Artificial intelligence and cleaning

Robot cleaning products are not a new concept. Devices like iRobot's Roomba and the Electrolux Trilobite have been crawling around floors by themselves for almost two decades. But these devices are primitive compared to what is in the pipeline now, with cleaning appliances that are able to learn, adapt and improve their operations as they’re being developed and released on the market.

The initial challenge with early self-cleaning robots was the technology embedded inside of them. Weak processors and low volumes of RAM limited their scope, and the concept of cameras feeding data to this central processor was a pipe dream.

Over the last 20 years, however, technology has improved so greatly that sensors are now able to navigate tricky obstacles like cords and rug tassels.

But the biggest innovation is the addition of VSLAM (Visual Simultaneous Location and Mapping)—AI technology that allows devices to create a 3D map of the room they are to clean.

The key feature this provides is efficient cleaning, as the sensors can map the room and move around in straight, organised lines to get the job done to completion.

Previously, these autonomous cleaners would bang around a room in random lines, moving only when a sensor detected an obstacle. This meant areas could remain uncleaned while other areas received multiple pass-overs by the device.

Australian company iClean Facility Services is one of the exhibitors at Total Facilities 2018 who is utilising industry innovations in the field.

They have already introduced technology into the commercial cleaning space, with Bluetooth tracking that shows when the cleaner has entered a site, how much time they spent in an allocated area and when they leave the premises.

The Melbourne company is able to use the technology to not only make its cleaners accountable, but provide a transparent process for its clients where they can provide feedback.

Kärcher scrubbing up well

It’s the financial benefits that artificial intelligent devices could reap that are underpinning industry investment.

With labour costs accounting for around 80% of building service contracts and the fact the labour is becoming increasing difficult to find, robotic solutions are starting to sound less like science fiction and more like common sense according to Total Facilities Cleaning Partner, Kärcher.

“My vision is to have a cleaning robot that achieves maximum autonomy and that can be used on all surfaces 100% safely and economically,” says Karcher’s Head of Product Management Floor Care, Marco Cardinale.

“That would be the breakthrough that must be made in the next three to five years, and that current solutions have not yet made. This would allow us [Karcher] to open up numerous fields of application, even in busy public areas.”

Yet Kärcher also believe that the age of AI will still require an expert human hand, and in contrast to its vacuum cousins, scrubber technology still needs further development.

“For more complex areas of use like office cleaning, with many obstructed surfaces, [scrubbing] robots cannot currently match the efficiency of a professional cleaner,” says Cardinale. “And you still need someone to fill and empty the tanks.”

Dyson investing heavily into robotics and artificial intelligence

When it comes to cleaning appliances, Dyson stands tall as one of the industry leaders.

Now the iconic brand is shifting its attention towards robotics and artificial intelligence through a new UK campus equipped with 7000 staff opening to conduct studies into these fields.

This multimillion-pound research and development centre will be opened at a former Ministry of Defence site at Hullavington. While Dyson has yet to disclose the operations that will be conducted here, the company already tips £2.5bn into future technologies and currently spends £7m a week on research and development.

As well as this, a £330 million research facility in Singapore will conduct research on “connected technology and intelligent machines.”

This facility will operate as a global hub, with a new facility called the The Control Tower which taps into real-time supply chain and logistics data. As well as this, $561 million will be invested into research and development including collaboration between different hardware and software teams in dedicated labs.

The first major product the company has launched in this sphere is the Dyson 360 Eye robot vacuum. It has been developed over 18 years and is scheduled for release in Australia in the near future. The 360 Eye, as the name suggests, includes a 360-degree camera that feeds a wraparound image of the room into its processor. It uses algorithms to track a path around tricky obstacles and in-between furniture and walls to ensure a thorough, automated clean.

Dyson’s head of robotics Mike Aldred says this product is only scratching the surface of what AI and robotics can achieve with vacuums.

“At the moment, robotics is mostly about avoidance. It’s about covering the floor space while avoiding everything else. What we want to be moving toward is interaction,” he says.

Dyson are also working towards adaptation from their devices, where they can learn from their mistakes and make adjustments by themselves.

This means devices that can detect areas that need heavier cleaning and other areas that may not need as much work. The devices can learn from its experience in a room and change its future behaviours without having to detect these differences every time.

You can see Total Facilities Cleaning Partner Kärcher on Stand E22, iClean on Stand H26 and Dyson on Stand D2 this 18-19 April at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. For more information on this year’s exhibition and the register free online click here.