BROWNWOOD, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – “Aurora Guard” could be the future in personal virus protection, and it was conceived, designed, and developed by students at Howard Payne University (HPU) in Brownwood. The idea for a “wearable disinfecting garment” was patented in 2020 by professor Dr. Martin Mintchev.

“Our duty in the engineering program is to offer innovation,” said Dr. Mintchev.

Working prototype of “Aurora Guard”

While the technology of ultraviolet light for killing viruses and bacteria already exists, the breakthrough comes in making it portable. This was a feat attributed to HPU students, Layton Pratt and Ryan Robertson.

“Once we started investigating it and figuring out how viable it was, we started putting a lot more time and effort into building the real thing,” Robertson began.

Dr. Mintchev told KTAB/KRBC he’s worked with his students since 2020 to evolve the idea from concept to working prototype. The proof of the concept was designed as a hat with built-in LED lighting. The hat was only made to show the form such a device might take .Robertson and Pratt took the project to new heights by bringing function to that form.

Dr. Mintchev wearing proof of concept hat

“I had to read a stack of manuals to figure out how to make this thing work, and not all of them were in English,” explained Pratt.

With Robertson working to model the device, and Pratt focusing on the wiring and electronic components, the two worked together to make Dr. Mintchev’s vision a reality.

“We work well together,” Robertson included. “We’re both very opinionated, but that’s good because it leads us to new ideas.”

Their work was accepted for presentation at the third International Conference on Electrical, Computer, Communications and Mechatronics Engineering (ICECCME), a world wide recognition sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.

“I feel proud and honored,” Dr. Mintchev said, “but the glory goes to my students.”

As it was explained, Aurora Guard is worn on the chest and emits a harmless ultraviolet light that kills viruses before they are able to reach the wearer. Dr. Mintchev, Robertson, and Pratt said they could see it as a replacement for hazmat suits, masks, face shields, or any garment used in protection against infection.

“It reduces social distancing to almost normal communication,” Dr. Mintchev assured.

Although the device is only in the prototype stage at the moment, Pratt and Robertson said they hope to develop it further as technology allows. In time, they hope to make it smaller and more convenient for everyday use.

(Left to right) Pratt, Dr. Mintchev, and Robertson pose with various models of product

This team said they are currently working on a helmet variant of the device for use in areas where hard hats are required, or by motorcyclists. They are also working with the chest mounted unit to activate only when another person is nearby, saving battery life.

“It feels like a milestone,” added Dr. Mintchev. “Whether or not it is historic? Time will tell.”

Beyond just engineering knowledge, Dr. Mintchev works with his classes to understand the business side of development as well, taking care to ensure his students are able to market their products and see the fruits of their labor.

Pratt and Robertson will fly to Tenerife, Spain in July to present Aurora Guard, their work to be published and available in all international databases.