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A robot assistant for the cafeteria staff

Repeated clearing and wiping of tables cause soreness in the neck and shoulders, but now, a robot helper is on his way to assist the cafeteria staff. The research project Facility Cobot will develop robots with sensor technology and artificial intelligence that can help out the cleaning staff.

By Jane Thoning Callesen, , 12/8/2020

Imagine a friendly robot at human height, slowly driving around a room, keeping an eye out for anything to clean. If the robot notices old newspapers, dirty plates, or empty water bottles on the tables, it reaches out and removes them.

But, it will leave the Christmas decorations and flower vases on the tables, so that everything stays neat and tidy.

In a few years, the scenario above will unfold in the cafeterias of large companies, and perhaps even in airport areas where there is also a need for continuous cleaning.

A budget of DKK 17 million

The robot will be developed by Lars-Peter Ellekilde from Enabled Robotics, alongside the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Institute at SDU, ISS, Signal, UbiqiSense, and K-Jacobsen.

The robot will be developed under the auspices of the research project Facility Cobot. The project has a total budget of DKK 17 million and will run over the next three years.

– The idea is that by combining mobile robots and robot arms, we can help out employees in areas where there is a need to move around. Facility management, and especially cleaning, are areas with great potential, Lars-Peter Ellekilde says.

Robot fingers with software

The new robot helper will map out the contents of a room, how the tables are placed, and the specific items on the tables. It requires advanced software, says Professor Mikkel Baun Kjærgaard from the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute.

– We must develop a robot with flexible fingertips that can recognize and grab various objects such as cups and water bottles. We will equip the robot with artificial intelligence and advanced software.

– At the same time, fixed sensors in the room from UbiqiSense will create an overview of usage patterns and tell the robot where things are in the room so that the robot gets a dynamic overview, he says.

Facility Cobot

  • The purpose of the three-year research project, Facility Cobot, is to develop robot solutions within facility management and cleaning
  • The project has a total budget of DKK 17.6 million, including DKK 12 million from the Innovation Fund. The project is expected to be completed in 2023
  • The partners are SDU, ISS, Signal, UbiqiSense, Enabled Robotics, and K-Jacobsen

– It is an exciting interdisciplinary project that, in addition to technology companies, incorporates knowledge from Signal and K-Jacobsen about the design and operation of digital buildings.

– Also, it is motivating to work on something that makes a difference. The goal is to develop a robot solution that can relieve cleaning staff from repetitive tasks, or tasks that require heavy lifting.

Must be tested with ISS

The service company ISS is also involved in the research project. Their role will be, among other things, to test the robot in collaboration with the staff who are used to performing the cleaning work.

Over the years, the company has tested other robot solutions, such as floor cleaning robots and robot vacuum cleaners, but it is completely new that a robot now will work at table height side by side with the staff.

– We are experiencing a great need for new technologies that can improve the efficiency and ergonomics of cleaning. Over time, many employees experience soreness in both the neck and shoulders due to lifting and wiping. We hope that the robot can help prevent this, says Katrine Grathe, Head of Cleaning Excellence at ISS.

– We think that robots will be happily accepted by the employees. It will allow them to focus on other value-creating tasks for customers and we look forward to helping develop and test it, she states.


Top photo: Scanpix

Meet the researcher

Mikkel Baun Kjærgaard is professor at the Software Engineering department at the University of Southern Denmark.


Editing was completed: 08.12.2020