Are Robotic Cleaners Coming to Campus?

The Office of Facilities Maintenance and Operations has been receiving an increased number of questions on the future of robotic cleaning from the campus community.

Facilities Maintenance and Operations has and continues to look closely at how robotic cleaning equipment (autonomous floor scrubbers) may fit in our cleaning program on campus. Testing by higher education institutions and private industry show that current technology really only allows autonomous floor scrubbers to provide maximum cleaning performance in very open spaces, such as gymnasiums. These autonomous floor scrubbers are very expensive and we must balance the cost with gains in productivity in select areas.

We expect these units to allow some staff more time to focus on detailed work that autonomous floor scrubbers cannot perform. Even though autonomous floor scrubbers move around and clean open spaces such as gym floors independently, they still need significant human input and management. Staff must still fill the machine with water, plug it in for recharging, install the correct floor brush and clean the machine’s tank as part of regular use and care. The robot sends a text when the job is complete and the machine is ready to be serviced and put away. Perhaps in the future, our housekeeping staff may assume the responsibility of robot manager. And it doesn’t end here - autonomous lawn mowers are also close on the horizon, at least for smaller areas with little foot traffic nearby.

Students, faculty, staff, and alumni have never appreciated the in-person college, workplace and event experience more than they do now, and likely will in the future.  Robotics will assist our cleaning staff in providing this experience.

Inside the Robots

What tech goes into cleaning robots?

  • LiDAR - the same self-driving tech used by autonomous vehicles
  • Cellular connectivity - data often goes only between the robot and the cloud
  • Data dashboard - real-time metrics on environmental health and safety
  • Tech-and-repeat learning - teach the robot the optimal route once and it will repeat it
  • Works in the dark - saving energy while cleaning
  • Turn signals - show where it’s headed
  • HEPA filters - capture 99.97% of particles
September 29, 2021