The service industry has spent a good part of 2020 disinfecting, scrubbing, and cleaning surfaces – and some, even the air we breathe. Some hotels have turned to air purifiers that emit charged ions and damage the surface of viruses, reports The New York Times.

Covid-19 has thrown a curveball at the sanitation industry, says Ian Wilson, SoftBank Robotics’ APAC Hospitality Market Expert. As hotels, restaurants and tourism sites resume operations, an increased standard of cleanliness will be essential.

Wilson is also the CEO of Wilson Innovation Lab. He shares how robots will shape the future of the service industry and help it bounce back from Covid-19.

Make cleaning visible and efficient

Covid-19 has increased customers’ expectations of cleanliness, says Wilson. “Safety is key and customers will now be much more aware of social distancing and cleanliness.”

“In the past, cleaning was done at night and hidden from customers, but now it should be considered as theatre and made very visible,” he says. Customers will be looking for indicators of cleanliness, and firms can rely on visible cues such as cleaning robots or signs that show how often a place is cleaned, he adds.

Cleanliness used to be measured by the absence of visible dirt and clutter, says Wilson. Those standards should change in light of microscopic viruses like Covid-19, and now is an “opportune time” for the industry to work with the government to make these standards tangible.

Robots to play a bigger role

Robotics will play an even more crucial role in the service industry, Wilson says. Many companies have already turned to robots to automate vacuuming, scrubbing, and even the cleaning of air ducts – “extremely important” for airborne illnesses.

Smaller robots that clean in ‘swarms’ and are able to get into nooks and crannies will be more popular in the future, he adds. The technology will continue to advance until robots and humans can work closely together to clean spaces, with the robots handling the most monotonous aspects of the job.

SoftBank Robotics’ AI-powered robot, Whiz, has been deployed at the Hilton Garden Inn in the US to support their cleaning efforts.Their cleanliness score increased from 82.7 per cent to 90 per cent, and one minute per room in cleaning time was saved, Wilson says.

A hotel chain in Queensland, Australia, also uses Whiz in public areas. A total area of 21,170sqm was cleaned in October alone, giving staff more time to focus on their guests’ experience.

Capitalise on data

“If there is a silver-lining to the pandemic, it is that it has driven digitisation and forced many businesses to innovate and examine how they operate,” Wilson says.

The service industry should not miss the opportunity to ride on the waves of digitalisation and implement digital services such as online check-ins or ordering, he adds.

As more services go online, data generated will allow companies to predict when spaces need to be cleaned. Companies can also determine the effectiveness of each robot and employee, and measure the impact of any new techniques or technologies, he says.

“The only thing that will hold companies back is their ability to learn quickly,” Wilson says. Companies should create a culture of continuous learning and train staff on new technologies. Data should also be democratised to encourage more scientific thinking and experimentation, he adds.

Whether it’s cutting-edge air purifiers or robots, tech will play a vital role in enhancing cleanliness, and prepare the service industry for a more resilient recovery.

Image of Ian Wilson by SoftBank Robotics