New train cleaning robots aim to protect staff and prevent delays

20th of December 2021
New train cleaning robots aim to protect staff and prevent delays

Train-cleaning robots are being developed in Scotland to protect staff against health risks and to prevent delays.

Scientists at Heriot-Watt University's National Robotarium have built a robot with a 180-degree field of vision using a static camera to the front and a stereo vision camera above. The robot is mounted on four wheels and has flip-out brushes for cleaning hard-to-reach areas between and under carriage seats.

The under-seat area is a particular challenge for cleaners on older trains, says project leader Dr Mustafa Suphi Erden.

"This process is currently carried out entirely by hand and a significant amount of time is required for cleaning personnel to collect each waste item separately from underneath and between the seats," he said. "And reaching underneath seats repeatedly over a long shift can also lead to health problems."

The researchers have spent two years collating 58,300 images of waste in rail carriages to help the robot identify items more accurately. The team will now focus on the production of a flexible navigation tool to guide the robot, plus a waste-detection algorithm.

Scientists aim to have a prototype robot in place by summer 2022 and ready to market within six months.

The cleanliness of train carriages has been under increasing scrutiny during the pandemic. A 2020 survey of more than 50,000 UK rail passengers found that a quarter were dissatisfied with levels of cleanliness inside trains.

"As well as being important for health, cleaning can also prevent train delays," said Erden. "With the daily pressure on rail services it's essential that trains are cleaned as fast and as efficiently as possible."



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