Information published on 1 March 2016 in the UIC electronic newsletter "UIC eNews" Nr 487.

France: Rise of the (in-station) robots

  • Europe
  • News from UIC members

Stations nowadays are centres of urban life, where people come to stroll and shop as well as obtain information and catch trains. Stations are places like no other, and are constantly reinventing themselves in response to changing lifestyles, enriching the experience of the millions who use them daily. To satisfy stations’ design-specific needs, SNCF Gares & Connexions is pioneering, testing, and deploying novel technological solutions - such as cleaning robots.

Robotics gives stations a new sheen

The cleanliness of stations has a direct impact on customer satisfaction and well-being. Every day, our staff rise to the challenge of keeping things clean. From the humble broom to the smart cart, not forgetting the vacuum cleaner and the suction machine, stations have been ever-welcoming of new technologies.
Now, SNCF Gares & Connexions is taking cleaning to the next level, with two game-changing pilot robots which will make life more pleasant for customers and cleaning staff alike.

The “hands-free” auto-washer and vacuum cleaner

Manual or hands-free mode? Cleaners can now choose at the press of a button.
SNCF Gares & Connexions is the first French company in Europe to use the new SWINGOBOT 1650. The robot is fitted with sensors which give it a 360° view. The cleaner piloting the machine can put it in hands-free mode, thus freeing up time for him/her to perform other tasks. The innovative technology used is particularly well suited to the upkeep of large areas with heavy footfall. Not only that, it uses 85% less cleaning solution, making technological innovation both cost-effective and eco-friendly.
The SWINGOBOT 1650 is currently being trialled in partnership with Sud Service at Paris-Lyon station.

The “toothbrush” – for extra sparkle

Like all heavily-frequented public places, stations abound in often filthy nooks and crannies which are hard to access with conventional cleaning equipment. In this case, SNCF Gares & Connexions took an “open innovation” approach, working with Fab Lab IciMontreuil and Paris-Montparnasse cleaning contractor Sud Service to co-design and develop an extra-large rotating suction “toothbrush” attached to a flexible arm. The brush can winkle out even the toughest grime, and has been being trialled in stations since early 2016 to validate its efficiency and autonomy.

The smart cart

From vineyard to station yard is no great leap. Effidence, a company which designs and develops autonomous driving solutions for smart vehicles and rolling stock, came up with the idea of a robot truck as a logistics “helper”. It is now used in warehouses, factories - and in particular vineyards, where it supports grape pickers by carrying the fruit of the vine for them.

Gares & Connexions discovered the invention at the “Open Innovation SNCF” challenge, whereupon the firm was awarded a €50,000 budget to adapt the truck to carry luggage in stations. Specifically, it will help platform staff assisting passengers with reduced mobility. The principle is simple: whilst the PRM assistant pushes the wheelchair, the truck follows behind with the luggage - fully autonomously. The truck is fitted with sensors with which it can detect the legs of the person it is following, thus avoiding obstacles.
Having been trialled at Paris-Est station, the robot is now being optimised ahead of a larger-scale future roll-out.

About SNCF Gares & Connexions:

SNCF Gares & Connexions was born of a simple belief - that stations, whilst they are an intersection between one journey and another, are also public spaces in their own right. They are the lungs of our cities and transform our regions, improving day-to-day life for everyone. With 10 million passengers, visitors and locals passing through daily, we must strive to keep improving the quality of our product, developing new services, and modernising our asset.

In 2015, SNCF Gares & Connexions recorded a turnover of €1.208 billion.
Whilst a division of SNCF Group, we also have autonomy and legal personality, and are subject to regulation.

With our subsidiaries AREP and A2C, SNCF Gares & Connexions has successfully developed specific expertise in the service of urban vitality. Our goal is to make all our stations the calling-card of their respective towns and regions, for the benefit of all our customers: a city booster.

(Source: Gares & Connexions)