Autonomous cleaning robots could soon be sweeping floors in supermarkets, airports and industrial premises.
Developed as part of the EU-funded FLOor washing roBOT (FLOBOT) project, the smart and self-operating machines would help maintain cleanliness of large areas much more efficiently than teams of human cleaners, the team behind the project believes.
Researchers from several European research institutions including the UK’s University of Lincoln are cooperating on the €4.2m project, hoping to develop a market ready machine capable of navigating through large areas while avoiding people and meticulously scrubbing the floors.
“Our key aim is to program FLOBOT to detect and track people moving around so as to avoid them, and also be able to estimate typical human trajectories in the premises where it operates,” said Nicola Bellotto, principal investigator from the University of Lincoln who is working on the robot’s software.
“We can then predict where it is likely to be most dirty, by analysing those trajectories and the general use of the environment.”
The team is modifying existing scrubbing machines, making them autonomous by adding electronics and sensors. The robots are guided by a laser range finder and a 3D camera for detection of humans.
“The general idea is to create professional service robots that will work in our everyday environments, providing assistance and helping to carry out tasks that are currently very time and labour intensive for human workers,” said Professor Tom Duckett, also from the University of Lincoln.
“Participating in this Innovation Action project is really exciting, because it means that many of the underpinning research concepts and technologies we have been developing at the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems now have the potential to leave the laboratory and become part of real products like cleaning robots, which could impact on the everyday lives of people everywhere.”
The machines will be programmable and offer a human-controlled mode while moving autonomously around without assistance.
The team is currently working on production prototypes that will ensure the system is ready to face real-life challenges.