Oct 15, 2018, Forbes Online
Let’s admit it, we all wish we could outsource the task of cleaning, and if we had to choose one of the worst chores of all time it would be window cleaning. That’s why we have robots!
Robots are poised to disrupt every single industry, starting with more workers being replaced from assembly line factories by industrial robots. Next, self-driving cars have already logged nearly two million miles on public roads, and soon robots will mix our margaritas at our favorite bars, collect our garbage, and stock supermarket isles more efficiently. They will also look after our elderly. But getting humans out of harm’s way when they do dangerous work is still considered “unsexy”. Now a pair of Israeli entrepreneurs Avi Abadi and Yaron Schwarcz have raised $3M to automate the risky job of cleaning windows on skyscrapers. "As a society we’ve become too comfortable watching people hanging off the sides of 30-story buildings,” says Schwarcz, CEO of Skyline Robotics. “No salary could justify allowing people to strap themselves into metal scaffolds and put their lives in the hands of a system of ropes and harnesses.”
Skyline Robotics’ solution is Ozmo, a robot for real estate maintenance at heights utilizing computer vision and machine learning to adapt to the complex geometry of skyscrapers to create the most effective cleaning path. To research the job of manually cleaning windows at height, both co-founders got certified to work at heights, were hired by an Israeli cleaning company, and worked as window washers for a couple of weeks before founding Skyline Robotics in 2017. Ozmo uses distilled water as its only cleaning supply, liberating building owners from the burden of purchasing or installing additional equipment. While the traditional solution involves three cleaners working about 480 hours in the air each to clean an average 40- story building, Ozmo is expected to expedite the process by 18 times, cleaning the same building in just one week and with only one operator standing safely on the ground. “ Ozmo is not just a window cleaner, but a full-scale operating system for real estate maintenance ” Schwarcz adds. “Window cleaning is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the verticals we eventually plan to influence. We plan to replace all tasks that are dangerous, dirty and dull.”
Abadi, the CTO, and Schwarcz, founded Skyline Robotics to create a robot future that takes people out of danger. The company is developing large-scale robots capable of replacing high-risk, low-income blue collar occupations, with their first target being the $10B window washing industry. And after that, they’re going after the global construction industry.
It’s that vision that has landed the startup its latest financing round, led by Gefen Capital and strategic corporate investor Karcher New Ventures (making their first investment in Israel), and various leading real estate families such as Bosa Properties (Vancouver) and Sufrin Group (Israel) and ICONYC, as well as a grant from the Israeli Innovation Authority.
Before meeting each other, both Abadi and Schwarcz were working separately on finding a way to use 3D printing to “print” habitable homes. Before Skyline, Abadi worked on a wide range of robotics, including medical micro-robots and large robots for automated plowing and harvesting. He was also the Technical Lead of the robotics labs at both Tel Aviv University and the Volcani Agriculture Institute, Israel’s premier agricultural research organization.
Less than a year after establishing Skyline, the team had their system deployed on some of Israel’s biggest buildings, but they have yet to clean an entire building from start to finish. In the future, they plan to lease their system to cleaning and maintenance companies worldwide, offering a revenue share model with no upfront cost.
While Skyline Robotics offers a bright view of the future, any situation in which robots will likely replace human jobs raises moral controversies. “There is no doubt that automation will transform the workplace, it is now our job as a society to learn how to work with robots and compensate for the displacement of labor in the affected sectors”. The company’s Articles of Association state that once the company starts generating revenue, it will put in place a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program to pay for the first two years of basic engineering training on the Ozmo system of any window washer they are displacing. “If an investor says this initiative is a bad idea because it hurts the bottom line”, the founders say, “we'll tell them: you are just not the right investor.”