Business

Robots cleaning up at stations and airports in labor-hungry Japan

JIJI

More and more unmanned cleaning robots are being used in Japan, mainly at public transportation facilities, amid severe labor shortages.

Faced with difficulties securing enough workers, Central Japan Railway Co. started using four robots this year to clean Nagoya Station and other locations, hoping that using the robots — expected to cover most of the necessary cleaning work — will help save on labor costs.

In the wee hours, automated robots scrub the floors at Nagoya Station with water. In February, two robots joined 50 human staff to perform cleaning work.

“We can reduce the cost of hiring and training,” a JR Central official said.

JR Central has also introduced cleaning robots at offices and commercial facilities.

In the half year from May, SoftBank Robotics Corp. put on the market over 1,000 units of a new type of carpet cleaning robot, reflecting rising demand for such robots for use at offices and hotels.

If the robot is guided once by hand along a cleaning route, it will memorize that route and clean the area automatically.

At Narita International Airport near Tokyo, over 10 cleaning robots have been introduced since November.

“Ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Games, we’ll make robots do work that cleaning staff do now so the staff can focus on work requiring more skills,” an official at Narita International Airport Corp. said.

East Japan Railway Co., or JR East, has been using cleaning robots at major stations since 2016.

“It looks difficult to switch fully to robots for cleaning work because cleaning some places, such as wall corners and braille blocks, still needs to be done by humans,” said an official from JR East Environment Access Co., a cleaning unit of JR East. But the official was hopeful that future technological innovations would enable robots to do that work, too.