The exponential growth in skyscrapers worldwide, most of which feature large glass panes to highlight the breathtaking views, has led to a high demand for window washers. Though the specialized job, which earns workers as much as $35 an hour, can be lucrative, dangling alongside multi-story structures is dangerous, and accidents are not uncommon. However, if Israel-based start-up Skyline Technologies has its way, the dangerous chore may soon be assigned to Ozmo, an intelligent window cleaning robot, with humans supervising from the safety of the ground.
"As a society, we’ve become too comfortable watching people hanging off the sides of 30-story buildings,” Yaron Schwarcz, Co-founder and CEO of Skyline Robotics, told CNN Business. “No salary could justify allowing people to strap themselves into metal scaffolds and put their lives in the hands of a system of ropes and harnesses.”
Much like humans, Ozmo, perched on platforms suspended from the buildings, uses its arms and brushes to clean the dirt and grime on the glass panes. A 3D map of the building's surface programmed into its system, allows the robot to skillfully maneuver ledges, bumps, or any other obstacles, it is likely to encounter, as it moves up and down the structure. Computer vision and touch sensors enable it to move out of the way in case of unexpected events, such as the sudden opening of a window. "Think of the sensors we've developed like a human hand. We've designed the same thing for the robot so that we imitate the human hand," Schwarcz said. "Every obstacle that it might have, like a head bobbing out the window, the robot will self-correct and move around it so as not to break a window."
Unlike current window washers, the robot cleaner does not require soap or Windex to clean the glass. Instead, it uses distilled water and a process called reverse osmosis to do the job. Schwarcz explains, "We hypothyroid by water, taking all the minerals out of it, and then we use the natural properties of pure water to absorb the salts, the minerals, the oils, the grit from the building. We are environmentally neutral."
Ozmo is also expected to be much more efficient than its human counterparts. While it currently takes three cleaners 480 hours each to clean the windows of a vertical 40-story glass building, the robot will single-handedly complete the task in just 80 hours. However, unlike other robots, Ozmo will not replace human workers, only make their jobs safer, and probably more lucrative, by elevating them to the role of supervisors, who will be remotely controlling the operation, risk-free, from below. "We're hiring the window cleaners," Schwarcz said. "We have a lot of engineers, but to operate the robot, we hire ex-window cleaners."
Whether Ozmo, which is still undergoing testing, does as good a job as humans remains to be seen. Past efforts to automate this dangerous profession have not been successful, because the machines do not have the same eye for detail as humans and often miss the soot collected on window corners or rims. However, if things go well, its creators have much bigger ambitions for Ozmo, which they refer to as a full-scale real-estate maintenance system. Schwarcz told Forbes Magazine, "Window cleaning is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the verticals we eventually plan to influence. We plan to replace all tasks that are dangerous, dirty, and dull.”
Resources: Robotreport.com, CNNbusiness.com, Forbes Magazine.