My father always talks to me about our ‘instant world’ in his 70 years the world we inhabit has altered beyond recognition. These changes are driven by the proliferation of technology, and the rate of change is only going to accelerate. We are living in a ‘digitized era’ of instant gratification where everyone has an ‘I want it now’ attitude.
The cleaning industry like all industries has not been immune to the changes that advancing technology has brought. The big question in the cleaning industry at the moment is, you guessed it- cleaning robots.
Are these cleaning robots perfected yet and if not, when will they become a viable option for companies like ours?
So, as I arrived at the September 2017 CMS Berlin event I was optimistic that these questions and more would be answered. I was also looking forward to seeing some new and innovative technologies to roll out to our great clients.
I was very excited to see the topics up for discussion, two that stood out to me were a talk entitled ‘From Static, Experience Based Cleaning to Dynamic Knowledge Based Cleaning’ and ‘Smart Buildings Deserve Smart Cleaning’ delivered by technology trailblazers, Microsoft.
In the first talk, new cleaning technologies such as automated vacuums and scrubber-dryers were discussed. While impressive, these technologies are not yet autonomous and still require human interaction.
Finally, the question on everyone’s lips was asked- ‘When will we see effective cleaning robots?’ The answer we were given was ‘no definitive timeframe but definitely in the near future.’
Personally, I feel we are still quite a distance off. Take driverless cars for example- since 2009 Alphabet Inc (Googles Parent Company) have invested over $1.1 billion into perfecting the technology used in self-driving cars. There are still significant gaps in the technology despite the massive investments.
Even when these cleaning robots are ready to go live there are multiple issues to contend with. Will an insurance company insure for a robot operating in a busy retail space? And what will happen when it breaks down or becomes immobilised in a public space?
Where there is new technology there is always anxiety, one cause of this anxiety is understandably so- privacy.
One particularly disconcerting case that comes to mind is that of Roomba- an automated home vacuum that is equipped with technology that allows it to map the floor plans of your home. Roomba were embroiled in a privacy row after it emerged that they may sell these plans to one or more of the so-called big three; Amazon, Apple and Google’s Alphabet.
This is highly private data and has wider implications for the cleaning robotics industry. It raises the question of whether any company would be comfortable allowing a machine equipped with this information gathering ability to be used in their business.
After attending these talks, I watched a demonstration of the much-hyped Intellibot. I witnessed a machine that drove in circles but missed the edges, those same edges that a cleaning professional prides themselves on. I put my hand in front of the robot, unfortunately it did not stop but drove right through. I thought of my 2-year-old son Alfie, if he was in its way is there a chance he would go unnoticed too? There were also other demonstrations, disappointingly nothing blew me away.
It really does excite me the way these conferences are going; the way the industry is thinking. I love to see robots, technology is my passion, cleaning is my industry. I cannot wait until they merge, but unfortunately for now the all-encompassing cleaning robots are still quite a distance away.
I believe that robots will have their day in the cleaning industry; but only under the right circumstances and when they are perfected. For now, we will have to rely on technology enhancing the way our operatives clean- not replacing them.