Carriage cleaning robot to cleanse hard-to-reach places

2 min read

Scientists from the National Robotarium in Scotland have unveiled the design of a new train cleaning robot that could help existing cleaners by getting into hard-to-reach places. 

cleaning robot
Image: National Robotarium

Developed over two years with funding from RSSB (Rail Safety and Standards Board), the robot has been designed for nationwide deployment to help human counterparts by cleaning the spaces between and under the seats.

According to statistics from ORR (Office of Rail and Road), 182 million UK rail passenger journeys were made in 2021-22 Q1 on national rail services despite ongoing restrictions. Passengers do, however, want a higher standard of cleanliness on their railways. In a 2020 survey of over 50,000 UK rail passengers, a quarter said they were dissatisfied with the levels of cleanliness inside trains.

In a statement, project leader Dr Mustafa Suphi Erden, National Robotarium, said: “With the daily pressure on rail services, it’s essential that trains are cleaned as fast and as efficiently as possible. However, at present, this process is done entirely by hand requiring a significant amount of time for the cleaning personnel to collect each waste item one-by-one from under and in-between the seats.

“Reaching underneath seats repeatedly over a long shift can lead to health problems. Also, cleaning staff regularly encounter hazardous and biological waste which poses a significant risk. We’ve worked closely with rail operators to design a robot that can complement existing cleaning regimes, aiding human cleaners to deliver an ongoing service and freeing them up to focus on other hygiene tasks including disinfecting surfaces like tables, cleaning the seats and removing dirt, fluid and food waste.”

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The National Robotarium team said it has used over 58,300 studio images of waste in a variety of conditions to help the cleaning robot to identify waste more accurately, along with several smaller datasets of actual waste photographed on trains.

In interviews with rail service providers, the team obtained further information regarding operating conditions to guide the design of the robot. The narrow under-seat area, which collects the most waste items, is extremely limited and this makes waste collection challenging. Some spaces were measured at just 28cm tall, with entry points as small as 31cm.

Luisa Moisio, director of Research and Development, RSSB said: “We’re delighted to be supporting this important research that is contributing towards a step change in working conditions for railway staff, and which will also give passengers added reassurance about the cleanliness of carriages.

"Robotics is expected to be an important area of growth for the economy, and GB rail is taking the initiative, exploring how robots can be used to assist humans in dangerous, difficult, or dirty tasks.”

The research was supported with input from the Greater Anglia train presentation staff at London Liverpool Street station and the West Midlands train presentation staff at Euston station.