As autonomous mobile robots move out of warehouses and factories, one application for them is in commercial floor cleaning. The novel coronavirus pandemic has intensified demand for such robots because of social distancing requirements, a new emphasis on hygienic public spaces, and improvements in autonomous navigation. Aziobot BV last month introduced its SB2 floor-cleaning robot, which was designed with specific customers in mind.
Sarthak Yadav and Tapabrata Samanta founded Aziobot in late 2017. “We’re taking our cleaning robot to market, mostly in Northern Europe, considering the high wages there,” Yadav said.
Aziobot benefits from recent advances
The Netherlands-based company has also taken advantage of technical advances in mapping and perception. “Right now, our initial mapping is done by the users — it’s a one-time process that they can do themselves,” said Yadav.
“The SB2 uses cameras, while sensors in older AGVs [automated guided vehicles] tended to miss a lot of things,” he said. “Since the technology has developed in the past four years, we’re now using depth cameras around the robot. They generate a lot of data in a point cloud, which we fuse to generate a map to navigate around people or objects.”
“If an object has fallen off a shelf, the robot can just avoid that object,” Yadav added. “Since Aziobot’s primary targets are supermarkets, it’s important that the SB2 can operate around people while they’re restocking.”
“We also provide a quick recharge with lithium-ion batteries, similar to electric vehicles and smartphones,” he sad. “If you need to clean a larger area, you can reuse the SB2 rather than deploy multiple robots.”
What is the potential for multifunctional mobile robots, with both cleaning and inventory abilities? “This could happen eventually,” replied Yadav. “We can just add an array of cameras on top to collect data later.”
Market awareness grows
Aziobot is not the first company to enter the autonomous floor-cleaning market, which includes Avidbots‘ Neo and SoftBank’s Whiz, which uses Brain Corp.‘s technology. Thousands of such robots are already at work, according to ABI Research.
“Our major competitors are good partners for creating awareness,” said Yadav. “One difference between European and American supermarkets is that U.S. stores are bigger.”
“One of the biggest questions we get from investors is, ‘Why not retrofit existing cleaning equipment with autonomy?'” Yadav said. “We’ve designed our robot hardware and software from the bottom up. Aziobot’s SB2 tackles a different segment, and we don’t see anything here yet that compact.”
“Robots conduct part of the job of cleaning stores, and ours is pretty simple,” he noted. “Some competitors’ products are complicated — customers need to have someone present from the vendor to set mapping of their environments.”
Aziobot has recently added features including an increased range and smart water control for sustainability. It plans to add options for larger locations, said Yadav.
Aziobot considers remote learning and cleaning up with funding
Aziobot continues to add features to its robots, such as a sprinkler system to self-clean its tank. Unlike other mobile robot providers, the company does not plan to provide remote support, which it said is not necessary.
“Right now, it’s in its first phase,” Yadav explained. “If there’s a problem, the robot will stop and send a notification to the user to resolve the issue. We have found that an Aziobot robot is usually used when people are around, and one can just push a button to start it. We do have quick online tech and customer support for any issues that our customers might face.”
“The next phase is to learn and improve the robot as it’s being tested,” he said. “We need to validate more, and our goal is 100 SB2s in two years. There is typically one robot per store, since the average size in the Netherlands is 2,000 sq. m [6,500 sq. ft.]. Convenience stores are similar.”
“Our model right now is to provide robots-as-a-service [RaaS],” said Yadav. “The company that solves these bottlenecks will get ahead of the competition.”
Aziobot has received €20,000 ($23,510 U.S.) from Europe’s first AI accelerator program, plus €500.000 ($587,000) from angel investor Koolen Industries. The company is continuing to raise funding. “One of our major investors is Koolen Industries, whose founder was CEO of Booking.com,” said Yadav.