SoftBank’s new robot mops floors, skips chit chat

  • Whiz, an autonomous floor-cleaning machine for businesses, will be available in Japan in February
PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 2:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 2:25pm

Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp is introducing a new robot, but unlike the talkative Pepper that went on sale three years ago, this one will skip the chit chat and just mop the floors.

Whiz, an autonomous floor-cleaning machine for businesses, will go on sale in Japan in February, the company announced on Monday.

The 32-kilogram machine is powered by self-driving software and an array of sensors from Brain Corp, a San Diego California-based start-up that is part of SoftBank’s US$100 billion Vision Fund. It will be available for rent for 25,000 yen (US$222) a month.

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Pepper, SoftBank’s first foray into robotics, was marketed as a companion in the home and a sales assistant on the shop floor. While the US$1,600 robot is capable of expressing human-like body language, keeping eye contacts and engaging in limited small talk, it failed to catch on.

Brain, on the other hand, does not make its own hardware, focusing instead on developing software that endows machines with autonomy in closed environments.

“At Brain, we want to see the future where robots are everywhere,’’ Eugene Izhikevich, founder and chief executive of Brain, said at a briefing in Tokyo. “We want to enable this revolution.’’

Whiz comes with a handle which a human uses to “teach” it the layout of the space that needs cleaning. After that it can perform the task autonomously.

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The machine comes equipped with a laser range finder, 3-D camera, collision sensor and a battery that can last as long as 3 hours. It can operate safely even when humans are present.

SoftBank itself pays about 180,000 yen a month for a crew of three people to tidy its own headquarters, said Kenichi Yoshida, chief business officer at SoftBank Robotics. Because floor cleaning is about 40 per cent of the work, using the Whiz could shave about 35,000 yen off that bill, Yoshida said.