Robots Reduce Cleaning Time

The pandemic sparks renewed interest in automation.

August 06, 2020

ALEXANDRIA—Neo is four feet tall and weighs 1,000 pounds, which is an inconvenient size for a person, but not for a robot floor scrubber. Neo is a short, but powerful, high-tech machine that can help clean large commercial buildings with no human supervision required, reports the New York Times.

Since its introduction in 2016, Neo’s sales have roughly doubled each year, said Faizan Sheikh, CEO and a co-founder of Avidbots, the Canadian start-up that created the robot. But since the pandemic-induced shutdown, demand for Neo has increased 100%. Because of COVID-19, the need for thorough, reliable and frequent cleaning is front and center.

“Before, a top executive at a big company would not really have known how their facilities got cleaned,” said Sheikh. “They would have outsourced it to a facilities management company, who might outsource it out again.”

But now company executives, hyper-aware of the importance of sanitation and safety, are interested in the cleaning process and schedule in their buildings. “That can lead to interest in automation,” he said.

As NACS Daily has reported, robots are being used to handle numerous tasks, including chores in commercial kitchens, and cleaning robots are being promoted as cost-effective solutions to the sanitation challenges of the pandemic. They can work independently without requiring more paid labor hours. They are always compliant, and some can even provide the data to prove that they’ve covered every inch of a facility.

The autonomous robots available today are primarily used for cleaning floors and carpets, but companies are considering them for other cleaning applications. Boston Dynamics, a robotics design company in Waltham, Massachusetts, for example, is developing a disinfecting solution that can be mounted atop its four-legged Spot robot.

Somatic, a start-up in New York, is working on a robot that can clean bathrooms using spray technology, said Michael Levy, CEO. Removing a human cleaner from the bathroom makes the area safer because of the reduced risk of spreading germs, he said. And the robot will always do the job exactly as it is programmed to do.

“You have to let the chemicals set to do their job, but compliance is tough in the industry,” Levy said. “If you tell a robot to leave the chemicals for 36 seconds, they leave the chemicals for 36 seconds every single time.”

The Neo is sophisticated. It can create its own maps of a facility after being walked through it a single time, he said. The customer then works with Avidbots to develop cleaning plans, which may vary depending on the day of the week. “After a human selects a cleaning plan, you press start and walk away,” Sheikh said. “The robot figures out its own path.”

Designed for facilities of at least 80,000 square feet, Neos sell for $50,000, plus $300 a month for software that tracks cleaning performance. At that price, the break-even point for the buyer is 12 to 18 months, Sheikh said. Neo can also be rented for $2,500 a month, including maintenance and software, with a minimum three-year contract.

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