Distributors raising the subject of robotic floor care should expect to encounter a variety of end user concerns. One is about the technology itself, says Carrizales.

"Many end users don't have a great grasp for how the technology works," he says. "I like to tell them to imagine a Roomba on steroids." There are many types of robots utilizing different navigational technology, says Schneringer. The original machines relied on sonar, but now there are robots using lidar — a method that uses light in the form of pulsed lasers to measure distance — and 2D or 3D imaging. Some have mapping technology, enabling users to program in the areas of the facility to be cleaned. Then there are some that have teach-and-repeat technology where the robot learns the job once, guided by a human operator, and then repeats the process over and over again. Other technology exists where the operator drives the robot around the perimeter of the space, then the robot is instructed to clean everything within that perimeter.

The variety of options can be a lot to take. The best way to avoid overwhelming customers is to tell them about the technology, show them and then have them use it, says Schneringer. And of course, manufacturers and distributors should offer a plethora of collateral materials and videos.

Those materials could also be used to address safety and security questions brought up by prospective users, says Carrizales. When it comes to safety, people want to know what could happen if someone steps in front of a running machine — especially if operating during the day — or how the machine responds to stairwells and other obstacles. Because of the 2D/3D imaging and mapping technology, security is another matter, particularly for government agencies. Some machines also use wireless technology so there are concerns around hacking. Then there's the issue of how these machines could impact employees, says Ellison.

"Custodial staff can feel threatened and fear the loss of working hours or being replaced entirely," he says. "It's important to clearly communicate how this change can actually benefit them, allowing them to do a more effective job by having time to devote to more valuable tasks."

In fact, Schneringer has been known to use the term "cobot" rather than robot, meaning that custodians could work alongside the equipment. They are free to perform other tasks while periodically checking on the robots, learning new skill sets in the process.

Clearly, technology this advanced requires a great amount of support; distributors cannot just deliver the equipment and consider their job done. Instead, distributors should be present before, during and after the sale, says Schneringer. This will likely involve staff training on operation, cleaning, maintenance, repair and coordinating with the manufacturer over any problems. In some cases, distributors may have to handle plotting and mapping, says Carrizales.

End users aren't the only ones who will have to deal with change, says Ellison. Distributor service departments and technicians also must pursue ongoing training and certification programs in order to properly service the equipment after the sale. The building's occupants must also be brought up to speed.

"Seeing an unmanned piece of equipment moving down the hallway can be a little disconcerting for some," says Ellison. "The distributor should help management and the custodial staff with messaging that addresses safety concerns, as well as the benefits to the occupants."

Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelance writer from Long Beach, California.

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