To bot or not to bot?

Are robots or AI about to transform the cleaning industry? We ask two experts to share their takes.

Technology, whether it’s robotics or AI, is changing at an unprecedented pace. The impact of both is being felt across a wide range of industries, but cleaning companies have been quick to embrace the possibilities this new tech might offer.

INCLEAN spoke to two experts with different views on the next big thing for cleaning and technology.

Working side-by-side

Robots might not be ready to take over the world just yet, but the near future should see them taking up more of a role assisting human cleaners. Tom Culver, founder of the Robot Factory says cleaning firms are already employing collaborative robots or “cobots” — smaller robots that can think for themselves, but which work side-by-side with the existing workforce.

“You may want to program the robot to hang around and clean at the front of the store, but you can also quickly say, ‘hey, come over and start working here,'” Tom says.

“You’ll definitely see more of a collaboration between the human and the robot.”

He also expects to see a revolution in smart robots being able to clean some of the trickier indoor spaces.

“There are some robots, and we’re actually working on a few of those ourselves, that can clean the bathrooms, but that’s still a way’s off, because every bathroom is completely different,” Tom says. “We are on the cusp of making this a reality however because of new local edge devices that use super fast chips combined with vision technology and AI, which means the robot can go in and act like a human, with the right arms and the right equipment to clean a bathroom.”

For now, he says it’s the hard-to-reach places, including outside spaces, that might see robots start to dominate.

“We are very excited to be offering more outdoor cleaning automations so watch this space and visit the upcoming InClean show to see this new technology in action.”

Making the most of the data

On the other hand, Mark Fermor, APAC general manager at TEAM Software, says that he doesn’t see robotics transforming the cleaning industry just yet. He says the main challenges in the near future won’t be companies finding a quick fix in robotics or AI, but learning how to make better use of the software tools that are already available.

“People will say, well, ‘what’s AI going to do for cleaning?’ Absolutely nothing,” Mark says.

“Maybe it’s going to be a cool chatbot on your website, but is it going to make your cleaning more efficient? Absolutely not. Because you need skilled people to understand how to do that. All I see right now is a bunch of companies really trying to get to the basic use level of the technology that is currently available to them.”

New developments in software and app technology means that cleaning companies are being presented with more data than ever, which will require more sophisticated software to interpret and extract meaningful conclusions. 

Mark says the much hyped “Internet of Things” — in which devices including robots communicate information such as needing to be emptied or refilled — is yet to make a meaningful impact on the industry.

“I’m very sceptical about the Internet of Things and sceptical about hardware in general. We have systems that require hardware, and they provide a lot of room for error. But perhaps that is going to improve with more consistent manufacturing and data, so I’m not writing it off. Perhaps in the next five to 10 years, it will begin to make sense.”

You can read more about robots, AI and the cleaning industry in the forthcoming July/August print issue of INCLEAN magazine.

Photo by Rock’n Roll Monkey on Unsplash.

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