An often heard challenge among bosses of cleaning companies is that they cannot fill vacancies for cleaners, due to poor image, low skills, low pay, and poor employment conditions. The image of the cleaning industry with manual and low end jobs deters younger and educated workers from entering the industry.
Cities are developing quickly and economic activities are on the rise. This puts a burden on cleaning services and there is a need for cleaning operations to be more effective and productive. The cleaning industry hence needs to explore the greater use of technology and innovation, such as robotic cleaning machines for specific large-scale cleaning operations or for specific cleaning tasks.
The use of robotic cleaning machines could help to minimise the reliance of manpower, increase productivity, and improve the image of the cleaning industry as one that embraces innovation. This will help to change the image of this industry, attracting younger and educated workers who will manage and maintain these robotic cleaning machines.
When we talk about robotic cleaning machines, many of us tend to associate them with the small-sized robotic vacuum cleaners we see at home. What most people do not know is that there are many commercial robotic cleaning machines in the market that come in all shapes, sizes and functions. They are now increasingly used to clean commercial and industrial spaces such as offices, retail stores, airports, hospitals, warehouses, hotels, swimming pools, toilets, windows and ventilation ducts.
Here are some examples of commercial robotic cleaning machines for different cleaning functions:
Commercial robots for cleaning floors are getting more popular as they help to reduce labour and time. The bigger-sized robotic cleaning machines for commercial floor cleaning are installed with sensors, giving it a 360-degree view of its surroundings, allowing the robots to stop and avoid obstacles detected by the sensors. Hence they can operate and clean on their own, without requiring an operator to be present all the time.
Some floor cleaning robots are equipped with both vacuum and scrubber functions, while others include remote monitoring functions to keep track of the robot location, cleaning area and duration, and provide diagnostics and repairs. The robotic cleaning machines also tend to use less water and cleaning chemicals than traditional floor cleaning machines.
Another type of robotic cleaning machine is used for floor mopping. The smaller-sized robots could be used in the toilets for mopping the floor. The robot uses cleaning cloths to pick up dust, dirt and hair. It returns to where it started and powers down automatically when it is done mopping, without the janitor being present.
The commercial robotic cleaning machines for swimming pools are able to scrub the floor and walls of the pool, and removes the debris and dust from the water, without the use of labour and chemicals, or having to empty the pool water.
The robotic cleaning machines for commercial window cleaning are able to stay on the glass windows using suction. Sensors also allow them to determine the size of the glass to be cleaned. The robotic cleaning machine removes dirt and debris using cleaning pads and subsequently wipes the window dry. This greatly reduces the use of manual labour for cleaning windows.
Ventilation Duct Cleaning
Small robotic duct cleaning machines are used to clean commercial and industrial ventilation systems. The robots enter the ventilation ducts, remove the dirt and debris, and sanitise the ducts. Such robotic cleaning machines are usually remote controlled and thus require an operator.
Hospital Room Cleaning
Robots can also potentially be used to clean hospital rooms. A research that studied the effectiveness of using a robot equipped with pulsed xenon ultraviolet (UV) light system found that in just 12 minutes, the UV light system cut the amount of bacteria in the room by 70 percent. The study also found that manual cleaning combined with UV light killed more than 90 percent of the bacteria. 
Robotic Cleaning Machines for Large-Scale Cleaning in Singapore
The first robotic cleaning machines for large-scale cleaning in Singapore were launched at the previous CleanEnviro Summit Singapore in 2014. Clean Solutions Pte Ltd, a local cleaning company, had deployed the robotic cleaning machines at wide spaces to perform cleaning tasks such as scrubbing, vacuuming and sweeping with minimal supervision by the cleaners.
While a typical cleaner would be able to clean 300 square metres of floor area per hour, the robotic cleaning machine is able to clean three times the area in the same amount of time, without the need for breaks. The robots can also be programmed to travel along a planned route, sensing and reacting to obstacles along the way. With this, cleaners are able to be re-deployed to perform other cleaning tasks and re-trained to perform higher skilled tasks, while the robots take over the large-scale routine cleaning tasks that typically consume many hours of manual labour. 
Greater Use of Robotic Technology in the Future
The use of robotic technology for cleaning services will likely increase in the future. While not all cleaning tasks can be replaced with robotic cleaning machines, it is a technology that can be further developed and customised to meet the needs of the cleaning industry. The greater use of technology in the cleaning industry will help to enhance the image of the industry, to one that is professional and productive, thereby bringing about a gradual change in attracting younger and technically qualified workers into the industry.
 UV light robot to clean hospital rooms could help stop spread of ‘superbugs’, ScienceDaily, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150414125713.htm
 Asia's First Large-Scale Robotic Cleaners Launched in Singapore, National Environment Agency, http://www.nea.gov.sg/corporate-functions/newsroom/news-releases/year/2014/month/6/asias-first-large-scale-robotic-cleaners-launched-in-singapore