Smart Buildings: How The Internet of Things Is Keeping Us Clean

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Using Smart Building Technology Solutions to Keep Us Clean

Everything, it would seem is, getting smarter. From cars that can navigate their way around Milton Keynes, to personal assistants that remind us when we’re running low on broccoli, the every day objects around us are becoming increasingly “smart”.

This interconnection of devices via the Internet – enabling them to both send and receive data – is often referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT), and ultimately it will allow us to control almost every facet of our home environment. Increasingly however, these developments are now being applied to the workplace, and smart buildings are now being used to help keep our offices clean – often in unusual and unexpected ways.

What is a smart building?

At the most fundamental level, a smart building can make its occupants happier and more productive through the intelligent application of lighting, thermal comfort, air quality, physical security, sanitation, and washroom services.

Experts estimate that by 2020 there will be up to 50 billion items connected to the IoT, covering an almost limitless number of sectors and possible applications. Put simply, smart building technology is going to fundamentally change how we interact with our working environment, and how buildings are managed. 

No more cleaning rotas!

Throughout the workplace, it’s now possible to install sensors that can easily determine how often bathrooms and office facilities are being used. By tracking the footfall to a particular bathroom, cleaning routines can be intelligently altered based on their actual usage. Rather than sporadic, random cleaning rotas where staff continuously check whether bathrooms should be cleaned or not, alerts can be sent in real time.

A variety of variables can trigger an alert, such as “send a cleaner after every 40 uses of the soap dispenser”, or “after 40 flushes”. In an age where even the smallest efficiencies in workplace management can have a tangible impact on the bottom line, the incorporation of cleaning based sensors and data is starting to provide an improved service for both companies and patrons alike.

Reducing infection and saving lives

These principals can also be applied to a wider context. Healthcare facilities, while they often appear spotless, can often harbour bacteria that can lead to increased infections and the spreading of diseases. Over time pathogens have even evolved a resistance to certain chemical cleaners that have been used for decades.

Researchers at the Houston Technology Center have created the very futuristic-sounding Xenex robot to address the problem. The cleaning robot is designed to kill bacteria in hospital rooms by using “pulsed xenon UV” light to disinfect any room it enters, needing only 5 to 10 minutes to completely disinfect a room.

Combined with sensors and a variety of data, hospitals are effectively deploying smart building technology to control infection, while also monitoring ventilation and the presence of harmful substances – all of which provides efficiencies in maintenance and hygiene services, but most importantly is saving lives.

Robotic Lady Bird with the latest traffic advice

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) estimates that over 2,550 cleaning robots will be put into service in 2017, and that number is certain to increase over the coming years. While autonomous cleaning machines have been around for awhile, early versions often had trouble adapting to environments, bumping into things that moved position from one day to the next.

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Now, new sonar technology and neural network computing are producing amazing results, with advanced prototype robots now cleaning surfaces with an incredible level of sophistication and care. They can clean around a tennis ball without moving it; accurately tracking their paths so they don’t clean previous areas, all while simultaneously scrubbing and drying spaces that are difficult for human workers to reach.

Another special-purpose robot is the Lady Bird. Used in a number of bathrooms throughout Japan (and not surprisingly designed to resemble a ladybug), the Lady Bird has its own water tank and brushes that it uses to scrub toilets and floors in high traffic areas. Its most endearing feature however is that when prompted, it engages in light conversation, providing users with the latest weather and traffic reports – which is nice!


In recent decades, improvements in construction technologies have enabled skyscrapers to get bigger – much bigger. But even with these massive, new buildings, humans are generally responsible for cleaning their windows and façades.

For the world’s tallest building, it will take a team of 36 window cleaners 3 months to wash all the windows of the 2,717 foot Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Soaring half a mile into the sky, it’s a significant undertaking – not to mention dangerous – and relies on specially developed cages costing £4.6m that have been specifically designed for the task.

The Singapore University of Technology and design have put forward a detailed paper on the feasibility and design requirements of wall climbing robots. Analysing 28 reported research papers on glass cleaning technologies; researchers have found the most desirable design attributes for the ideal glass-cleaning robot.

Window Cleaning Robot
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Capable of climbing up vertical surfaces, ceilings and roofs, the new robots are expected to replace the manual workforce, reducing the various hazards and labour intensive work. Proposing a number of different adhesive technologies, from suction cups to magnetism, the long-term aim is to develop highly efficient glass cleaning robots that are able to seamlessly adapt to the dynamic needs of the building’s architecture.

Smart building integration could also combine sensor data from the light entering through windows, and local weather reports to determine which windows are clean, and which were in need of a wash – automatically transferring the requirements to our friendly neighbourhood spider-bot.

Maintenance managers could also assess outside repairs from cameras mounted on the robots, saving the need for the use of drones or external workers examining the outside of a building.

A brave new world

With cleaning robots eliminating the need for workers to perform many simple and repetitive tasks, it’s understandable that this could all seem a little unnerving for cleaners. However it’s thought that in the majority of cases, they’ll be used as a supplement to human employees, allowing us human folk to focus more on complex, thought intensive tasks. Put simply, the job of cleaning will become more efficient, and as with many jobs in today’s world, the remit may change from one of manual labour, to a more active role in data analytics and logistics.

Ultimately, the IoT allows business owners and facilities managers the ability to track thousands of data points encompassing every aspect of cleaning and hygiene, combining data information from soap dispensers, vending machines, toilet flushing and robots clinging to the outside of buildings. Combined with elements of deep learning, these robots could even learn from each other, improving their efficiency and effectiveness as over time – just don’t mention the word Skynet.

This post was written by VR Sani-Co, providing a range of quality washroom services, hygiene solutions and sanitary bins throughout Kent, London & Sussex