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One post that went trending on the social media right at the middle of pandemic, was of the humanoid waiters serving at a restaurant in South India. Equally popular were the smaller cleaning robots which roamed around facilities collecting dust and dirt. Right from homes to hotels, many were going in  for robotic solutions over the last eight months.
The pandemic has significantly stimulated the uptake of solutions that do not require human intervention; a market report suggests that the demand for cleaning robots will grow by at least 18% by 2025. Mohana M, Editor-Clean India Journal in interaction with Rajeev Karwal, Founder-Chairman, Milagrow Robots finds out more about the applications of cleaning robots in facility services and other areas of operation.

“Cleaning air ducts manually is very difficult; our air cleaning robots with telescopic guns and multiple cameras can sweep as well as suck out dust up to 60 feet in one go. The cleaning process can be recorded too. This is generating a lot of traction for us.”

Some as tiny as a mouse, some in the size of weighing scales, some much bigger… the cleaning robots are doing the rounds at homes… where else can they go…

This category of products has tremendous potential for facility management. The cleaning robots range caters to floor cleaning for the commercial segment, window cleaning (inside windows/doors up to 27 feet), wall cleaning, lawn-mowing, swimming pool-cleaning and more.

Cleaning robots with vacuuming facilities are now used in air duct-cleaning and for hygienic delivery of food too. We have developed humanoids which can be salespeople and security personnel. However, the overall market in India is still quite small.

All through the peak of pandemic, cleaning robots did a great job… demand surged…

Earlier, parents and children would go to work or school, and the job of cleaning would devolve to domestic help. When the lockdown happened, people were suddenly deprived of the friendly “bai/aunty/kamwali…”, and the cleaning schedule got upset, with everybody being at home. With the onset of Work-from-Home concept, home cleaning became an added task for working couples. Consequently, the demand for cleaning robots shot up.

Other facilities like hospitals will require wet cleaning and chemicals with sodium hypochlorite. Cleaning robots are customised to provide such solutions to hospitals and hotels as well.

Things will get back to normalcy…

Robotics and automation have arrived for good in the commercial space. There is no reason why they will go away; in fact, they will grow in higher double-digit percentages. Milagrow itself grew at more than 500% last year, despite the market still being small. We believe that we will have similar growth this year as well.

Cleaning robots enjoy an edge over all other mechanised cleaning!

By definition, a cleaning robot is something that will move from its position on its own, and will have varying degrees of freedom. A robot can have all the senses that a human being does. A cleaning machine, however, does not possess Artificial Intelligence; it can only work according to a pattern. It cannot make decisions like a robot can.

Why does a cleaning employee walk behind a cleaning machine? Because the machine does not know how to avoid obstacles. On the other hand, our floor-cleaning robots use Lidar technology for real-time path-planning in dynamic environments where human beings are moving around. What a Tesla car is to a road, robotic vacuum cleaners are to the floor inside a building.

Myth: Operational cost of a cleaning robot is much higher compared to mechanised cleaning machines…

A cleaning robot works without human intervention for 70-80% of the time; that is the amount you save on human resources. A robotic machine will pay for itself across categories in three to six months, and will provide a return on investment of 3000-4000% over its lifetime. A machine cannot provide that.

Myth: Maintaining cleaning robots would be expensive… cost & life of the battery… charging time… run time…

Most of our floor-cleaning robots come with a two-year warranty. The suction-motor, which is the heart of a floor-cleaning robot, comes with a five-year warranty. No one else offers a warranty for more than one year.

We use LG Lithium ion batteries, which have a guaranteed life of 1000 re-cycles. Assuming the robot is used once daily, a new battery will be needed every three years or so.

Depending upon battery capacity, charging takes three to five hours. Up to 80% charging is quite fast, after which there is trickle charging, to prevent damage to the robot due to surges and temperature rise. We are working on newer technologies and faster charging times; in the next couple of years, we will be able to shorten recharge times even more.

Our top-of-the-line floor cleaning robots have a maximum continuous run time of six hours.

Three-four of our robots are assembled in India. Since the market is still nascent, the rest are imported. The software for our robots is developed in India itself.

“What a Tesla car is to a road, robotic vacuum cleaners are to the floor inside a building.”

Myth: Cleaning robots will require maintenance… across geographically scattered areas…

Early in the pandemic, we realised that we wouldn’t be able to visit customers. So, we built self-diagnosis into all our robots. Whatever the issue is, it will flash as a message on the customer’s mobile phone. If the problem cannot be solved, the customer can generate an OTP, share it with our engineer and he can take charge of the machine remotely and guide you. 95-97% of the problems with a robot are usage-related and minor and can be solved remotely.

We have engineers in most major cities. We are tying up with third-party service providers which will give us a presence in 300 cities across the country.

There is a deep-seated fear that automation will take away jobs from cleaning personnel… who form one of the largest workforces in India?

Irrespective of what happens in India, automation is growing the world over. Look at Germany and China. If Germany — with its ageing population — has to compete with China once again, it will have to invest in robotics. If China has to prevent Germany from overtaking it, it will have to sacrifice some jobs and make sure robots take over menial tasks.

In Germany, when income levels grew, everyone aspired for a better quality of life, and more free time. The same is now happening in China. Today, in major cities across the world, it is becoming difficult to find house help. One has to pay by the hour, which makes it a very expensive proposition.

If India has to compete with other advanced countries, it will have to invest in automation. The kind of jobs we should be doing should be of a higher order, and automation can help free up time for this.

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