A robot that can clean skyscraper façades faster than a team of window washers – and potentially deliver huge cost savings to building owners – is planned for launch in the UAE this year.
India-based start-up WCB Robotics is gearing up to unveil the Elmo robot in Q4 2019, after winning a $6,000 (AED22,000) prize at American University of Sharjah’s New Venture Challenge.
Ujjawal Aggarwal, the start-up’s founder, has worked on the concept since 2015 and spoke to Construction Week about his plan to bring Elmo – which could clean the Burj Khalifa in 10 days – to the UAE.
“We are currently optimising the cleaning system in our robot along with optimising [its] ability to go over window frames and obstacles, and we plan to launch in the UAE by the fourth quarter in this year,” he said.
Unlike other façade-cleaning robots, Aggarwal explained, Elmo does not use ropes. Instead, it employs what the founder described as a 'proprietary' suction technology to stick to the structure’s exterior, employing a water-based cleaning system to remove sand and dust. The suction technology also allows Elmo to move over curved or irregular façades.
“Buildings with complex facades are very difficult to clean currently, and require custom access equipment to be installed at the time of construction,” he said. “This access equipment often costs upwards of a million dollars.”
One of WCB Robotics' investors is Brian Patterson, described as one of Europe’s biggest real estate managers by Aggarwal, who said Patterson was backing Elmo’s “potential” to secure “widespread adoption”.
“It takes a team of 36 window washers three months to clean the Burj Khalifa," he continued.
"Only one Elmo can do this in a mere 10 days. The cost of each cleaning cycle for the Burj Khalifa is between $150,000-300,000 (AED550,000-1.1m). Elmo costs $8,000 (AED29,000) per cleaning.
“It is not a question of whether façade cleaning will be automated, it is a question of when,” he added.