To improve the appearance of floors and protect their finish, the school district invested in 15 BrainOS-powered autonomous autoscrubbers manufactured by the Tennant Company. One of the technology's biggest selling points for Archuletta was how it could make his employees' lives easier.

"These are in no way meant to replace workers, but they will supplement current staffing levels," he says.

Custodians still need to drag the hallways with a wide dust mop to remove gross soils first. They then just fill the machine with water and push start. The machine, outfitted with a clean and shine pad, runs along a pre-programed route scrubbing and polishing the floor at the same time.

"It's pretty smart," raves Archuletta, noting that older robot models were fairly good at figuring out a square-shaped space but did not fare so well with other layouts. After a simple initial programming session, "this technology can handle multi-sectional hallways without a problem," he adds.

The technology can also handle a variety of unexpected problems it may encounter along its route. If it runs out of water, the machine sends a text to the facility manager. The robot will stop in its tracks if a student tries to trap or otherwise harass it. The machines can also snap a picture of the offender, blur their face to comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and send the photo to the building manager. The robot will also shut down if someone tries to hop in the driver's seat.

The autonomous autoscrubbers also generate a lot of helpful data. They produce a weekly report of how many square feet it cleaned and how long the job took. They will similarly create a heat map of their route that includes any obstacles they may have encountered along the way.

"That way we know how and when the machines are being used," says Archuletta.

To bolster cybersecurity, all communication is conducted independently via the cloud, as opposed to logging on to the school's WiFi system.

Currying Favor

At just four months in, the program is still in its infancy, but Archuletta reports that staff took to the machines right away. The Tennant Company brought the autoscrubbers by for an informal robot meet-and-greet and onsite training session. Managers could hardly suppress their delight. Some have taken the initiative and found new jobs for the machine, such as using them to clean big spaces like cafeterias, or to prep floors for a top scrub.

An effort to brand the machines — to better encourage ownership and student buy-in — also took off quickly. Some creative custodians went so far as to put a stuffed school mascot in the machine's driver seat as an adorable and fun branding tactic.

Archuletta is also pleased with the purchase. He expects a return on this initial investment in about two and a half years. There are already plans to expand the program to the district's larger middle schools next. Elementary schools, however, will have to wait for their robots. It only takes custodians about an hour or two to finish the floor work in these smaller buildings, as opposed to the four or five hours needed in larger facilities. This makes the technology too costly — for now at least.

Still, these robots will not remain stagnant. A battery upgrade to lithium-ion technology is already expected later this fall. This will increase run time per charge from five hours to nine. Archuletta expects more updates and improvements as time goes on.

"I don't see any downside," he says. "We've been waiting for this technology for a long time."

Amy Milshtein is a freelancer based in Portland, Oregon.

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