New ice-cleaning “Roomba” could spell the end of the Zamboni at hockey arenas

Adam Proteau
Zamboni (Al Tielemans /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
Zamboni (Al Tielemans /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

One of the more popular household technologies in recent memory is the Roomba, a robotic vacuum device that tidies rooms without any human direction. And if a Minnesota inventor has his way, hockey arenas will have their own version – one that can replace the legendary Zamboni ice-cleaning machine.

Winona, Minn., entrepreneur Paul Van Eijl has built the prototype for what he calls an “Ice Jet”: an electrically-powered, driverless machine that recycles the ice it collects into water to resurface the ice. Van Eijl has yet to sell the technology to a manufacturer, but if his claims the device can clean an ice surface in roughly one minute of operation if multiple machines are used (and coordinated via GPS technology) prove to be true, it will be a revolutionary advancement guaranteed to change the way rinks do business.

Van Eijl says he’s received interest from an NHL team, robotics companies and the investment reality TV show “Shark Tank” in regard to his invention and it’s not difficult to see why. The Zamboni has been around since 1949 and is the industry standard for ice resurfacing, but Van Eijl’s device almost certainly would provide a cheaper, faster way to get the same job done.

In addition, the cumulative amount of time saved between periods and games would lead to more ice time opening up. In hockey-mad cities where ice time is difficult to come by, arena operators would jump at the chance to do so.

It may be years before the Ice Jet appears in an arena near you. But if you’re a professional Zamboni driver, you might want to seek out alternative employment options. Technology is impacting all of our lives, and hockey rinks big or small are no different.