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Robot Helpers in Public Works

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

Written by: URF Marketing Team

Do you make decisions for your town or city? Do you manage a public facility such as a park, community centre, or museum? What if it was possible to offload some of your team’s responsibilities, allowing staff to focus on other necessary tasks? Now imagine that this was just one possible benefit but there were several more.

Welcome to the world of property maintenance robots, an increasingly popular type of "PMR"*. When most people think of robots on city streets and sidewalks, they tend to think of food and goods delivery because restaurants and retailers have been implementing them across the globe to much fanfare. A growing application of PMR technology is urban robots performing indoor and outdoor property maintenance.

A 3-wheeled yellow, white and black robot with a tube to collect cigarette butts off the pavement
Butty from Capra Robotics
Key Benefits From a Municipality or Facilities Perspective

Whenever deciding to adopt a new technology, administrators and decision makers must ensure that the benefits of implementing the new solution outweigh the costs. Some of the benefits that property maintenance robots offer include:

Extended work hours and consistent quality

Robots can work non-stop for prolonged periods of time. Of course, they require maintenance and charging time but can perform repetitive tasks with precision and accuracy for extended periods of time.

Freeing up resources for other priorities

If robots are deployed to perform the more mundane tasks of property maintenance, then this frees up human resources for responsibilities that require creativity, reasoning, and human involvement such as planning, analysis, and customer interaction.

white and black robot on 4 wheels with 2 sweepers at the front, moving on a sidewalk
Image: Street cleaning robot, Beijing, China Source:

Mitigating labour and resourcing challenges

Property maintenance often requires seasonal and frequent hiring, and as every employer knows, finding and keeping good employees can be a challenge. If PMRs are deployed to perform repetitive maintenance tasks, the money saved on recruiting, training, and compensating employees for those tasks can be shifted to other areas within the organization.

Improving overall safety

The more physically demanding a job, the higher the likelihood for a workplace injury. If employees can offload their physical and repetitive property maintenance tasks to mobile robots, their workplace injury levels would likely drop, helping improve overall safety.

Enhancing data collection and analysis

Most robots are equipped with sensors and cameras enabling them to collect, store, or transmit crucial data about their operating environment. This information allows operators and property owners to monitor their spaces, identify patterns, predict breakdowns, and streamline maintenance scheduling. Access to appropriate data can promote informed decision making and support overall system efficiency.

Greater flexibility

Humans design robots, and if property maintenance PMRs are programmable to complete multiple functions, they become an adaptable tool, capable of performing a variety of functions as required. The greater the versatility, the more benefits available to management.

Property Maintenance PMRs Happening Right Now

No longer a vision of the future, technology companies are advancing property maintenance robot technology across the globe. For example, Softbank Robotics, an established player in the sector provides commercial cleaning with its ‘Whiz’ robot. Headquartered in Japan, the multi-national’s UK subsidiary also recently announced a partnership to expand its offerings in Spain.

orange, 3-wheeled robot with road salt spreader on top
Frosty from Capra Robotics

Newer companies gaining momentum in this space include Avidbots, a Canadian start up that recently closed a Series C round of $70M (USD) to expand its commercial floor cleaning robot and Danish company Capra, whose smart city robots Butty, Frosty, and Chewy perform tasks such as cigarette butt removal, salting/area defrosting, and chewing gum clean-up. Municipalities Leading by Example

The number of cities that are using or plan to deploy robot technology to maintain public areas are also growing rapidly. Across North and South America, in Europe, the Middle East and throughout Asia we can help you find innovative technology companies working with municipalities and property managers to help solve their public works challenges.

In Singapore, Enway is leading a collaboration to develop autonomous street cleaning solutions. In Texas, Houston Airport System deployed six Breezy One robots built by Build with Robots, to keep two of the region’s airports clean and sanitized. In Waterloo, Ontario, a lawn mowing robot is used regularly in public park areas. In May 2023, this Chicago Tribune article mentions a Havenshine Technologies lawn mowing robot being used in Naperville, a suburb of Chicago. A number of Demonstration Zones are being created to facilitate pilot studies and to expedite proof of concept testing.

No Longer a Vision of the Future

Are you involved in the deployment of property maintenance robots in public areas? Maybe you are an administrator or decision maker for your municipality and are looking for a solution? Or you are a technology provider and have a product in development that you are ready to pilot? Join the Urban Robotics Foundation to explore the latest in robot technology, what this could mean for decision makers, which cities are deploying them, and how your city or organization can benefit.

Collaborating to Support Progress

It is an exciting time ahead. The technology possibilities with PMRs are limitless if organizations collaborate, bringing their diverse expertise and experience together to support accessible and sustainable solutions for the future.

* NOTE: the international standards organization calls the group of devices: "Public-area Mobile Robots" so we use PMR throughout our website.

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