Thursday, May 1, 2014

Avidbots Wants to Automate Commercial Cleaning With Robots

Vacuuming is one of the few markets where robots have proven that they can be consistently commercially successful. There's a good reason for this: vacuuming is a repetitive, time-intensive task that has to be performed over and over again in environments that are relatively constrained. Despite the success of several companies in the home robot vacuum space, we haven't seen many low cost platforms designed for commercial areas, but a startup called Avidbots is tackling this idea, and they've got operational prototypes.

The problem that these robots are really going to have to solve is the same problem that the Roomba struggles with: cleaning robots are not a substitute for a cleaning human. A Roomba (to use a recognizable example) is amaintenance 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 lass 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.

In the case of the Avidbots, you can see in the demo that despite their care with edging, they still miss some areas in corners, close to walls, near complex obstacles, underneath objects that should be temporarily moved, and so forth. Over time, those areas are going to get super dirty, and you'll need to bring in a human to clean them. You'll also have to have humans around to 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 (which is the point, of course), but we're not yet at the point where we can just leave robots completely on their own to perform tasks in human environments.

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