Kenneth Chan in a June 10, 2021 article for the Daily Hive describes a startup company in Vancouver (Canada), which hopes to run a pilot project in 2022 for its “HŌMĀN, a highly capable, fast and efficient autonomous machine, designed specifically for cleaning the glasses [windows] perfectly and quickly.” (The description is from Autonopia’s homepage.)
Chan’s June 10, 2021 article describe the new automated window washer as a roomba-like robot,
The business of washing windows on a tower with human labour is a dangerous, inefficient, and costly practice, but a Vancouver innovator’s robotic solution could potentially disrupt this service globally.
Researchers with robotic systems startup Autonopia have come up with a robot that can mimic the behaviour of human window washers, including getting into the nooks and crannies of all types of complicated building facades — any surface structure.
It is also far more efficient than humans, cleaning windows three to four times faster, and can withstand wind and cold temperatures. According to a [news?] release, the robot is described as a modular device with a plug-and-play design [emphasis mine] that allows it to work on any building without requiring any additional infrastructure to be installed.
While artificial intelligence and the robotic device replaces manual work, it still requires a skilled operator to oversee the cleaning.
“It’s intimidating, hard work that most workers don’t want to do, [emphasis mine]” said Autonopia co-founder Mohammad Dabiri, who came up with the idea after witnessing an accident in Southeast Asia [emphasis mine].
“There’s high overhead to manage the hiring, allocation and training of workers, and sometimes they quit as soon as it comes time to go on a high rise.”
“We realized this problem has existed for a while, and yet none of the available solutions has managed to scale,” said Kamali Hossein, the co-founder and CTO of Autonopia, and a Mitacs postdoctoral research [sic] in mechatronic systems engineering at Simon Fraser University.
To clarify, the company is Autonopia and the product the company is promoting is HŌMĀN, an automated or robotic window washer for tall buildings (towers).
HŌMĀN (as it’s written in the Encyclopedia Iranica) or Houmān, as it’s written in Wikipedia, seems to be a literary hero or, perhaps, superhero,
… is one of the most famous Turanian heroes in Shahnameh, the national epic of Greater Iran. Houmān is famous for his bravery, loyalty, and chivalry, such that even Iranians who are longtime enemies of Turanians admire his personality. He is a descendant of Tur, a son of Viseh and brother of Piran. Houmān is the highest ranking Turanian commander and after Piran, he is the second leading member of Viseh clan. Houman first appears in the story of Rostam and Sohrab, …
Autonopia’s website is very attractive and weirdly uninformative. I looked for a more in depth description of ‘plug and play’ and found this,
Modular and Maintainable
The design of simple, but highly capable and modular components, along with the overall simplicity of the robot structure allows for a shorter build time and maintenance turnover. …
Cleans any tower
The flexible and capable design of the robot allows it to adjust to the complexities of the structures and it can maneuver uneven surfaces of different buildings very quickly and safely. No tower is off-limits for HŌMĀN. It is designed to cater to the specific requirements of each high-rise
I wish there were more details about the hardware and the software, e.g., there’s no mention of artificial intelligence as mentioned in Chan’s article.
As for whether or not this is “intimidating, hard work that most workers don’t want to do,” I wonder how Mohammad Dabiri can be so certain. If this product is successful, it will have an impact on people who rely on this work for their livelihoods. Possibly adding some insult to injury, Dabiri and Hossein claim their product is better at the job than humans are.
Nobody can argue about making work safer but it would be nice if some of these eager, entrepreneurial types put some thought into the impact both positive and negative that their bright ideas can have on other people.
As for whether HŌMĀN can work on any tower, photographs like the one at the beginning of this posting, feature modern office buildings which look like glass sheets held together with steel and concrete. So, it doesn’t look likely to work (and it’s probably not feasible from a business perspective) on older buildings with fewer stories, stone ornamentation, and even more nooks and crannies. As for some of the newer buildings which feature odd shapes and are reintroducing ornamentation, I’d imagine that will be problematic. But perhaps the market is overseas where tall buildings can range from 65 stories to over 100 stories (Wikipedia ‘List of tallest buildings‘). After all the genesis for this project was an incident in Southeast Asia. Vancouver doesn’t have 65 story buildings—yet. But, I’m sure there’s a developer or two out there with some plans.