It’s been quite a journey for two University of Waterloo Engineering graduates who dreamed of creating an autonomous robot company. The story of Neo, the self-driving, floor-scrubbing robot, began when the two former classmates collaborated on the idea of launching an automated snow removal robot. But as with many start-up ideas, they pivoted early on from the original idea due to its business seasonality.
With the help of advisors and mentors, they went on to examine niches within the service-robot sector. There were lots of sectors with problems to solve: material handling, security, elder-care, to name a few. They then decided to focus on the multi-billion dollar indoor cleaning industry. Keeping with the industrial theme where robots were originally invented to handle the dirty, boring, dangerous and monotonous tasks, they looked around and decided that floor scrubbing was on target.
Driving or pushing a floor cleaning device fit the bill nicely. It’s tiring, often boring, can be dirty, and can cause repetitive strain injuries. As a result, the industry has an ongoing challenge of attracting and retaining people who want to do this kind of work.
“This solution helps free up time from cleaning crews to focus on higher value tasks of which there are many in any given facility,” according to the company’s CEO, Faizan Sheikh.
Avidbots was started in the high-tech corridor of Waterloo. The region in Southwestern Ontario is home to some of the country’s top rated technology universities. These schools have produced some of the brightest minds in tech including robotics engineers, AI/ML engineers, computer vision professionals and systems programmers. In fact, Waterloo Region is home to hundreds of companies that also service the automation industry.
“The difference with Avidbots is that we started as a robot company first, not as a retrofit or an add-on idea. We have built the most technologically advanced and robust robotic hardware and software platform in the industry. Avidbots is 100 per cent vertically integrated in that we have the ability to control and change the hardware, software and support which makes us nimble and better able to respond to customers needs than the competition”, said Pablo Molina, Avidbots CTO, Chairman and Co-founder.
Another major differentiator with Avidbots is that Neo is in it’s ninth generation. This is no small task in any industry.
“We have been working exclusively solving the self-driving floor scrubber problem for almost five years. We have kept our prototypes on display in our facility to remind us where we came from, where we are right now and where we are going next,” Molina explained. “We are committed to building the highest quality self-driving floor scrubber; there are many aspects to consider; safety, productivity, ease of use, diagnostics and reporting – we want to delight our customers at every touch point. We are also lucky to be involved in the early days of robotics and standards in our industry – we are actively involved in driving the industry standards for this type of technology.”
Avidbots has both end users and cleaning companies that utilize their robots. According to Cameron Waite, Director of Sales at Avidbots, there are specific groups of customers that are a great fit for their current product. These targeted customers are companies with large floor spaces that include retail, malls, airports, hospitals, warehouses, colleges and universities. “We are finding some particular niches within these areas, but in the end, customers want a fast return on investment and usually have large floor spaces to clean – a perfect fit for automation and robotics.”
Data is a big driver at Avidbots. Integral to the system is a suite of reporting tools that track how much area Neo cleaned and how much water was utilized, for example. The technology provides metrics and KPIs that many companies have never had access to before.
“After shipping our first hundred robot units, we noted that many of our customers use Neo in different ways,” Sheikh said. “Because we collect data on each robot, we start seeing these patterns in use. We also are different from our competitors in how we have an intense focus on customer success. When we started Avidbots, we understood that floor scrubbing robots and automation are new territory for almost all of our clients, so we implemented a customer success team that is cross-functional. This team supports clients onboard new customers and regularly checks in with existing customers to provide useful training and helpful tips to make sure they are seeing success, as ultimately their success is our success.”