A New York-based start-up has developed a robot that is designed to carry out one of the least enviable tasks performed by humans like cleaning a public restroom. The start-up, Somatic, recently showed off its commercial bathroom-cleaning robot recently at the TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics & AI event at UC Berkeley. The company's CEO Michael Levy describes the machine as a "minifridge with a robot arm attached to the front."
Levy, who co-founded the company with CTO Eugene Zasoba, said he came up with the idea to build a robot for cleaning restrooms after spending his early years doing the chore himself. He added that robots are ideal for cleaning restrooms because everything is bolted to the floor and nothing is moved around, which means that the robot only needs to be trained one time and then it can clean the restroom all on its own.
How does the robot learn?
The robot is trained using virtual reality (VR) simulation of the restroom to show the robot what it has to do, such as where to spray chemicals and clean and where to vacuum and blow-dry etc. The Somatic team jokingly refers to this activity as "the worst video game, ever." The robot then uses in-built sensors like lidar to move around the actual bathroom as it abides by the instructions picked up from the VR model.
The robot will first clean a bathroom, then go to recharge and refill chemicals as and when required. The machine is capable of getting about eight hours of cleaning done in a day and can also open doors and take the elevator to make its way around buildings.
Cost-effective option to human cleaners
These bathroom-cleaning robots can be used at public places like airports, casinos, office spaces, malls and other places with large commercial restrooms. The robot can be leased out for around $1,000 a month following a trial phase, which translates to about $4 an hour if used for an eight-hour shift.
In comparison, a human employee can cost anywhere between $4,000 and $10,000 a month, depending on their shift and the local minimum wage and let's not forget the most important benefit of using these robots instead of humans: they never call in sick.
Somatic already has a handful of customers including a FAANG company, where the robot is being used to clean the restrooms.