It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's a Window-Washing Drone!

Custodial's Newest Cleaning Innovation


Custodial Services is always looking for more efficient ways to improve our campus environment. One of these recent innovations is a new initiative that uses drone technology to clean windows on tall buildings! We had the opportunity to discuss the behind-the-scenes of this project with custodial supervisor Michael Orona. 

After seeing a cleaning drone at a trade show in December 2021, Michael’s manager, Joseph Williams, was inspired to look into implementing a drone window-washing program on campus. Besides being an efficient way to keep our campus clean, the drone window washing program brings two main benefits to our custodial department: (1) safety and (2) jobs. Using drones to wash windows keeps our custodial employees on the ground rather than on scaffoldings or ladders, which can pose safety concerns. The program also keeps jobs in-house - prior to its implementation, window washing for taller buildings was contracted out to other companies.

Another major motivating factor in this project was the state of some of the windows on campus. Previously, any window lower than 55ft could be cleaned by the custodial team with a water-fed pole, but those higher than that were cleaned infrequently. As a result, a lot of buildup occurred on some of the taller windows on campus, which can be as high as 100ft! Using drones to clean these windows is both faster and more efficient than cleaning them manually. 

Before being allowed to fly the drones, Michael and his supervisor had to get certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by taking a training course and passing a test. Anyone who operates a drone for commercial use must do so under the FAA’s Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems rules (AKA Part 107). The test ensures that those flying the drones understand the FAA’s rules, and once passed, allows for someone to fly a drone up to 100ft. Though currently only Michael and his supervisor are authorized to fly the drones, they hope to expand the program and have more custodial employees certified by the FAA. Other custodial team members are currently involved in the process as Visual Observers (VOs). VOs help the drone pilot by maintaining sight of the drone at all times and warning the pilot of any hazards in the sky or on the ground that could present concerns. Michael says custodians Bernardo Reynoso and Jose Sanchez have been instrumental in helping this program by acting as VOs for flights. 

Drone in action

Since getting their licenses, Michael and Joseph have used the drones to clean windows on many campus buildings, including Vet Med 3A and the Memorial Union! The drone they use is attached to a hose and equipped with a spray nozzle, allowing it to clean without ever actually touching the windows. 

As for the future of the program, Michael hopes that it will be expanded significantly, both in the number of employees that can operate the drones and the number of buildings that can be cleaned. He says he would love to see the entire outside of buildings being soft washed using the drones or see them being used for mass disinfecting purposes, such as in Aggie Stadium. 

Michael says drone window cleanings for taller buildings will likely be done annually from now on. Deep cleanings are being done now to clear all of the built-up dirt and cobwebs so that in the future cleaning will be quicker and more efficient. Michael says he hopes this program lasts well into the future and has even been thinking of moving beyond cleaning purposes and into roof inspections. 

The custodial team is always looking for innovative solutions for keeping our campus clean - this initiative is just one of many! Michael says that so far, customers have been incredibly happy with their new clean windows. Thank you so much to the custodial team for ensuring our campus is in great shape for students and faculty!

If you would like to request this service for your building, contact our Customer Experience Center at (530) 752-1655.

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