Autonomous Robot Cleaners Have Arrived!

Kenichi Yoshida, Softbank
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“Kent” Kenichi Yoshida is the Executive Vice President and Chief Business Officer at SoftBank Robotics, leading the SoftBank robotic project for the past 4 years since the beginning of the project. In an IAA exclusive, Kent talks about the robot cleaning industry and shares insights on how the market for cleaning robots has evolved.

  • How has recent changes in the post covid situation in Singapore, impacted your business strategy for robot cleaners?

We are starting to see more positive reactions and acceptance in adopting the robots as part of their cleaning workflow especially with the offices, hotels, facilities management and cleaning companies. In addition, Singapore Government has been very forward thinking in driving the acceleration of robotics usage across all industrial sectors, by providing various grants and subsidies to aid these companies (ie cleaning/ smart facilities management companies) in digitalizing and robotization as part of cleaning industry transformation. This foresight has also helped us to speed up the education of embracing robots and change management process with the end users.

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  • Please share your insights on the post covid situation, robot cleaning industry and market potential.

Insights on post covid situation:

At a time where cleanliness and hygiene has never been so important and with social distancing being the buzz word of 2020 and 2021, people are more conscious of the spaces and faces they are coming into contact with. It is crucial for businesses and organisations to take responsibility for the sanitation of their space. While automated cleaning is not a new phenomenon, Whiz is SoftBank Robotics’ answer to improving the scale and agility of robotic cleaning like never before seen in Singapore or around the world.

Robot Cleaning Industry:

Technology – particularly big data – will be the driving force behind changes in the cleaning sector in 2021 and beyond. Other sectors such as facility management have adopted big data, with use of AI analytics in these big data combined with the IoT integration such as sensors and robots into their operations to make smarter, holistic decisions. I see the cleaning sector to follow this path, drawing in the wealth of data from cleaning tasks to reshape these operations for better efficiency and effectiveness.

I foresee there will be a market demand for a single, unified operating platform to merge various autonomous cleaning machines/ robots ie UV-disinfectant, mop and scrub, vacuum clean robots to be more efficient in delivering data analysis to have predictive cleaning schedule and workflow and using such data in the case of a mall to study customers’ behavioral patterns.

Market Potential:

SoftBank Robotics’ aim is for humans and robots to live and work cohesively together. In fact we see our robots more as ‘collaborative robots’, or ‘cobots’. Some people have the idea robots eliminate the ever so important human element of a business. In fact, the opposite is true – by taking on mundane, simple tasks, robots allow for people to focus on the more important human elements such as customer service and experience, as well as upskilling their knowledge in robot operations. For example, a floor cleaning robot like Whiz will change the role of the ‘cleaner’ in a positive way freeing up time for cleaners to focus on hygiene and disinfecting. Simply put, robotics are here to stay.

It takes a few years of education about robotics, there will be an increased recognition from the general public on the value of having automation to augment their lives professionally and personally. While the idea of a physical robot is still novel to some, we must remember that we are already interacting with them digitally. From mobile banking, customer service chat bot chats, these are just some robots that we all deal with as part of our everyday experience. We are on the verge of adopting robots in a more mainstream sense and we now need to think about how we do this to augment and enhance our lives, rather than inhibit it.

  • How different are the robot cleaners different from other robot cleaners in the market?

(This question should pertain to Whiz’s difference from the other robot cleaners.)

Whiz is powered by AI navigation technology – BrainOS, the award-winning commercial robot operating system from Brain Corp, which maps out and thoroughly learns the space it is to clean. The self-driving robot vacuum works seamlessly alongside cleaning staff and allows them to focus on higher-value tasks, particularly in a time where employees want more time spent on sanitation and disinfecting.

  • Where do you expect the robot cleaners to be deployed and what kind of take up (rate) do you expect?

Eventually, Whiz will have a presence in other industries such as hospitals, and restaurants, and even manufacturing plants and will become a trusted and essential component in an organization cleaning process.

IAA thanks Milieu Survey PR for their kind permission and cooperation in facilitating the interview.

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