It’s been next to impossible for a couple of years now to attend an industry conference, seminar or event without hearing something about the Internet of Things (IoT). Everyone has heard how it is set to revolutionise everything from household management to urban planning. In 2015 George Osborne allocated £40m toward researching how to integrate the IoT in British life, but has the cleaning sector spent enough time thinking how it will be impacted?
In the world of technology things often seem to be out of date before anyone outside of Silicon Valley has actually figured out how to use them. So by these standards the Internet of Things is positively old hat yet it hasn’t yet been fully embraced by the cleaning industry. Using nothing more than their smartphone the average person can already control the temperature in their homes, open garage doors and turn appliances on and off. Once these technologies become ubiquitous then it won’t take long for cleaners to start wondering where they don’t have similar advantages in the workplace.
Of course many workers will panic just because they have seen the words technology and workplace in the same sentence. It’s understandable, after all the Bank of England’s chief economist predicted in November of last year that up to 15m UK jobs could be made obsolete as a result of technology marching on. But people predicted that during the industrial revolution as well, people found other jobs.
Cleaners might feel even more at risk than people in most other industries due to the nature of the work they do and those self operating machines already available. Still they shouldn’t fear the IoT. Indeed the more familiar they become with it the more they will see how much it could benefit them at work. It can inform cleaners which items need replacing or restocking without them having to manually check. Monitor footfall so that people know where to clean when and much more. In short it can make cleaners’ work easier and less time consuming.
The Internet of Things
In layman’s terms the Internet of Things is the network connecting physical things and connecting them with electronics, sensors and network connectivity. In effect, letting them talk to each other. Experts estimate that by 2020 there will be up to 50 billion items connected to IoT covering an almost limitless number of areas and possible applications.
But how does this impact the cleaning and hygiene industries? Well, in a similarly limitless number of ways, though not all of them beneficial for everyone.
The most obvious example, already being rolled out by cleaning companies, is the smart vacuum cleaner. These are cleaning tools which can run pretty much on their own. They don’t necessarily need to be connected to the Internet of Things but that is probably the way things are going.
Back in February CHT reported on Servest’s “Brian” a robot named after TV’s favourite confused.com-bot. Realising there was limited innovation in the industry Vince Treadgold, FM MD at Servest flew to Switzerland two years ago and investigated the latest technology being developed.
At the time Treadgold commented: “The technology is there. Some of the things that would be revolutionary in the cleaning sector are just everyday in other spheres. I mean, microfibre cloths have been around for 10 years, but people still talk about them as if they’re cutting edge.
“Brian is efficient without impacting on quality. We literally bought the first available model, straight off the production line. No one else was innovating this way so we felt it would set us apart.”
Even in Servest’s own corridors of power there was scepticism though. Thanks to the cheap cost of labour in the cleaning sector many people didn’t grasp the benefits of products like Brian.
“You need the money to develop it.” Treadgold admits. “But we are now gaining a huge amount of momentum. Brian was only rolled out around nine months ago, but I think the staff would be devastated if we took him away now.”
With this sort of technology being tied into the Internet of Things the possibilities are endless. Or if not entirely endless then certainly fun to speculate about.
Other possible examples and benefits include lowering maintenance costs. Yes the IoT would actually allow machines to report when they are in need of maintenance, monitoring footfall in massive buildings to determine which areas need immediate attention and which can wait and, perhaps most importantly, offering managers information encompassing the entire business. It allows them to track thousands of data points encompassing every aspect of cleaning and hygiene, combining information from every object imaginable (soap dispensers, floor scrubber, soap dispensers etc). This would let companies make much better business decisions going forward.
Towns and Cities
Of course many of these notions can be taken from the workplace and applied to entire towns, even cities. Many urban areas across the world have already hooked up their litter bins to the Internet of Things and said bins broadcast signals when they are getting full so that cleaning crews know when they need to be emptied. Similar strategies are in place for things such as soap dispensers in public bathrooms.
Over the long term all the data collected from the IoT could help cities identify key trends and let them better manage their schedules, maintenance and cleaning programmes. It would let them understand the occupants of their towns and help keep them clean and healthy.
Of course there are some examples of the technology not necessarily benefiting everyone. Apparently there are washing machines and tumble driers in laundrettes and apartment blocks that monitor when peak occupancy is, and raise costs accordingly.
Other ways the Internet of Things will Change your Life
- There are already concerns that the IoT will make it easier for people to hack your personal information. In fact people lost their WiFi passwords recently because they were given away by their lightbulbs (seriously). The masterminds behind the technology say these issues will be sorted with technology that is designed for IoT rather than adapted later.
- American giants General Electric estimate that the Internet of Things will add up to $15 trillion to the global economy by 2035.
- 3G and 4G whilst revolutionising many people’s lives are also liable to “break”. With the IoT taking over responsibility for things like self driving cars this can’t be allowed to happen. 5G is being called the most advanced network ever, unbreakable and capable of a maximum speed of 800Gb/s.
- The number of objects connected to the Internet of things exceeded the number of humans on Planet Earth as far back as 2008.
- Google and Apple have already embraced the IoT. Google have spent billions of dollars on “Nest” which produces thermostats, fire alarms and smoke detectors connected to IoT and Apple have HomeKit SD compatible with its mobile devices.
- There will be over a quarter of a billion self driving cars by 2020. With the proportion of people living in cities set to hit two thirds by 2050, could the IoT see the end of traffic jams?
- Apparently even your clothes will one day be connected to the Internet of Things. This could range from heart rate monitors being built into sports bras to skin tight gym clothes that change colour around the muscles you are currently using.
- Of course none of this would be possible if the technology wasn’t affordable. IoT is arguably the cheapest technology boom to get on board with for a century. Online you can buy Bluetooth dongles for less than 50p, all because of the Internet of Things.
- Some people consider cash machines the first objects connected to IoT, they went online over 40 years ago.
- Elon Musk’s Tesla S electric car can go from naught to 60 in under four seconds and travel over 250 miles on one charge. Impressive enough, but thanks to IoT it can also parallel park itself, stick to the speed limit and control itself in traffic jams.
- There are also applications for IoT when it comes to caring for the ill and the elderly. In Canada sensors are being trialled which will inform people which medications to take and when. The box the meds come in can also inform healthcare professionals if the required dose has been taken.