Robots at railway stations

10th of December 2018
Robots at railway stations

Christian Bouzols reports for ECJ about cleaning robots now in use at SNCF railway stations.

Keeping its stations clean is a matter of great importance to the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français). Some two tons of waste are picked up every day in a typical main railway station. The thousands of passengers who tread the platforms daily also leave marks that need to be cleaned.

The robots now deployed have been tested since 2016 at four major stations: Paris Gare du Nord, Paris Gare de Lyon, Aix-en-Provence and Bordeaux. They are automated scrubber dryers developed by the Sud Service company and have been contracted for several years.

The cleaning operator just needs to press a button to make the machine work inside a specified area. A window cleaning robot has also been tested at the Valence-TGV railway station for dealing with high level windows and spider webs.

Another machine, a robotic dustbin named Baryl, developed technically by a start-up called Immersive Robotics, and designed by Areb designlab - a wholly owned SNCF subsidiary - has been tested in some stations. It performs random movements within a given area and responds to the calls of users who need to dispose of rubbish. When it’s full, it sends an SMS message requiring that it be emptied.

Equipped with a 3D camera, a laser remote detection device and several sensors, the machine was first tested at the Gare de Lyon in Paris in November 2016 before undergoing trials in other main railway stations across France. At the present time, it’s working at Aix-en-Provence station.

However, making a robot move about on a railway platform is no easy matter. Passengers milling around the machine all represent obstacles to its movements. “It’s not like in a warehouse or storage facility because a railway station is full of people. In fact, we’ve had problems at the beginning because people were stopping our robots”, recalls Philippe Carles, chief buyer for station and office cleaning equipment at the SNCF.

As a pioneer in robotics, the SNCF uses this technology partly to flaunt its openness to innovation. What about the economic impact? “We haven’t yet measured the productivity gains,” admits Philippe Carles. “It’s more a matter of promoting a feeling for environmental cleanliness - a major issue for us - among the users.”

A feel for cleanliness

Robots are just one of the pillars of the cleaning services of tomorrow. “For us, the use of robots is part of a global strategy for innovation, making use of connected objects and of data,” he adds.
Data plays an important role in this work because it can help to reconstitute the movement and flow of users during a typical day, and thus make it possible to adapt the working hours of cleaning services providers and establish the optimal hours for the operation of their machines.

At what times should they be deployed to platforms? At what times should dustbins be emptied? Connecting waste bins is a step forward in this area. Equipped with a sensor indicating how full they are, they’ve been tested during 2017 at the Aix-en-Provence station as well as at the Gare du Nord and the Gare de Lyon in Paris. Their results being satisfactory, the bins are now in service.


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