“The future of commercial cleaning is autonomous.” So says Avidbots, a Canadian manufacturer that produces commercial cleaning robots. Not the most objective analysis, it could be argued, but the fact remains that floor cleaning is the fastest-growing robotic category in the U.S., according to Cleaning and Maintenance Management magazine.
It’s easy to see why. Up to 95% of the cost of cleaning a floor is labor, but commercial cleaning operators have already tried every strategy available to reduce manual labor costs. There is simply nothing left to cut, with contracts as flexible as they can be and margins on janitorial products as tight as possible, without endangering safety or quality.
What robots are already able to achieve is often stunning. Take the example of the Hefter Robot cleaner, used at airports and hospitals in the U.K., which can cover 200,000 square feet per day. The robot uses lasers to navigate the cleaning area, keeps a log of which areas it has already cleaned, and can return to its docking station at the end to refill and recharge.
Likewise, Serbot manufactures window-cleaning robots. Their Gekko cleans 15 times faster than human crews and can even eliminate the need for harsh chemicals through thermal technology.
In healthcare, robots are proving their worth, solving the uncomfortable truth that manual cleaning solutions are often not working. More than 2 million secondary infections are transmitted through bacteria every year in the U.S., either through inadequate cleaning or pathogens that are developing resistance to chemicals. Machines such as theXenex, which uses UV light instead of chemicals to sterilize rooms, can be leased by hospitals to mitigate the expense.
Increasingly, Integrated Project Development is designing robotic cleaning into building architecture, with sensors that anticipate the needs of on-site robots. At the same time, we have not yet reached the point where automation replaces humans entirely. We are developing robots that standardize human tasks and maximize their efficiency, but we still need humans to manage the machines, monitor their tasks, and maintain them in working order.