We just purchased the new Roomba 880 to attack our dog hair and kid droppings in the kitchen. Unlike other areas of the robotic space, autonomous vacuum cleaners were introduced first in the consumer home space. While iRobot has a full line of mopping, scrubbing, pool cleaning robots, it has missed the boat of large commercial spaces (even though their other products lead the defense and medical industry).
The problem that industrial cleaning robots have to solve is the same problem that my Roomba struggles with: cleaning robots are not a substitute for a cleaning human. A Roomba is considered a maintenance tool, designed to keep your floors cleaner, longer. But, no matter how often you use your Roomba, you’ll still need to occasionally bust out the upright vacuum yourself. It’ll be far less often than you would without a Roomba, but it’ll still need to happen, because humans can visually identify dirt and manually maneuver cleaning equipment into places that robots can’t reach (yet).
However, a new kid on the block called Avidbots is aiming to replace janitors across the world over the long haul. While their robotic cleaners are far from perfect yet, meaning you will still need humans around (to spot clean, maintain the robots, cleaning them out, replacing fluids, and charging them if they don’t auto dock) you’ll certainly spend way less human time and labor on cleaning. This means the day when we can just leave robots completely on their own to perform tasks in human environments is rapidly approaching.
Existing platforms in this commercial cleaning space are generally huge robotic cleaning behemoths, but Avidbot’s approach looks more like an existing cleaning platform designed to work alongside humans, with with the added bonus feature of autonomy. Ultimately, this provides the robot much more flexibility, increasing the value for the user, who might need to spend an extra five minutes taking manual control to spot clean where the robot missed.
Whether or not Avidbots is successful is going to depend heavily on how much money a business can save by transitioning from a human cleaning crew to a robot cleaning crew. Avidbots has some optimistic numbers on this: they’re planning on selling their sweeper robot for $7,500 and the scrubber robot for $13,500, or you can rent them for $4 and $6 per hour respectively, inclusive of warranty and service (that’s half as much a minimum wage).
Avidbots is still in the prototyping stage, but when one considers the billions of commercial square feet waiting for this application (hospitals, malls, factories, warehouses, etc), their market opportunity looks very promising (of course, no one knows if Roomba has a big brother waiting to attack the same floor area). The battle arena is waiting, until then it will just collect dust.
Image credit: CC by Andreas Dantz