Robots and Artificial Intelligence or AI, is going to dramatically change our lives and our world, sometimes in ways we don’t, or won’t expect. Robot technology is advancing rapidly, and new sensor technologies mean it’s no longer just for high-volume manufacturing. Many other industries stand to gain, including facility/building maintenance.
Robots can already help out in a variety of ways and will only become cheaper and better. Below are some other examples of robot usage in and around building maintenance and usage:
Facility security is an activity particularly well suited to robot sensor technology. A case in point is Knightscope, founded in 2013, is marketing an autonomous 5-foot-tall, 400-pound, Robot designed to monitor crimes in malls, parking lots, and neighborhoods. Their growing family of security machines work as slower, more disciplinarian versions of self-driving cars.
No one likes tripping over buckets of dirty water, and a noisy vacuum disrupts conversations and meetings. That’s why vacuuming and scrubbing or mopping are best done outside normal office hours. That means keeping the lights and heat or air-conditioning on, and paying a cleaning staff to work at night.
One company offers a range of automated floor scrubbers and vacuums. These machines come equipped with sensors providing a 360-degree view of their surroundings, letting them detect obstacles and pausing to let people pass. They even come with detectors to stop them falling down stairs.
Almost every modern downtown is dominated by towers of glass and steel. As architects devise ever more complex structures with intricate curves and angles, keeping those windows clean is becoming harder and more dangerous. It seems like a good robot application, if a way can be found for the robot to attach itself to the structure. Some researchers are addressing the idea of providing tracks or rails on the exterior, but one model uses vacuum to attach itself to the glass. A rotating brush and a supply of demineralized water then remove grime as it crawls along, one panel at a time. And unlike human cleaners, this machine works day and night and in poor weather.
Anyone responsible for maintaining a large solar array will be interested know there are robot models that can clean rooftop panels and others intended for large-scale solar farms. Dirt reduces the efficiency of photovoltaic arrays, so regular automated cleaning could have an immediate payback.
Like vacuuming, daytime grass cutting is noisy and distracts employees trying to focus. In contrast, a robot lawnmower will quietly go about its work at whatever time is best. Several companies provide a range of machines to replace human lawn maintenance crews. One additional benefit: since there’s no operator, these can easily slip under trees and obstacles like solar arrays.
As manufacturing companies have found, there are advantages to using robots besides saving on wages and benefits. Automation means tasks can be performed without regard for time of day, so maintenance can happen when the building and grounds are empty. It’s also possible to save on light and heating or cooling, because when robots need to “see” they can carry their own lights and sensors. Perhaps most important, robots can perform jobs that are difficult or dangerous for humans, like working on the outside of tall buildings.
According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) the market for professional cleaning robots is small but growing, but as sensor technologies open up new robot applications the total number in facilities maintenance could be much larger. For example, several manufacturers have suggested robots could be deployed for building security functions.