With greater needs around cleaning, demand for cleaning robots in commercial real estate and facilities management has spiked during the pandemic.
Even senior executives are taking an interest in how their offices are cleaned, when, and by whom – or what. “Before, a top executive at a big company would not really have known how their facilities got cleaned. They would have outsourced it to a facilities management company, who might outsource it out again,” said Faizan Sheikh, CEO of Canadian start-up Avidbots. Demand for its robotic floor scrubber, the Neo, has risen 100% since March.
For robotics firms like Avidbots that specialize in cleaning robots for commercial spaces, opportunities are abundant. Companies are promoting their machines’ ability to clean more frequently and thoroughly, and in some cases provide data on completed assignments. The Neo, which is designed for commercial facilities of at least 80,000 square feet, creates its own maps of a facility after being walked through it once, Sheikh said.
SoftBank Robotics, the Japanese conglomerate’s robotics unit, introduced its Whiz autonomous carpet cleaner in November, said Kass Dawson, Vice President, Brand Strategy & Communications. More than 10,000 of the robots have been deployed worldwide. One devotee is Jeff Tingley, head of a Connecticut cleaning company that works in large commercial facilities. He touted the time-saving benefit. “Vacuuming is one of the most time-consuming processes in cleaning. With Whiz, you can essentially wipe out 90% of the vac time required,” he said.
The Whiz includes data collection to provide customers with what Dawson called “the confirmed clean.” The robot’s software was developed by Brain Corp, a California-based firm that primarily works with manufacturers in the cleaning and warehousing industries. Vice President of Sales Chris Wright said that use of the firm’s BrainOS autonomous technology among retailers rose 24% from a year earlier in the second quarter.
New York start-up Somatic is working on a robot that can clean the bathrooms of commercial facilities using a spray technology, said CEO Michael Levy. He underscored the compliance attributes of robots, a particular concern in facilities management. “You have to let the chemicals set to do their job, but compliance is tough in the industry,” he said. “If you tell a robot to leave the chemicals for 36 seconds, they leave the chemicals for 36 seconds every single time.”
The use of robots in commercial real estate is expanding to include other mundane, repetitive tasks. This includes back office tasks like accounting, according to a 2018 report from Deloitte on digitization in the real estate sector, called Robotics for Real Estate Services. The New York Times draws a connection to smart building: “As more buildings incorporate smart technology, data collection and conversion will become increasingly important.”