There are 9,000 skyscrapers in Hong Kong. All of them need their windows and exteriors – what’s known colloquially as “the skin” – cleaned on a regular basis.
Yet, sending human cleaners to scale every one of those 9,000 buildings is expensive, time consuming and inherently dangerous.
Israeli startup Verobotics has a better idea: Send in the bots.
Verobotics’ system is much more than a Roomba for skyscrapers.
“We like to call it ‘façade monitoring.’ Cleaning is important, but the cherry on top is around data,” says Ido Genosar, the company’s CEO.
“Today, there isn’t any way for landlords to detect issues like heat loss or water penetration. They usually only know when it’s too late. No one else has this data. It’s like a combination of Dyson [vacuum cleaners), Tesla and DJI [drones].”
Big data as the future of window cleaning? Welcome to the AI world.
Cleaning is an often overlooked but essential element to maintaining a building. “For a $1 billion project, 15% to 20% of the total investment can be spent on the exteriors. That can reach $200 million,” Genosar tells ISRAEL21c.
While Verobotics has customers in Israel, the United States and Australia, its deal in Hong Kong with local company Robocore is the company’s largest, worth $5.6 million.
Shaking up the industry
How did a small startup located thousands of miles away in the Middle East start cleaning windows in Hong Kong?
“My family is the largest façade constructor for ‘curtain walls’ [an industry term for glass building facades] in Israel,” Genosar tells ISRAEL21c.
“Most of the $30 billion industry of building upkeep and maintenance is being done the same as it was 100 years ago with the same infrastructure and the same methods.”
That includes humans rappelling down a building, often exposed to extreme temperatures or adverse weather conditions that may force a cleaning pause. Overall, the method is risky and labor-intensive.
Genosar wondered if robots could advance the field into the 21st century for his family’s business.
“I looked at all kinds of robotic technology but did not find a solution that really succeeded in changing the industry. Most used the same infrastructure. They just tried to replace the person who descends down the cable or the person in the cleaning elevator.”
Genosar next did what Israeli entrepreneurs are famous for: He created his own solution.
No crane needed
One of the biggest problems with the way buildings are cleaned today is that someone has to go to the top of the building and attach the cleaning system. That entails a lot of setup time – up to three days just to situate the crane – plus there’s always the risk of accidents.
As a result, “many high-rise buildings can only afford about two cleaning cycles a year,” Genosar explains. “And each cycle can take up to four months.”
Verobotics’ innovative robots traverse the building vertically without any traditional infrastructure such as cranes. Once it gets to the top, the Verobotics system drops wires on which the robot will travel. The whole process saves time and money. Four to six robots operate on a building at once.
Genosar says the proof is in the numbers.
“The cleaning rate for a human cleaner is around 50 square meters an hour and they can clean six hours a day. A team will generally have two people actively cleaning. Our system can operate 24/7 but let’s not be greedy. Let’s say we can have the robots working for 10 hours straight. They can clean 120 square meters an hour and if we put four of them, well, you can do the math!”
Verobotics deploys AI and machine-learning algorithms to map out the façade so the robots can safely scale the building as its sensors and cameras look for flaws and damages. The map also allows the Verobotics system to be used for predictive maintenance.
Verobotics uses only dry cleaning materials, not liquids or chemicals. If the skin is cleaned only once or twice a year, chemicals may be needed to remove all that dirt. But since Verobotics’ robots can go up a building more frequently, less harsh materials can be used.
Verobotics’ building-scaling robot simulates vertical human walking (hence the name) and is very light, weighing less than 10 kilograms, in contrast to competing window-cleaning robots that can weigh up to 300 kg.
The Verobotics system operates autonomously, so no human needs to control it, although there will always be someone monitoring the system remotely.
Verobotics’ business model is to lease, rather than sell, the product to building owners. That makes sense, since the robots aren’t working 365 days a year.
Genosar didn’t want to share pricing with us but noted that a 60-floor building in the United States will typically pay around $150,000 for two cleaning cycles. “If they pay the same to us, they get much more without the safety and liability issues.”
Robocore CEO Roy Lim is bullish on the Robotics advantage.
“With the largest concentration of high-rise buildings in the world, Verobotics’ solutions are especially relevant for Hong Kong,” he says. “We are confident that the robots will be deployed on hundreds of buildings within a couple of years. This technology is a gamechanger.”
Today, Verobotics employs 20 people and has raised $5 million. Tidhar, one of Israel’s largest construction companies, is an investor, as is Waxman Govrin and Canadian proptech VC Clanton Capital. Genosar says he hopes that by 2024, Verobotics “will manufacture and deploy up to [100 of our robots, which can cover 500 buildings.”
Like many companies in Israel, the outbreak of war with Hamas on October 7 did create some challenges. The company’s CEO and co-founder was called up to serve in the reserves, as were a few members of the ops team, but Genosar says that after two weeks “all our business operations returned to normal, and we returned to work from the office on a daily basis.”
“The whole country was in a state of shock following the brutal terror attacks of October 7,” he acknowledges. “But resilience, strength, and determination in times of adversity are built into Israel’s DNA. There is no alternative but to overcome this collective trauma by pushing ourselves to find an element of normality in a routine to keep living, keep building, and keep thriving.
“Our teams are working extra hard to ensure we deliver as a business,” he added. “In these unfortunate circumstances, work can be a powerful motivation engine. Having the courage to do what we love, the resilience to stick to an intense work ethic, and the perseverance to deliver ambitious business plans is how we will help ourselves, our family, and our community.”
Verobotics plans to open an office in southeast Asia in 2024, the company’s first outside of Israel.
“Just look at the building density of Hong Kong or Singapore,” Genosar points out. “There are thousands of buildings in a small area.”
Verobotics recently signed a seven-figure deal with a company in Australia, Genosar adds. “Forty-three percent of market for global glass ‘curtain walls’ is in Asia-Pacific.”
Do you have a building that needs cleaning? Check out Verobotics at: https://verobotics.com/