app, they accept and agree to the rules. The rules are that the physician can report the status. That is the only information being shared with the manager.”

The Select also expanded use of the app to its customer base. The 150 partygoers at the restaurant’s socially distanced New Year’s Eve celebration were required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test produced in the previous 48 hours. The restaurant provided on-site rapid testing in the two days leading up to the party, and for guests who arrived at the event without proof of a negative test.

Like Celentano of Argosy, Green realizes that, despite all of these safety measures, there still is risk.

“There’s no silver bullet, but we’re creating the safest environment possible under the circumstances,” he said. And, they’ve continued other safety measures. “Everyone is temped (temperature checked) to come in, gloves, masks, sanitizer — none of the other stuff got relaxed.”

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