Avidbots: revolutionising the cleaning industry
Following Business Chief's visit to DHL's innovation center (Troisdorf), we speak to Faizan Sheikh, CEO of Avidbots to discuss the use of automaton in the cleaning industry and its partnership with DHL.
To introduce yourself, how would you describe Avidbots? What do you offer to your customers?
Avidbots is a fast-growing robotics company. Our first product is Neo, an autonomous floor-scrubbing robot used in hundreds of commercial or industrial spaces worldwide. Avidbots Neo robots are at work cleaning floors in sites such as warehouses, airports, manufacturing sites, hospitals, schools, train stations, and malls in over 15 countries. Unlike other floor-cleaning robots that are just retrofitted ride-on machines, Neo is a purpose-built robot designed to be fully autonomous. Incorporating AI, LiDar, 3D sensors, WiFi, 4G connectivity, and specialized software and hardware, Neo is able to autonomously navigate busy areas such as airports, adapting its route on the fly to avoid people or obstacles. With 24x7 remote monitoring, Neo is always operational.
What are your company strategy and goals for the next five years?
Avidbots is growing quickly. We’re selling Neo robots in more than 15 countries and will add more countries in the near future. We have many global distribution partnerships and Neo is already cleaning hundreds of sites worldwide, including Paris CDG Airport, Singapore’s Changi Airport, and Shibuya Station in Tokyo. In the next five years, we will continue to grow installations rapidly.
What trends have you seen emerging within your industry?
In the cleaning industry, we’re witnessing a revolution toward automating the most repetitive and dull tasks, such as scrubbing floors. In almost every country where Avidbots operates, from Japan and Norway, to the UAE, Switzerland, Canada,USA and Australia, it’s difficult to find and keep cleaning staff. Turnover for cleaning jobs is between 300-400% per year, making it costly and complex for companies to maintain cleanliness at their facilities. Avidbots Neo makes scrubbing floors far less onerous. A cleaning staff member simply taps start on Neo’s touchscreen and the robot goes off to work, cleaning floors more effectively than a human. Facilities managers use a web-based app called Command Center to track Neo’s progress via real-time video feeds and see detailed cleaning reports. With janitorial staff freed from the time-consuming task of pushing or riding a floor-scrubber around at night, they can focus on higher-value tasks such as cleaning bathrooms, dusting, disinfecting, and tidying. In the robotics industry, we’re seeing a trend toward building robots that solve pressing problems. Robots are now past the test phase and are becoming part of our daily lives, and the ones we will see first solve everyday challenges that companies face, such as cleaning.
In recent years, how have you seen customer use of technology evolve?
Companies have gone from seeing robots as a futuristic idea to truly seeing the value in automating repetitive, dull, or dirty tasks. They realize robots are actually just advanced machines that can help them solve everyday challenges. In general, society has moved from a vague worry that robots will take jobs to a place of understanding that automation helps people do their jobs more efficiently, just as computers do in all aspects of life. Robots are now “part of the team” at our customer sites. Cleaning staff love Neo because it does a time-consuming and repetitive task, freeing them up to focus on other tasks that only humans excel at, such as tidying, dusting, and cleaning hard-to-reach places.
In your opinion do you think industries are heading towards having more robotics, as opposed to a human workforce?
We haven’t seen job losses at our customer sites. Instead, cleaning staff integrate Neo into the team to do the time-consuming task of scrubbing floors. Of course, the long-term trend of automation will surely result in some lower-skilled jobs being eliminated, but most of these jobs are ones few people want to do. In the cleaning industry, turnover can top 400%, so clearly most people don’t want to clean long-term. However, at the same time we will see low-level repetitive tasks done by robots, we will see new jobs emerge. There will always be cleaning staff, but they’ll move into higher-value roles such as tidying waiting areas and cleaning bathrooms that make public environments more pleasant for everyone.
Over the last few years have you seen an increase in demand for cleaning robots? If so what is your strategy for demand increases?
Yes, demand for our Neo floor-scrubbing robot is surging. To keep up with demand, Avidbots has its own manufacturing facility in Kitchener, Ontario in Canada where we build Neo robots from the ground-up. We also work with manufacturing partners that can scale with rising demand. As we grow, Avidbots is hiring many robotics engineers, sales people, and business and marketing staff. We’ve raised $37 million in venture capital funding to support global growth.
We recently featured your cleaning robots within Business Chief, can you talk through your partnership with DHL?
Avidbots is working closely with DHL Supply Chain to install Neo robots at warehouse sites in North America. Neo is uniquely suited to clean warehouses where there are many people, forklifts, pallets, boxes, and other robots constantly moving about. Being intelligent and autonomous, Neo can navigate these busy spaces with ease, avoiding obstacles and updating its path on the fly. DHL operates thousands of warehouses in 220 countries, so the sky’s the limit in terms of our partnership.
Image source: Avidbots
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How changing your company's software code can prevent bias
Two-third of tech professionals believe organizations aren’t doing enough to address racial inequality. After all, many companies will just hire a DEI consultant, have a few training sessions and call it a day.
Wanting to take a unique yet impactful approach to DEI, Deltek, the leading global provider of software and solutions for project-based businesses, took a look at and removed all exclusive terminology in their software code. By removing terms such as ‘master’ and ‘blacklist’ from company coding, Deltek is working to ensure that diversity and inclusion are woven into every aspect of their organization.
Business Chief North America talks to Lisa Roberts, Senior Director of HR and Leader of Diversity & Inclusion at Deltek to find out more.
Why should businesses today care about removing company bias within their software code?
We know that words can have a profound impact on people and leave a lasting impression. Many of the words that have been used in a technology environment were created many years ago, and today those words can be harmful to our customers and employees. Businesses should use words that will leave a positive impact and help create a more inclusive culture in their organization
What impact can exclusive terms have on employees?
Exclusive terms can have a significant impact on employees. It starts with the words we use in our job postings to describe the responsibilities in the position and of course, we also see this in our software code and other areas of the business. Exclusive terminology can be hurtful, and even make employees feel unwelcome. That can impact a person’s desire to join the team, stay at a company, or ultimately decide to leave. All of these critical actions impact the bottom line to the organization.
Please explain how Deltek has removed bias terminology from its software code
Deltek’s engineering team has removed biased terminology from our products, as well as from our documentation. The terms we focused on first that were easy to identify include blacklist, whitelist, and master/slave relationships in data architecture. We have also made some progress in removing gendered language, such as changing he and she to they in some documentation, as well as heteronormative language. We see this most commonly in pick lists that ask to identify someone as your husband or wife. The work is not done, but we are proud of how far we’ve come with this exercise!
What steps is Deltek taking to ensure biased terminology doesn’t end up in its code in the future?
What we are doing at Deltek, and what other organizations can do, is to put accountability on employees to recognize when this is happening – if you see something, say something! We also listen to feedback our customers give us and have heard their feedback on this topic. Those are both very reactive things of course, but we are also proactive. We have created guidance that identifies words that are more inclusive and also just good practice for communicating in a way that includes and respects others.
What advice would you give to other HR leaders who are looking to enhance DEI efforts within company technology?
My simple advice is to start with what makes sense to your organization and culture. Doing nothing is worse than doing something. And one of the best places to start is by acknowledging this is not just an HR initiative. Every employee owns the success of D&I efforts, and employees want to help the organization be better. For example, removing bias terminology was an action initiated by our Engineering and Product Strategy teams at Deltek, not HR. You can solicit the voices of employees by asking for feedback in engagement surveys, focus groups, and town halls. We hear great recommendations from employees and take those opportunities to improve.