Wings Magazine

Into the future: robotic sweeper arrives at IAH

Jan. 3, 2008, Houston, TX - In a single eight hour shift the Intellibot IS800 scrubber can tidy-up roughly 70,000 square feet of floor space utilizing only one, 50 gallon tank of water.

January 3, 2008  By Carey Fredericks

Jan. 3, 2008, Houston, TX – In a single eight hour shift the Intellibot IS800 scrubber can tidy-up roughly 70,000 square feet of floor space utilizing only one, 50 gallon tank of water. With its ultrasonic sensors it can navigate and memorize the floor plan of roughly any area; and in the event of an emergency it will communicate with its human counterpart for assistance.

Travelers at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) associate the automated sweeper, which was produced by Intellibot Robotics and introduced to the city's largest airport this month, with a somewhat more infamous robotic character from the past: Rosey the Robot from The Jetsons.

In this 1960's animated series, Rosey the Robot was an automated machine that performed all the household chores for the Jetson family. She did not require any supervision, except for the occasional repair, and could work without stopping for hours on end.

The Intellibot cannot wash dishes or scrub windows, but it will serve as a formidable ally to the dozens of airport employees responsible for cleaning the 1.5 million square feet of terminal space at IAH.


The three and a half foot, 600 pound, automatic sweeper, is the latest employee of the Houston Airport System's (HAS) maintenance staff.

"Bush Intercontinental is using technology as a force multiplier to increase the level of productivity and efficiency in cleaning the airport's facilities," says Kenneth Brooks, building services senior superintendent for HAS. "This will free up our workers to do other tasks such as high dusting terminal facilities and dust mopping in the immediate vicinity of the machine."

Cost-effectively streamlining the process of maintaining the airports clean is the ultimate goal for the Houston Airport System. The new technology promises to minimize the considerable, labor-related costs of floor scrubbing.

Intellibot claims 80 to 90 percent of all floor scrubbing costs are labor-related.

"I think robotic floor cleaning will revolutionize the way that floors are being cleaned in the future," says Henry L. Hillman, Jr., president and CEO of Intellibot Robotics, LLC. "The next level is to free up the operator to do other tasks while the robot continues with the repetitive job of cleaning the same floor day after day, night after night."

Currently, the IS800 can operate by itself, but it does require some human supervision. In the event it encounters a physical obstacle while sweeping, or if it requires any other type of assistance, the machine comes equipped with a paging system that will notify a nearby operator of its distress.

It will also notify users when its batteries are low and when it has finished a job.

The Intellibot is considered to be 100 percent safe and comes equipped with 20 ultrasonic sensors that tell it where cleaning areas are, and how to avoid objects and people. If a small child or passenger were to run up to the machine, the machine would stop automatically to avoid a collision.

Already in service at IAH, the Intellibot cost $31,500 and is winning over many passengers. Ann Martin was traveling through the airport recently, from Little Rock, Arkansas, and was visibly impressed by the innovative machine.

"I hate vacuuming at home," says Martin. "I would definitely consider the possibility of having an automatic vacuum at home just like this one."

Rick Vacar, director of the Houston Airport System, says it is all part of the airport system's "outside of the box" approach to improving customer service.

"If we can free up our employees to deal with more service-oriented duties by incorporating this new technology to our airports, and at the same time reduce the cost of maintaining our facilities clean, we are definitely providing an improved customer experience," he concludes.

In a few years, Rosey might be joining the family at IAH.


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