high-tech fixture available for a time. These were then followed by automatic flush systems aswell as touch-free soap and paper dispensers.

But a great deal has changed over the past 20 years, both in the cleaning sector and in the washroom. The availability of robots has grown exponentially and a wide range of autonomous vacuums, scrubbing machines and mopping systems are now available to buy or rent.

Mobile phones have begun to be used routinely, though early versions were mainly employed for transmitting SMS messages and for taking low-res images. Early staff-checking systems involved the employee dialling an automatic landline number at the client’s site to verify their presence and if they failed to do so, a text message would automatically be sent to the cleaning company to inform them of a potential no-show.

In fact, the world of digital communications only really opened up after the iPhone was launched in June 2007. Android alternatives soon followed and suddenly the internet offered a huge range of possibilities. The ‘Internet of Things’ became a much-uttered catchphrase as everyone attempted to integrate digital solutions into everyday practices to make them more efficient.

A mere 13 years later, we are suddenly being offered endless possibilities in terms of augmented reality, virtual reality, sensor technology, and much more.

In the washroom, technology is helping to speed up traffic and reduce the risk of products running out between maintenance checks. It is also being used to enhance the user’s experience, maximise profitability and even to monitor our health.

For example, washroom traffic is being sped up in busy facilities such as airports with the aid of sensor-operated lights above each cubicle. These turn green when a toilet is empty and red when it's occupied, making it easier for visitors to pinpoint those cubicles that are available for use.

In China there is now a shopping centre where women are able to virtually try on make-up via ‘magic mirrors’ in the washrooms. These use augmented reality to improve the visitor’s experience, keeping them occupied when queueing while also enabling them to continue to browse while waiting to use the washroom.

As for men, their washroom experience is being improved in quirky bars and clubs everywhere, with the aid of video screens installed in the urinals that allow them to play virtual football, drive a car or operate a tank while using the loo.

And early in 2019, the New York’s Rochester Institute of Technology came up with a cloud-connected toilet seat capable of tracking blood pressure and blood oxygen levels. This was designed to offer major health benefits, since it could detect the early signs of deterioration in heart patients.

Technology is also taking off in the cleaning sector where robots are becoming more affordable and more viable all the time. One major issue with early models was the fact

that a human was required to be on hand to monitor the machine’s water supply and battery levels. But the latest generation of robots can sense when their battery is running out or when the water supply is running low. They will then direct themselves to the nearest refilling or docking station. Industry analysts are predicting a 16% growth in the robot cleaning market in the five-year period to 2023.

“Technology is raising cleaning standards

and improving working conditions by enabling cleaners to plan more effectively, connect with each other and keep on top of cleaning and refill needs.”

And cleaners are increasingly using smartphones and tablets to improve their systems and enhance efficiency. Our own technological solution – launched in 2016 – is one such example. Tork EasyCube ‘connects’ the washroom and enables cleaning and maintenance staff to monitor visitor traffic and check dispenser refill requirements remotely via a tablet or smartphone.

This data-driven cleaning system frees up time that the cleaner would otherwise have spent on manually checking washrooms. It also enhances the user’s experience because washrooms are kept clean and well stocked at all times. Tork EasyCube has become hugely popular and is now in use in airports, offices, shopping centres, amusement parks and other facilities all over the world.

Meanwhile, another technological breakthrough from Essity is also helping to make life easier for cleaners while giving facility managers greater control over their responsibilities.

Digital Cleaning Plans is a management software solution that takes the place of traditional paper cleaning plans. Cleaning managers are given the tools they need to plan their time and resources in smarter ways while also being provided with planning, communication, administration and follow-up aids.

While all these huge changes have been taking place, technology has created some other knock-on effects on the cleaning and hygiene sectors. Today’s trend to upload, share and tweet about everything we do has led to facilities smartening up their act and washroom providers offering increasingly attractive and unusual fixtures to provide a ‘wow factor’.

So, technology is having a highly positive effect on the industry. It is raising cleaning standards and improving working conditions by enabling cleaners to plan more effectively, connect with each other and keep on top of cleaning and refill needs.

As we prepare to celebrate the start of 2020, we can all look forward to the next 20 years – and await with anticipation the huge changes and breakthroughs they will undoubtedly bring. TECHNOLOGY | 15

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