The Cleaning Revolution and the Arrival of Intelligent Service Robots
With every industrial revolution comes dramatic change.
And with that change, there comes a natural human reaction to technological progress, which often takes the form of concern regarding a potential increase in automation across an economy. But for various industries, like facilities management and janitorial services, where a significant portion of excessive labor costs are related to risk and efficiency, the need for evolution has never been more apparent than today.
“I can’t tell you how many times someone was scrubbing the floor, or doing a strip and wax, when they slipped and fell—and broke a wrist, sprained a shoulder or something else,” says Joe Mann, a more than 20 year veteran in facilities management and current vice president of business development at CloudMinds, which is a manufacturer of cloud artificial intelligence and robotics. According to him, workman’s comp claims are an understated burden on businesses of all varieties around the globe.
“If companies could put a capable robot on some of the more repetitive tasks, and have people focus on other high skilled or important activities across a cleaning operation, that greatly improves the cleaning process, while at the same time, reduces the risk of someone getting hurt on the job,” Mann continues.
It’s a scenario that puts a bit of perspective into the increasingly important role of technology in the cleaning industry. This industry has only seen a handful of real milestones across the last century when it comes to innovations that have really moved the needle in improving efficiency.
Fast forward to today, and it’s in the equipment area where the industry is seeing the dramatic shift toward robotics.
But even with the increasing use of robots, there are still limitations to what most machines can do in a janitorial setting.
But even with the increasing use of robots, there are still limitations to what most machines can do in a janitorial setting. And despite the introduction of new-age sensors, better algorithms created by engineers and more improvements, robots—whether purpose-built or humanoid in form factor—are still falling short of customer expectations to truly free up valuable manpower across cleaning operations.
“The biggest challenge we have with robots is that they are not able to complete their tasks 100 percent every time,” Mann explains. “Most customers today still need to have a janitor or another staffer monitor that machine—or be nearby fairly often—because they never know when it may stop doing what it’s supposed to be doing. That may mean tweaks to get it back on track because of some everyday obstacle.”
Most robots are not smart enough to get themselves out of every real-world situation. And at the end of the day, a customer wants to be able to push a button and forget about the machine to free up staff.
Yet new research has found that this issue can be addressed by leveraging architecture that will eventually move more of the “brain” of robots into the cloud.
In other words, robot intelligence is no longer limited to what can be programmed into the physical robot body. Robots can become smarter as they learn infinitely by using cloud artificial intelligence, but, most importantly, they do so with the help of remote human operators that act as an always-on support system.
Robots can become smarter as they learn infinitely by using cloud artificial intelligence, but, most importantly, they do so with the help of remote human operators that act as an always-on support system.
“That means when the robot gets stuck, it’s not going to bother anyone or require a staffer from the client company to take care of it. We have a command center that’s cloud-based where human operators dial right into the robot through the latest forms of advanced connectivity—from 4G LTE, emerging 5G networks and more. This also enables the robot to constantly learn, adapt and get better at its tasks in real time.
“The question now is, is it more impactful to have a robot designed to do one specific task—like a 30-inch wide scrubbing robot that does nothing but go up and down the hall and scrub every day? Or is it more efficient to build a human robot that knows how to use a mop?”
Various purposes will call for certain types of robots—from more simple cleaning robots for janitorial services in large facilities to humanoid robot nannies for households in the future. But, no matter how you look at it, an industrial cleaning revolution has arrived. And to the surprise of many, it will revolve around humans and robots working closer together.
“You can’t stop industrial revolutions. When it comes to janitorial services, there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it. It’s going to be about removing the need for humans to do monotonous and even hazardous tasks—while adding more jobs where humans are helping to operate more advanced cleaning robots.”
By Andrew de Lara, Executive VP, DRIVEN360