Faced with an over-burdened workforce and strict quality standards, one of Canada’s largest hospital networks decided to automate one of its most time-consuming tasks: floor cleaning. This task was being done using manually-driven scrubbers, but the machines lacked heat maps and couldn’t detect whether areas were properly cleaned.
The hospital network’s management team envisioned introducing autonomous floor scrubbers and began evaluating the performance and safety of existing systems. It tested seven autonomous floor scrubbers and found all to be deficient either in thoroughness of cleaning or navigational capabilities (and sometimes both). During an Omron Technology Road Show in 2018, the hospital network was impressed by the Omron LD mobile robot. This robot doesn’t clean floors, but if it did, it would address the hospital network’s immediate needs.
So Omron arranged a meeting with the hospitals and 4D Technologies, a Toronto-based developer of innovative imaging systems. 4D tested several robotic platforms before determining Omron’s navigation system was best for the job. Prior to this project, 4D had already been exploring floor cleaning robots for its large retail store clients.
The hospital network needed the autonomous system to clean as thoroughly as the existing manually scrubbers, while navigating safely throughout congested areas. A safety system would be necessary to detect approaching people and stop the robot if someone came within a pre-defined range. It also made sense to use a mapping system rather than barcodes or fiducials to help the robot identify its zone or route.
The autonomous floor scrubbing system also needed to generate a heat map to show which areas have been cleaned at any given time. This is important for accountability and for preventing accidents. The heat map also need to be able to change color over an expiry period, which could be dynamically assigned. There also needed to be a time log of operations and tasks.
Autonomous floor scrubbers to the rescue
The solution involved integrating Omron’s autonomous navigation technology onto existing scrubbers. 4D also used its safety application software and hardware that is engineered for floor care applications.
Omron’s mapping technology enabled cleaning compliance tracing features such as:
- A heat map for precise, real-time tracking of surfaces cleaned
- Real-time scrubber location on a pre-defined travel path
- Real-time compliance tracking dashboard via mobile, desktop and web applications
The embedded safety features include UVC germicidal floor sterilization technology, a safety stop button, LiDAR, low-profile obstacle detection, and a patent-pending 360-degree 3D sensor capable of detecting a 5 mm obstacle within its pathway to provide a 3D safety fence surpassing the capabilities of existing technology.
Thanks to the autonomous floor scrubbers, the hospital network for the first time was able to obtain real-time floor cleaning reports in the form of a heat map. This enabled it to take advantage of autonomous navigation to let cleaning happen in the midst of a dynamic and complex environment.
Multiple autonomous floor scrubbers have been working together to ensure all floor areas are cleaned each day. 4D Technologies has also produced an 75-gallon version of its next-generation, fully autonomous scrubber with Omron that simplifies sanitization needs.
The system reliably detects smaller objects on the floor (in the range of 5 – 10mm) as well as anything that might obstruct the its navigation, such as objects protruding from the walls or hanging cables and wires. All navigational needs are handled by Omron.