Following two years of research, engineers at the National Robotarium have unveiled the design of a new train-cleaning robot that is being developed to help human cleaners by cleaning hard-to-reach areas between and under the seats. The research is being funded by rail research body RSSB.
Research into rail-passenger attitudes has consistently shown that travellers are unhappy with the standards of cleanliness on trains. In a 2020 survey of more than 50,000 UK rail passengers, a quarter said that they were dissatisfied with train cleanliness.
‘With the daily pressure on rail services, it’s essential that trains are cleaned as quickly and as efficiently as possible, said Mustafa Suphi Erden, who is leading the project. ‘However, at present, this process is done entirely by hand, requiring a significant amount of time for the cleaning personnel to collect each waste item one-by-one from under and in between the seats.
‘Reaching underneath seats repeatedly over a long shift can lead to health problems,’ he continued. ‘Also, cleaning staff regularly encounter hazardous and biological waste, which poses a significant risk. We’ve worked closely with rail operators to design a robot that can complement existing cleaning regimes, aiding human cleaners to deliver an ongoing service and freeing them up to focus on other hygiene tasks, including disinfecting surfaces such as tables, cleaning the seats and removing dirt, fluid and food waste.’
The National Robotarium team used more than 58,300 studio images of waste in a variety of conditions, along with several smaller datasets of actual waste photographed on trains, in order to help the cleaning robot identify waste more accurately.
The team obtained further information regarding operating conditions through interviews with rail service providers. The narrow under-seat area, which collects the most waste items, is extremely limited and this makes waste collection challenging. Some spaces are only 28 centimetres high, with entry points as small as 31 centimetres.
‘We’re delighted to be supporting this important research, which is contributing towards a step change in working conditions for railway staff and will also give passengers added reassurance about the cleanliness of carriages,’ said Luisa Moisio, director of research and development at RSSB. ‘Robotics is expected to be an important area of growth for the economy, and GB rail is taking the initiative, exploring how robots can be used to assist humans in dangerous, difficult, or dirty tasks.’