Robotic technology has been making inroads in the research and development community for several years. Although the science varies among competitors, the machines have been thrust into the spotlight by innovations made in sensor technology, improved battery life, GPS mapping, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics. The technology is much like that seen in the prototypes of self-driving cars — but without the risk of crashing at 70 miles per hour.

Cleaning robots are poised to be big business, projected to be a market worth $2.5 billion by 2020, according to a study by Markets and Markets. Floor cleaning robots specifically are the largest and fastest growing category, predicted to grow into a $600 million industry by 2020.

For many tech firms, building services is a green market. Still, Brooke Beers, a controller at San Diego-based Brain Corp., says his company couldn’t ignore the opportunities presented by the industry. The software company specializes in self-driving vehicles and saw autonomous cleaning as the perfect meld between artificial intelligence and application.

The company showcased its AI technology at ISSA/INTERCLEAN in Chicago last year. The technology, which combines learning algorithms and vision-based navigation, is currently being licensed to floor equipment manufacturers. 

“The beautiful thing for us is that we never set out to build a floor scrubber,” says Beers. “When it comes to applicability, you tend to see that those monotonous tasks are the ones where this high technology is purposed to solving the world’s problems.”

Krausenik says it was a no-brainer to utilize the technology developed by Brain Corp., adding the buzz around the robots pairs directly with the pain points voiced by its customer base.

“We create machines to provide better tools for janitors,” says Krausenik. “It’s about what’s the best technology, and we can do to be more effective and create cost-savings. This is the next wave of cleaning products.”

Entering the commercial cleaning industry was more a matter of vicissitude for Discovery Robotics than initial interest, says McElhattan. The company draws heavily from robotics research teams at nearby Carnegie Mellon, and wanted to launch a company in the same futuristic space.

Following intensive market analysis, the start-up identified building services as the most plausible option upon which to build a serious company. McElhattan says he was initially hoping to launch robots to Mars — not into office buildings.

“The clear winner was robots that cleaned floors,” says McElhattan with a laugh. “There were very few people in the market. We wanted to be a real company and go where the data goes, not just be hobbyists. I’m so glad we did, because we are in a very good place. We’ll leave going to Mars to Elon Musk.”

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