Cobots in the cleaning sector

Cobotic in der Reinigungsbranche
Devices known as cobots already play an incredibly important role in commercial cleaning, be it to relieve staff or to boost efficiency. But what exactly are cobots? How do they differ from other robots? And where are they put to use in the cleaning sector? In this article, we have summarized everything you need to know about these autonomous cleaning machines.

Definition: what is a cobot?

The word “cobot” comes from the combination of “collaboration” and “robot.” As the term suggests, cobots are robots specially developed for direct interaction and collaboration with humans. They are intended to autonomously take on recurring, monotonous tasks, thereby taking the strain off humans. When supported by cobots, staff have more time to dedicate to other, more challenging tasks.

So when cobots are used, man and machine work together closely without having to be separated by safety systems. Modern sensor technology makes such safety measures unnecessary, as the cobots are able to recognize humans and obstacles in their direct vicinity. In this way, damage and injuries can be prevented.

The advantages of cobots

  • Cobots execute tasks safely, quickly, and reliably. Smaller models in particular are also able to reach concealed places.
  • They can run for a long time. Cobots can work without taking breaks and at any time of the day or night. Vacation and sick days are eliminated.
  • They make economic use of resources like water and cleaning agents—a plus for environmental protection.
  • Cobots’ cleaning performance can be precisely logged, resulting in greater transparency between cleaning companies and their customers.
  • Special models with artificial intelligence (AI) continuously learn.

    Naturally, cobots will never be able to replace human workers. But, given that there is a shortage of skilled workers, they can help offset staff shortages and reduce the strain on employees.

    Cobot or robot—what’s the difference?

    The terms cobot and robot are often confused—surely in part because some of their functions overlap. There are nevertheless four key differences:

    1. Collaboration
      Cobots were specially developed for close collaboration with humans. They therefore serve as assistants to human employees, working hand in hand with them in what’s known as human-robot collaboration. In contrast, robots are programmed to be able to perform certain tasks almost entirely without human interaction. Instead of collaborating, they work through a preprogrammed routine.
    2. Safety
      Cobots are equipped with numerous sensors to make their collaboration with humans as smooth as possible. This enables them to react to their environment and, for example, stop when they sense an obstacle. Industrial robots, on the other hand, operate very quickly, in some cases with hot, heavy, or sharp objects. To make sure there are no accidents in such cases, they often perform their work behind safety fences or in cages. They are generally not programmed to react to obstacles in the vicinity.
    3. Operation
      Cobots are, as a rule, easy to operate. In some cases, their work instructions can be input via practical user interfaces. There are even special cobots that can imitate motions and, in the process, autonomously learn new functions. Anyone wishing to program a robot usually needs extensive programming knowledge. In this case, the motions for each individual work step have to be implemented with a code.
    4. Mobility
      Cobots are mobile—they can be moved and put to use in different places. Industrial robots tend to be too heavy and too bulky to transport. The safety problem that they pose further impedes their flexible use in different locations.

    Where are collaborative robots used?

    Although the innovative technology of cobots sounds a bit like a vision of the future, collaborative robots are actually already in use. In the cleaning sector in particular, there has been a focus on machine-based solutions and digitization to boost efficiency for some time now.

    For example, cobots already see to numerous mopping and vacuuming tasks in the cleaning of large floor areas. They are used in particular in offices, stores, and hotels, where regular cleaning is required. Cobots assist with commercial cleaning as automated floor scrubbers, smart vacuum cleaners, or mopping robots. AI-based mapping allows the device to maintain an overview of which areas have already been cleaned and which rooms still need cleaning. It is virtually impossible for them to “overlook” places—and this is what makes their work so reliable and high-quality. Across large spaces or on multiple floors, multiple cobots may also be networked as a fleet to work even more efficiently.

    What’s more, modern sensor technology prevents collisions with obstacles or people who are in the way. Additional internal sensors monitor whether the device is running optimally. Furthermore, the cobot collects an array of data as it cleans, which it then uses to continuously improve its performance. Information about its location or about its water or dust fill levels can be easily viewed, for example via an app.

    At the end of the cleaning process, cobots autonomously return to their designated place, such as their charging station. They make things a great deal easier for the cleaning company.

    Conclusion: cobots as a new team member in the cleaning sector

    Collaborative cleaning solutions already feature in everyday commercial cleaning. But autonomous machines also have an important part to play in the future of the cleaning sector thanks to their ongoing innovations. Cobots help companies rise to challenges like the increasing pressure on profitability and the shortage of skilled workers. They take on monotonous tasks, thereby reducing the strain on their human coworkers.