Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


FLOBOT Report Summary

Project ID: 645376
Funded under: H2020-EU.

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - FLOBOT (Floor Washing Robot for Professional Users)

Reporting period: 2016-01-01 to 2016-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Supermarkets, as well as other industrial, commercial and public use premises, have huge floor surfaces that have to be cleaned daily or even several times during the day. Cleaning those surfaces is time demanding and requires human effort, in terms of repetitive actions. The economic viability of the cleaning service provider often relies on low wages and low-skilled personnel. Furthermore, cleaning tasks have often been related to workers’ health issues. Therefore, floor washing activities are best suited for robotization.
Currently, there exists no robot that satisfies the requirements of the professional users and cleaning service providers. Floor washing tasks have many demanding aspects, including operational autonomy, navigation precision, safety, interaction with the personnel, easy set-up.
FLOBOT addresses these problems by integrating existing & new results to produce a professional, robotic scrubber-dryer. The system consists of a mobile robotic platform (the robot) and a docking station for automatically refilling the robot’s water tank, emptying the dirty water tank & recharging the battery. Project requirements come directly from the professional end-users. The robot and the whole concept will be validated in 4 different pilot sites: a large supermarket and a hospital in Italy, as well as in the Lyon airport and in a logistics warehouse in France.
Overall project objectives are summarised below:
• To develop an autonomous, professional washing machine, ready for real-world use shortly after project completion
• To develop FLOBOT as a robotic system that increases the quality of service and lowers the cost of operation, while preserving competitiveness and respecting workers’ rights & health, abiding to all related regulations
• To integrate low cost solutions for mapping, localisation, autonomous navigation, object detection & human tracking, building on research results and commercial know-how
• To develop user interfaces for easy mission & tasks reprogramming, and remote control of the robot
• To prove the usability of the robot by testing it in 4 real-world use-case scenarios

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

One of the first project activities (WP2) has been the identification of the user & manufacturer requirements. After defining the requirements, the conceptual design of the FLOBOT and the docking station was prepared
In parallel, issues related to safety, standards, risk analysis & future certification of the FLOBOT were also examined (WP3). Emphasis was paid to the analysis of the requirements of the ISO 13482:2014 standard, which was selected as the most suitable for FLOBOT, in absence of more specific standards. This standard is also aligned to the Machinery Directive and will simplify the future CE marking. A detailed hazards & functional risks analysis was performed. Privacy & data management issues were also examined.
Significant progress has been achieved in terms of hardware development (WP4). Initially, a preliminary robot prototype was prepared. This consists in a remotely operated scrubber-dryer that integrates the main mechanical, scrubber-related parts. This, Prototype Zero (PT0), was used for several tests. Based on the interfaces defined and on the sensors selected, the CAD of the mobile platform and the docking station was prepared. This was used to build the first operational robot prototype (PT1) and the first prototype of the docking station.
In terms of software development (WP5), almost all modules have been prepared and are being integrated. The navigation & mapping module functionality is based both on a 3D Lidar and on conventional odometry. Additional sensors are used for safety and obstacle avoidance. The FLOBOT will be able to detect obstacles not only at the height of the laser sensor but also using RGBD sensors that provide depth data over the height range of the full robot. Visual floor inspection (for cleanliness) is based on data gathered either by the RGBD-camera or the stereo setup. A friendly user interface has also been prepared. This runs on an Android tablet. Regarding the proactive safety module development, this has also been finalised and the necessary hardware components were installed on PT1. The development of the software module responsible for interfacing to ERPs or similar legacy systems has also been completed.
FLOBOT has also been quite active in terms of dissemination activities (WP8). It has been presented in several events, including the IROS conference and the ISSA-Interclean exhibition. Information about the project was published in several newspapers and magazines. The project website & social accounts are regularly updated.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The project answers the need of the cleaning industry for a robotic scrubber that can operate unattended for a long period of time. Progress beyond the state of the art is expected in several aspects.
Regarding localisation & mapping, the technique used is SLAM. In FLOBOT, SLAM is based on the use of data from a 3D Lidar, as well as on data from an odometry subsystem. Several modules were already available in the consortium before the start of the project, but the use of the 3D Lidar is a new approach for robots of this type. Additional sensors are used for obstacle avoidance & safety. Regarding navigation & path planning, FLOBOT adopts an approach considering a default, optimal, pre-planned path to follow, but still maintaining the flexibility to modify the planned trajectory in case of an unexpected obstacle.
Regarding image analysis for floor cleanliness detection, the project is advancing the state of the art by using the approach described by Bormann et al. in 2013, adapted to the FLOBOT case. Additionally, regarding object detection on the floor, a basic plane detection & height based object detection algorithm were implemented. As an option, we also advanced the basic approach with an experimental algorithm that simultaneously segments & reconstructs the area of operation. This technique is still not applied in industrial prototypes.
Regarding human tracking for safety, FLOBOT’s human tracking module is capable of detecting & tracking multiple people. Safety during FLOBOT operation within a complex environment with humans is of primary importance. The solution proposed is the projection of warning signs on floors in an intuitive way, by controlling the position of these signs. To our knowledge, there are no such technologies currently used in robots for industrial purposes.
FLOBOT is expected to have significant impact on labour aspects. Currently, professional cleaning is a hard labour, low skills job, where competitiveness & profit margin are at the expense of the workers’ conditions. Additionally, about 74% of the people employed in the sector are women and there are difficulties in the recruitment of new personnel. With the adoption of FLOBOT, the worker’s role will evolve from low skills to that of a use & maintenance operator of robotic machines. At the same time, the robot will relief the physically weaker workers from part of the hard labour.
FLOBOT is also expected to support the EU industry producing professional cleaning machines, that has to deal with the highly competitive Asian & American companies. The consortium end-users are large companies that, with the adoption of FLOBOT, will allow the FLOBOT manufacturer to cover an important market share. Furthermore, FLOBOT has already had a great impact in terms of Industry-Academia cross-fertilisation.

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