Autonomous cleaning robots protect us during and after COVID-19

Pandemic increases demand for Waterloo alumni’s Neo robot

Faizan SheikhFaizan Sheikh, co-founder Avidbots

As the pandemic highlights the importance of cleaning and disinfecting, Avidbots, a local company co-founded by two Waterloo alumni, is seeing demand for its autonomous cleaning robot increase. 

“People are genuinely concerned. Cleaning is on the minds of people who are grocery shopping and others working in factories, hospitals and airports,” said Faizan Sheikh (BASc ’11), CEO of Avidbots. “Given that it’s on the minds of society at large, it’s also top-of-mind for high-level decision-makers at all these institutions and companies.” 

Sheikh and Pablo Molina (BASc ’11) co-founded Avidbots in 2014. The company, which has raised more than US$36 million in funding to date, designs and manufactures an autonomous, connected robot called Neo that cleans floors in airports, warehouses, manufacturing sites, malls and universities around the world.  

 

Society is waking up to the fact that cleaning is a dangerous job right now. It is not just unpleasant; it's actually dangerous. Heads of governments are referring to cleaning staff in the same sentence as nurses and doctors.

Sheikh said Avidbots is still producing robots at its 40,000 square-foot headquarters in Kitchener, Ont., while keeping workers safe with physical distancing measures. Other Avidbot employees working from home are fielding a dramatic increase in sales during the COVID-19 crisis from businesses and institutions around the world. 

Society is waking up to the fact that cleaning is a dangerous job right now. It is not just unpleasant; it's actually dangerous. Heads of governments are referring to cleaning staff in the same sentence as nurses and doctors,” Sheikh said. 

The Neo robot is deployed in hospitals around the world and since the COVID-19 crisis demand for disinfection has increased. Neo users can add disinfectant to the robot’s clean water tank. Institutions and businesses want cleaning and disinfecting to happen three times a day, rather than once every three days. 

“Autonomous cleaning has gone from being an efficiency issue to a safety issue. Robots are keeping frontline cleaners safe from exposure,” Sheikh says. 

Sheikh said Avidbots is preparing for the opening of the global economy when production and shipping of its Neo robot will accelerate. Most robotic floor-cleaning machines clean a few pre-programmed routes. Neo is a fully autonomous floor-cleaning robot driven by artificial intelligence. It uses sensors, cameras and AI to adapt its route on the fly and avoid obstacles that arise in its path.

Sheikh hopes Canada comes up with funding supports for smaller startups, especially for companies that are helping out the COVID-19 situation. “We are getting ready for the permanent shift post COVID-19, of a much higher demand for cleaning and disinfecting than ever before,” Sheikh said. 


Photography by Hilary Gauld Camilleri at One for the Wall