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A key for staying germ-free during COVID-19

By Travis Williams

(© Fabian –

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ryan Pieper unlocked a way to help people.

“I wanted to give back,” said Pieper, an associate collegiate professor who teaches and oversees the workshop facilities at Virginia Tech’s Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center (WAAC). “And how does a shop guy with design experience give back to something like this?”

Pieper found the key to his contribution in designing a more efficient and widely accessible version of the handheld tools he saw being marketed as germ-free ways to open doors and use on touchscreens. His two designs, which are trimmed of many of the unnecessary “swoopdy doopes” featured by other products, are opened-source with the hope of providing production opportunities for local machine shops around the world.

“Some of the [other products] were clearly cash-ins,” Pieper said. “They were pretty gimmicky, poorly designed, with people trying to cram too much into what should be a simple form.”

Pieper streamlined his design for two functions; opening doors and pushing buttons. It’s small enough to fit in most pants pockets and can be attached to a key ring.

Pieper advises making the tools out of 1/8” thick 260 Brass alloy, which is affordable while also having a level of copper needed to provide the benefit of natural antimicrobial properties.

“This wasn’t my invention. My contribution was to improve upon an existing idea and release the design for free,” said Pieper, who has been teaching at the WAAC, the urban extension of the Virginia Tech School of Architecture + Design, for a decade.

Along with noticing the sub-par designs, Pieper said he also observed many of the similar products advertised were actually being produced overseas. He thought by making his design open-sourced, it might provide work for local craftspeople who’d seen slowing business due to the pandemic.

“I think it’s important to support local manufacturers, and I don’t have the ability to go into full-scale production, so this was kind of a two-birds-with-one-stone type of solution,” Pieper said. “We all have a responsibility to give back and try to improve this situation, however big or small of an impact it may have.”

augusta free press
augusta free press