THE MYSTERIOUS FLOBOT PROJECT or WHO NEEDS ROBOTS IN CLEANING?
If you think about who needs robotic machines for cleaning floors, then looking at their unhurried introduction, you can come to an amazing conclusion — only to those who are working hard on developing these products that are not yet in mass demand, that is, manufacturers. Actually, this was the case ... until 2015, when the European project FLOBOT was initiated, supported by the European Commission and coordinated by the Cyprus company CyRIC — Cyprus Research and Innovation Center Ltd.
The aim of this project was to develop a system combining a robotic scrubber and a docking station for charging the battery, filling/emptying tanks with water and detergent. The appearance of this project may not seem entirely justified if we recall that at that time Cleanfix robots were already successfully operated on the European market, and in 2015 Intellibot robots were introduced, which have been actively implemented at various facilities in the United States since 2009. At about the same time, ADLATUS Robotics GmbH was established in Germany, whose robotic scrubber machine became the winner of the Purus Award competition at the CMS 2017 exhibition in Berlin.
Nevertheless, there was an explanation for this step, set out in a brief report on the FLOBOT project on the CORDIS (Community Research and Development Information Service, a division of the European Commission) website: "There is currently no robot that meets the requirements of professional users and cleaning service providers." I wonder what led the interested parties to this conclusion — deep knowledge in the field of autonomous service robotics or a desire to participate in stably funded work?
It is worth admitting that there is a sound grain in this document — all the prerequisites for the introduction of robots into the routine of cleaning companies and their own cleaning services are defined, and those objects where the use of robots is salvation are also named: "Supermarkets, as well as other commercial, industrial and public facilities have floors of a huge area that need clean daily and several times. Cleaning these surfaces takes time and huge effort, given the need for repetitive actions. The cost-effectiveness of a cleaning service provider often depends on low-paid, low-skilled personnel. In addition, the performance of harvesting tasks often causes health problems for workers. Due to these circumstances, the robotization of floor cleaning operations is the best solution."
There are many obstacles on the way of robotization of this work, which the FLOBOT project was designed to overcome. Its ultimate goal is to create a more advanced floor cleaning robot with an extended battery life, greater navigation accuracy, as well as safe for staff and visitors of facilities and characterized by ease of configuration.
If you carefully study all the information available today about the FLOBOT project, you may notice some discrepancies in the ways of its implementation. Following the official guidelines set out on the CORDIS website, it is necessary to "integrate low-cost solutions for mapping, localization, autonomous navigation, object detection and tracking of people into the design of the FLOBOT robot." The CyRIC project coordinator has his own understanding of this task: "The FLOBOT design uses advanced software modules for navigation and mapping, tracking people to ensure their safety, assessing the level of cleanliness of the floor, programming tasks and connecting to the logistics management system of end users." It is unlikely that "advanced software modules", on which safety and quality of work depend, can be classified as "inexpensive solutions".
And another inconsistency of this project is that the requirements for it, according to a report on the CORDIS website, were formulated with the participation of end users, who, as is known, are the same "low—paid low-skilled personnel" discussed above. A low level of qualification combined with a lack of proper education is an obstacle to formulating feasible requirements even for a mop, and even more so for such complex equipment as robots, even if you have some experience working with them. Probably, such inconsistency was the reason that the FLOBOT project did not produce results in three years of existence!
Although there is still time — until the completion of Horizon 2020 — the largest EU program, of which the FLOBOT project is a part, with funding of € 80 billion. in addition to private investments — another two and a half years. So, there is no hurry, especially since this EU program will be supplemented by "further measures to complete it and the subsequent development of the European research area." Well, it has been proven once again that formalized projects with state funding can drag on for years and not bring anything new and interesting. If you look at the 'Results' section on the website of the FLOBOT project, you can see a modest list of various "events" — presentations of the project at various exhibitions, publications in industry media, posters, brochures, etc., as well as photos from exhibitions and meetings of the development team of this project and several prototype tests in real conditions.
This is all that has been presented for almost three years of work!
At the same time, the history of the creation of robotic machines for cleaning floors knows many more successful examples when the efforts of developers led to the appearance of acting images, in some cases even commercially successful.