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Future of service robotics in smart buildings

The sales of professional service robots has kept on growing at the rate of around 20-30% annually during the past years - some applications, such as logistics and cleaning robots, even faster! COVID-19 boosted the use of service robots in disinfection, cleaning, last mile deliveries, and e.g. safety distance surveillance. COVID-19 has inspired us to think ahead - what can be learned and what are the potential future directions for service robots in hybrid buildings?

2.3.2021

Attitudes towards robots are more positive than ever before. We have robots in our homes, in lawn moving and cleaning. We can expect that in the future, service robots will be more and more a natural part of people and material flows in many buildings and other use environments. Service robots interact with people and help managing people flows. Robots can interact with smart building data. Robots gather data of their environments and people that can be integrated into e.g. security or facility management systems. On the other hand, robots can use smart building data for navigation, safety or service provision.

Services performed by robots can be sold via the same e-shops that are already used in real estates. Service robots can operate as a more pleasant user interface for e.g. facility management data. Instead of installing sensors around the building on physical structures, they can be integrated into service robots making the updates and maintenance of sensors cheaper and easier.

However, more needs to be done to increase building accessibility for professional service robots. In the future, buildings will be designed so that they are smart and sustainable enabling smooth people and robot flows in it. On the other hand, there will come more robots that can move also on rough terrains and use e.g. stairs.

Finally, before getting excited of nice robots, it is good to think of the value sought with them:

  • How will they boost our image as a modern, attractive and customer friendly real estate?
  • How does automation of services bring benefits through efficiency, cost-savings and safety in terms of contactless services during the pandemic?
  • How can we innovate new services and businesses that robots enable in smart buildings? It is not only about the robots, but what comes as the outcome and value!

Service robotics research will continue in the KEKO project related to COVID-19 and different use cases. Smart buildings offer fertile grounds for service robots utilization – looking systemically the physical building, all data, people and material flows, and services. Building sustainability goals can be strived at the same time. Today robots definitely attract interest of passers-by, save legs of employees, be ears and eyes to be sent to explore – and what else there is to be discover?

Taru Hakanen

Research Team Leader, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd

Maaria Nuutinen

Senior Principal Scientist, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd

Kirsi Koivisto

KONE / Program manager, External funding