How Robotic Solutions Can Help Higher Ed Return to the New Normal

College and University administrators are in the throws of deciding how the Fall 2020 semester will run. Between reluctant professors and teaching staff, and excited college students, either starting their first year of college or trying to finish so they can graduate, there are a lot of scenarios and situations to consider. Add to that the daily reports of Coronavirus cases across the U.S. and decision making becomes an even trickier task.  

 

CORONAVIRUS RISKS FACING HIGHER EDUCATION  

 

Many proposals and ideas have been discussed. Some schools are bringing back a percentage of students for in-seat classes while moving a portion of courses online—this will hopefully lessen the number of students on campus at one time. Other colleges are shifting to hybrid or online learning, entirely.  

According to a recent USA Today article, the University of California San Diego will require students to go through extensive testing when they come on campus, including nasal swabbing, coding, and tracking of the test, and linking results to student medical records and phone numbers. If a student tests positive, the student will be quarantined, given medical care, and contact tracing will begin. 

 

Many fears about college campuses center around the close living and learning quarters—thousands of students packed into dorm rooms and shared housing makes for potential spread of the virus at a rapid pace likely. That mixed with the typical social behaviors of college kids and wide-spread transmission in many locations around the country could be possible. 

 

A recent article posted on Inside Higher Ed proposed the idea of “Cohorts”—grouping students together based on their studies, keeping them together as one group, and not mixing with other classes or students on campus. This idea allows for better learning opportunities, the article suggests, as well as less chance of rapid spread of the coronavirus on campus should a student test positive. The idea being that the groups are socially distancing from other groups by keeping each grouping of students together allowing them to meet in designated spaces on college campuses 

 

PLANS TO REOPEN COLLEGES AND UNIVERSTIES  

 

Even still, According to the Chronical of Higher Education, 59% of colleges (currently being tracked) are planning to bring students back to campus. This means finding ways to make it work and while there is no one solution to the problem colleges and universities, like the business sector, are trying to find the best possible way to continue on in a manner that protects people and focuses on learning and regular operations.  

Adopting the widely practiced social distancing guidelines of wearing masks (whether suggested or required), temperature taking, reducing class size, placing six foot distance markers on campus, and allowing a certain number of people in buildings at one time, are all key factors in trying to reduce the spread of the virus.  

  

Bringing students back to campus also means increasing the cleaning and sanitization of classrooms and campus buildings. Janitorial staff will need support as the importance of disinfecting surfaces and common spaces will become top priority.  

Dealing with the coronavirus on college campuses is sure to heighten awareness around a job sector that already faces high turnover and absenteeism. Janitorial staff and cleaning crews will feel the pressure of an increased workload combined with not enough people to get the work done effectively and efficiently.  

  

HOW ROBOTIC SOLUTIONS CAN HELP COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES REOPEN DURING COVID-19

 

With the exponential advancements in technology and robotic solutions, Higher Education is a prime candidate that should take advantage of what is available. Robotic floor scrubbers and sweepers are some of the most advanced pieces of cleaning equipment available to the industry and they come with ample benefits. 

  

  • Efficiency: Adding autonomous floor cleaning equipment will be a beneficial way to help cleaning staff to be more efficient on college campuses. Robots like Whiz, an autonomous floor sweeper by ICE Robotics and SoftBank Robotics needs to be manually programmed once before it is then able to continually follow the route and deliver ahigher and more consistent level of cleaning than human workers.” At the same time this gives cleaning staff the time to focus on detailed work that often gets missed due to time constraints. Robots like the Whiz, or Cobots, are designed to work along-side cleaning and janitorial staff to deliver a more efficient clean.  

 

  • Productivity: Autonomous cleaning robots also aid in freeing up time for cleaning staff to focus on higher order concerns. Restrooms, classrooms, and communal areas in dormitories, and other living spaces will need to be wiped down and sanitized regularly to help stop the spread of germs. EMMA, an autonomous floor scrubber by ICE Robotics and powered by BrainOS is designed to clean hard surfaces like cafeterias, lobbies, and entry ways—all areas that regularly see high volume foot traffic on college campuses. Allowing robots to take over the floor cleaning frees up janitorial and cleaning staff to sanitize and disinfect more often—something that will be incredibly important in areas that students visit.  

  

  • Confirmed Clean:  Wanting to know for certain that a space has been cleaned and cleaned well will be a high concern for administrators, educators, and students when returning to college campuses. Due to the advanced technology available in robots like Whiz and EMMA, fleet tracking and data tracking capabilities will help confirm that a space is clean. The route for each robot is tracked, saved, and reported back to data users through Whiz Connect (Whiz) and ROC (for EMMA). The data tracking capabilities allow users to be notified of any problematic areas, but also to see the route of the robot. This will allow users to confirm flooring has been cleaned and this information can be reported back to administrators trying to ensure students and parents that all precautions are being taken.  

 

CONCLUSION 

Colleges and Universities have a huge task in front of them when it comes to opening safely and inviting students back to campus. Bringing Robots on board not only frees up staff to be more productive and effective, focusing on higher standards and priorities, but it also provides a way to clean without adding additional humans  to the mix—this is extremely important during a time when the least amount of people in one area is of highest concern.  

 

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