Robot hands typing

COVID-19 has forced facilities to rethink their floor care programs in order to balance the need for clean floors with the need to clean high-contact surfaces. How can they do both without taking away from the other? One answer is robotic floor care, which frees up valuable time for custodial workers to focus on high-touch cleaning and disinfecting.

Those in the business of selling robotic floor equipment will often cite benefits that include increased productivity rates, reduced operating cost and overall consistency of cleaning performance. Still, an investment in robotic floor equipment can be significant, and understanding how the machine will affect workloading is essential to making the right choice.


Many facilities are hesitant to invest in robotic floor equipment because of worries that the programming for advanced technology would be too challenging to handle without robotics-trained personnel on staff. However, experts agree, for many of these machines, programming is the simplest part.

In many cases, the robot will only need to be programmed one time to continuously do its job. Plus, the technology is moving so quickly that machines coming on the market in the next few months will have even simpler programming procedures and more advanced intelligence.

According to Mike Sawchuk, president of Sawchuk Consulting, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, there are currently two different technologies on the market. Both of these technologies have relatively simple, built-in programming options.

“The first is teach-and-repeat,” says Sawchuk. “With this technology, you do your mapping and the machine memorizes it, then does it over and over. Other technologies are true AI (artificial intelligence), so that if the environment changes they are smart enough to acknowledge and adapt.”

While the initial programming of the technologies available today is relatively simple, there will be additional staffing needs to consider upfront. When programming robotic floor machines, it is important to identify potentially problematic areas like tight spaces, areas subject to frequent environmental changes, slopes, and highly reflective surfaces such as floor-to-ceiling glass windows. These areas may require a cleaning worker to follow up and cut in the tight spaces.

Programming robotic floor equipment was painless for Chuck VanMaldeghem, building environmental services supervisor at Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochestster, New York. He and his team have been using robotic floor equipment at the university for more than five years.

“Once you map an area and program the machine, you’re done. You only have to do it once,” he says. “I have one building with about 100,000 square feet of corridors. I was able to map out those corridors within a day. It’s walking behind the machine while it is getting the readings and getting those perimeters. Once you get the machine set up, it is done.”

next page of this article:
Manufacturer Collaboration Ensures Proper Maintenance