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Cutting edge cleaning


Brain Corp’s chief revenue officer, Michel Spruijt, explains why he believes that autonomous cleaning robots are here to stay at the world’s airports.

How long have autonomous cleaning robots been around and, to your knowledge, when were they first deployed at an airport?

Autonomous cleaning robots have been around since the mid 1990s. At that time, they were expensive, and most applications were not within industrial settings. In 2015, industrial grade floor cleaning robotic equipment started to emerge. Acceptance has been rapid since autonomous solutions have become more affordable, and building operations have needed to address labour shortages.

We first deployed autonomous floorcare equipment in an airport environment back in 2017. Airports are ideal operating environments for autonomous scrubbers due to the amount of time required to clean large open spaces.

How do autonomous cleaning robots work – i.e. do they follow pre-programmed cleaning routes and programmes or are they controlled by humans?

There are a few different approaches to autonomous navigation, some more effective than others, depending on the application. Brain Corp uses the ‘teach and repeat’ method for training its cleaning robots. It’s a simple two-step process that can be learned in a matter of minutes

First, the operator tells the robot where to clean by manually driving the route they would like it to repeat. The robot remembers the path driven and optimises the route during the recording process. Second, after the route is saved, the operator brings the robot back to its starting point and uses the on-screen menu to select the pre-saved route that they would like to run. The robot will then follow the path the operator trained, navigating the space autonomously, and alerting the operator when it’s finished.

What are they capable of cleaning?

This depends on the type of robot. Commercial robotic floor care machines are capable of cleaning most types of floors – from autonomously scrubbing hard floors to vacuuming soft carpeted floors. Each manufacturer has unique specifications relating to battery duration, water tank capacity, cleaning features, etc.

Are there many different types of autonomous cleaning robots with different capabilities?

Yes, there are a variety of autonomous cleaning robots on the market today. Some are purpose built with features that were specifically developed to accommodate certain environments. Brain Corp specifically powers robotic floor scrubbers and vacuum cleaners.

Why should airports consider investing in and deploying autonomous cleaning robots – what are the benefits?

I would say they offer increased cleaning efficiency, consistency and performance; they provide proof of clean; and they support employees and reduce labour costs.

Autonomous cleaning robots allow airports to leave the frequent, methodical and repetitive floor scrubbing to robots – freeing up more time for cleaning teams to focus on the critical and highly-visible cleaning protocols, such as wipe-downs and disinfection for high-touch surfaces. Additionally, the consistent performance of autonomous cleaning robots help give airports confidence that facilities are being cleaned thoroughly and properly, every time.

In terms of proof of the work they’ve done, autonomous cleaning robots feature integrated data capture technology that delivers real-time performance and utilisation tracking. Airports can verify cleaning has been done – and done correctly – to deliver proof of coverage, support compliance and ultimately drive better overall cleaning performance.

When it comes to supporting employees and lowering labour costs, autonomous cleaning robots lift the burden of monotonous and time-consuming cleaning tasks, allowing staff to take on more engaging work, from operating robots to customer service, which can help mitigate staff turnover and even potentially reduced high costs of equipment damage from operator error during manual operation.

In terms of an investment and ROI, how long do they last on average?

The answer to this is heavily dependent on how robots are integrated into processes. Our focus is on providing ongoing software updates that improve machine performance and provide customers with value throughout the entire lifespan of owning one of our robots. Regular updates to Brain Corp’s AI software, BrainOS, consistently deliver new features, usability improvements, security updates and other autonomous navigation enhancements. This ensures that customers’ robots get even smarter over time and continue generating an ROI.

Are they meant to replace human labour?

Autonomous cleaning robots directly address the supply-demand imbalance presented by rising traveller expectations – from clean facilities to customer service – and limited labour resources. For the most part, they’re working alongside human employees to make cleaning teams more efficient. They are freeing employees to focus on more complex, strategic cleaning initiatives and can help to improve employee job satisfaction.

How do people react to them in general?

Travellers are now more hyper-sensitive to the cleanliness, health and safety of airport terminals and other spaces. Autonomous cleaning robots allow airports to not only increase floor cleaning frequency but move floor cleaning from the night shift to the day shift. This provides visual proof of an airport’s commitment to clean, safe and healthy facilities – delivering the critical peace of mind that fuels traveller confidence and unlocks better passenger experiences.

Has the COVID pandemic boosted the global sales of autonomous cleaning robots?

According to the New Association for Advancing Automation (A3), robot sales totalled $2 billion (39,708 units) in 2021 — a 28% increase compared to 2020 and 14% compared to 2017. This increase can serve as proof that the pandemic continues to fast-track robotics adoption as organisations meet new cleaning requirements in the midst of long-standing labour shortages.

Is there any airport, country or region of the world that perhaps leads the way when it comes to the deployment of autonomous robots at airports?

It would be very hard to single out one airport or region that excels. Our powered robots are deployed in airports across the US, Europe and beyond. It’s a growing market and it’s been fascinating to watch the rates of adoption grow in the sector as the overall needs for productivity have increased along with the acceptance of integrating robots into high functioning teams.

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