Robotics & IoT for Smart Facilities Management
by Softbank Robotics
Ageing buildings, rising manpower costs, and the shortage of workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic pose significant challenges to the built environment sector.
As a result, building owners have turned to emerging technologies like Robotics, IoT, and AI to increase productivity, reduce energy consumption, and ensure the well-being of tenants & customers.
The Rise of Robots
The cleaning robot market size is expected to increase by USD 13.29 billion from 2021 to 2026. 45% of the market's growth will originate from APAC, with China and Japan as the key markets due to an increase in the ageing population of APAC over the forecast period.
Cleaning is an essential service, an important job that must be performed well, especially with the arrival of the pandemic. To ease the cleaning industry’s manpower crunch, the Singapore government accelerated the adoption of robotics solutions in the transport and cleaning industry, resulting in an array of cleaning robots of various functions.
Cleaning robots are more common these days as they are perfect for executing automated cleaning even in the presence of humans, obstacles and changing conditions.
SoftBank Robotics’ AI-powered commercial floorcare cleaning robot, Whiz, automates vacuuming, a time-consuming and repetitive manual task so that cleaners can focus on higher-value tasks or cleaning that requires greater precision.
Whiz also offers “Germii UV-C”, an attachment device dedicated to the robot that disinfects surfaces without relying on chemicals. GERMii’s technology transforms Ultraviolet-C (UV-C) into a concentrated beam of light to eliminate Covid-19, bacteria, and fungi almost instantly.
IoT for All
Data-driven operation is leading the revolution in facilities management—from optimizing available office space to changing the way a work environment is managed. That is why IoT is becoming more prevalent as building owners are turning to sensor devices to collect data and optimise their operations to transform their buildings into smarter and greener facilities.
UnaBiz, a leading IoT partner for facilities management service providers has deployed sensor solutions in over 300 sites around Singapore to help building owners monitor and collect data on temperature and humidity, indoor air quality, workspace occupancy, energy consumption, leakages, waste level, rodent infestation and more. These facilities include public flats, train stations, hospitals, attractions, educational institutions and shopping malls.
“The adoption of IoT sensors makes perfect sense for us operationally as it allows us to monitor the entire building in real-time and remotely,” commented Lim Eng Hwa, Senior Manager of the Central Engineering Department at Far East Organization, who oversees the deployment of temperature and humidity sensors at Pacific Plaza and Orchard Central.
Since deployment, the sensors have brought the team’s attention to a few hot spots around the mall which allowed the team to rectify the issues before any thermal discomfort is experienced by the shoppers and tenants. “The solutions recommended by UnaBiz are quick to deploy and offer ease of maintenance. It is also easily integrated into our current system without the need for additional infrastructure, which is a big plus,” he added.
In 2021, UnaBiz partnered with Surbana Jurong to deploy one of the largest Integrated Facility Management projects with over 3000 sensors in Temasek Polytechnic. The project saw various technology providers coming together to unlock the real value of digitalisation.
Internet of Robotic Things (IoRT)
Automation can be simply defined as a business process that can operate with little or no human intervention. While IoT seeks to automate the collection of data, analytics and AI is required to make informed decisions. By adding robotics into the equation, sensor data gathered from monitoring the environment or events can be fed to robotic solutions which will then perform the necessary tasks in the physical world, thereby closing the automation loop without any human intervention. The complementary nature of IoT and Robotics marks the holy grail of full automation.
Take the example of office cleaning. Instead of manual inspection or scheduled cleaning based on static data input by facility managers, occupancy sensors can feed real-time data to robots, so that they can respond to cleaning demands swiftly. E.g. Cleaning or sanitising the meeting room after staff vacate the room.
Over time, robots will be able to perform their tasks better by switching from pre-defined static routes to dynamic routing based on environment sensing data, allowing building managers to further streamline their work processes and optimise building operations
Other use cases include the activation of robots to register visitors, deliver food or essential items, by triggering smart sensors at reception, hotels, or healthcare facilities respectively.
As costs involved in deploying robots continue to be a major factor restraining the market growth of cleaning robots, sensors can also be used to help building owners measure the efficiency of their robotic solutions. When robots are detected within a certain vicinity to IoT sensors, communications can be triggered for sensors to collect data for certain parameters such as air quality or feedback by customers, so that building managers can measure their return of investments.
93% report that collaborative robots will increase the quality and consistency of service delivery within commercial cleaning, 77 % state that cobots can drive productivity, and 76 % predict that cobotics will lead to healthier workspaces for all employees.
Interoperability: The Future is Hybrid
“The IoT landscape is dominated by fragmented, proprietary, supplier-specific ecosystems. While effective within the ecosystem, such an approach limits the ability to scale and integrate, constraining the impact of IoT deployments and driving up costs.”
Facilities rarely rely on a single type of network or IoT sensors in their digitalisation journey. Many building owners require a hybrid deployment model, particularly when it comes to managing IoT devices. Some critical infrastructure requires high bandwidth network devices for real-time monitoring with zero latency, while other less important building functions can rely on low-power cost-efficient network devices that transmit data periodically.
The same can be said for robotics solutions. Due to the pandemic, more autonomous cleaning and disinfection robots are used in hospitals nowadays. Some semi-autonomous robotic solutions are also developed to address various use-cases that require low human contact. With the emergence of multiple robotic systems and API, finding a cost-effective way to manage robot process automation will become a challenge. To unlock complementing benefits of IoT and robotics, integration is key.
This is why SBR Universal Cloud Connect is created - to resolve the issue of interoperability between robotic solution providers, achieve seamless integration of different technologies and allow building owners to extract the value automation quickly, and in a cost-efficient manner.
The combination of these technologies allows the robots to interact and communicate with each other, IoT sensors and enterprise IT systems over the internet and via other connectivity network protocols.
“The IoT industry has become too fragmented and it is our mission to simplify it and eradicate frictions to truly enable massive IoT, from 0G to 5G,” said Henri Bong, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of UnaBiz. That is the rationale behind UnaConnect, the company’s IoT middleware data platform that will sit under SBR Universal Cloud Connect. The IoT data management platform aims to bridge the glaring gap between fragmented IoT data collection technologies and enterprise systems so that building owners can focus on improving customer experiences and reducing operating costs.
In the long run, the convergence of Robotics, IoT and AI will improve data-driven decisions making, allowing machines to resolve complex operations, respond to real-time data, or even better, act before something goes wrong.
Softbank Robotics is a Founding Sponsor of CESG 2022. Connect with them here.