Cleaning in large commercial spaces such as warehouses, hospitals, schools, malls, and airports, is tedious and never ending. AI-driven robots are finally taking over this back-breaking task, freeing up human janitors to do more high-value work. Artificial intelligence and IoT technology is gradually being widely adopted in the commercial cleaning industry. Use of such technology can be seen in applications such as smart toilet systems, restroom dispensers, rubbish bins, odour management or scenting and even floor care.
A recent news reported by Asia One cited that hundreds of “friendly” robots that speak multiple languages as well as sing are being rolled out across Singapore, to help clean the city-state’s hotels, shopping malls and government buildings. One such instance of automation and AI being used for commercial cleaning was recently covered by the leading newspapers in the region.
Earlier this year the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) started a trial with a robotic cleaner at one of its metro stations. Mohammad Hassan Al Amiri, Director of Railways Maintenance at the Railways Authority, stated that the use of r obot cleaner at the Union Metro Station is a first step in cleaning of all metro stations using AI.
To understand the role of AI and automation in the cleaning industry globally and in the region we speak to Faizan Sheikh, CEO and Co-founder of Avidbots which launched Neo – an autonomous floor scrubbing robot for large commercial spaces and John Chan, VP of Business Development, LionsBot - a Singapore-based robotics company that creates cleaning robots as a service for commercial, industrial and public spaces. Talking about the impact of automation in commercial cleaning especially in the hospitality industry Lukas Tremmel, Director of Hotel Operations, Media One Hotel also gives us an insight on this subject. Following are excerpts from th interview:
Faizan Sheikh, CEO and Co-founder of Avidbots
What is the equation between automation/robotics and manual workforce? Is it a threat or a balance can be found between the two?
Neo is a collaborative robot (cobot) which can become a member of the cleaning team. Cleaning floors is time consuming and tedious. Earlier someone had to push a cumbersome manual floor scrubbing machine around each night for hours, or worse yet, use a mop and bucket. With Neo, cleaners can focus on other higher-value tasks which requires human intervention. Majority of our customers state they have not eliminated any jobs due to Neo, but instead have freed up their maintenance staff to focus on more important tasks.
How is technology taking a forefront in the Middle East market?
The Middle East is always open for latest innovations and advanced technologies including robotics. Through distributor partnerships, Avidbots has already deployed Neo robots in the United Arab Emirates and Israel and is exploring new markets.
Name the technologies you have launched for the Middle East market? How has been the response?
We’ve deployed a number of Neo floor-scrubbing robots in the United Arab Emirates and Israel. The response has been very positive. Our customers have improved cleaning outcomes and recorded measurable gains in productivity and ROI for their maintenance operations. Our distributor in Israel, Innox Robotics, a division of logistics services company Mehola, has seen strong demand for Neo among its 1,700 commercial and governmental customers in the country, which include two largest shopping mall chains, the leading grocery store company, airports, and hospitals.
What are the challenges you are facing in the Middle East market?
The biggest challenge for Avidbots is about educating the market on automation for commercial cleaning. Avidbots has been tirelessly working on the specific problem of robotic commercial cleaning for more than five years. We are currently on the 9th iteration of our robot and have the best system in the market. So the Neo floor-cleaning robot is not always the least expensive option, but it’s the highest-quality robot delivering by far the best price performance, so our job is to demonstrate Neo’s return on investment to potential customers in the Middle East and beyond.
John Chan, VP of Business Development, LionsBot
How has been the impact of the automation and robotics in the cleaning and hygiene market?
The impact is steadily gaining momentum due to the fact that many developed cities are faced with challenges such as shortage of cleaners willing to join the cleaning industry, ageing of cleaners in the current workforce leading to inability of undertaking physically demanding cleaning tasks and rising HR and operational cost leading to both building owners, facility management companies and cleaning companies to look into ways of maintaining and/or reducing overheads.
What is the equation between automation/robotics and manual workforce? Is it a threat or a balance can be found between the two? Are there any challenges?
Robotics is not meant to replace the manual workforce, but rather is a supplement to the cleaning team. Due to the above challenges highlighted, people must come to terms with the fact that we no longer can afford to do every job task, especially the menial, routine, mundane and dangerous ones. We need to embrace automation/ robotics just like how we embrace smart phones into our life and change our work lifestyle.
Does LionsBot have a presence in the Middle East market? If not, are you planning to enter the Middle East market? Not yet and we hope to enter the Middle East market by 2020. How is technology taking a forefront in the Middle East market?
Middle East over the last two decades has successfully transformed into a global market, and business and tourism hub. According to Accenture Technology Vision 2015, it has been reported that five technology trends will re-shape Middle East markets by creating new digital ‘ecosystems’. The five trends identified include the personalisation of the internet – Internet of Me; a shift in focus from selling things to selling results in an Outcome Economy; digital platforms that help build next-generation products and services in the Platform (R) evolution; intelligent software embedded across the enterprise, creating the Intelligent Enterprise; and intelligent machines and devices working alongside employees as a Workforce Reimagined.
What is your opinion on the Middle East cleaning and hygiene market?
The cleaning and hygiene market is saturated and lacks true differentiation.It is in need of some technological breakthrough and innovative solutions.
Name the technologies you have launched or planning to launch for the Middle East market?
We are planning to launch various tribes of autonomous cleaning robots that is each designed to perform different specialised cleaning tasks and work in teams.
Lukas Tremmel, Director of Hotel Operations, Media One Hotel
How is artificial intelligence and IoT revolutionising the cleaning practices in the hospitality industry?
Window cleaning robots and facade cleaning robots are becoming popular with features like lower safety risk and increased cleaning frequency. Also gardening robots and robots that iron and fold laundry are available for the hospitality industry. There are robots available for cleaning bed and eliminate germs, bacteria and dust mites. Perfect for use in hotels and apartments. We have introduced two robots for marble and carpet vacuuming and mopping. We also use AC duct cleaning robots for deep cleaning. We are currently exploring the possibility of having a robot for swimming pool cleaning.
How has been the impact of the automation and robotics in the hospitality industry?
There is a new hotel in Japan that has gone fully automated, but the beauty of the hospitality industry is the human interaction. I don’t think robotics will take over the whole industry, however they will assist in making the work easier and take over heavy duty/ dangerous work.
Why did your hotel feel the need to incorporate the robot for lobby cleaning?
The robots not only help in keeping the floors clean but they assist in keeping the marble shine all the time! The use of robotics in the lobby is also a nice conversation starter. We call them Freddy and Fergie.
Are you planning to introduce more such technology in the hotel?
If yes, can you explain in brief the areas/spaces you are looking at for cleaning? We are exploring the facade robot for window cleaning and are in the process of getting the pool robot on board.