An up-and-coming Vancouver entrepreneur has won an award in recognition of his work to develop a first-of-its-kind window cleaning robot.
Hossein Kamali is on a mission to bring the high-rise window cleaning business into the 21st century, keeping people safe in the process. His window cleaning robot can mimic the behaviour of human window washers, including getting into the nooks and crannies of all types of building facades.
The disruptive, patent-pending robot combines AI, robotics, mechatronics, and motion control technology. It has earned Kamali, 32, a prestigious award from Mitacs, a national not-for-profit innovation organization that fosters growth by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions.
In recognition of his efforts to advance the robot through his startup, Vancouver-based Autonopia, Kamali — a Mitacs postdoctoral researcher in Mechatronic Systems Engineering at Simon Fraser University, and Autonopia Co-founder and CTO — was presented with the Mitacs Outstanding Entrepreneur Award on June 10 at a virtual awards ceremony.
Kamali and co-founder Mohammad Dabiri have been working at Autonopia to remove the element of human risk from the window cleaning business, as well as reducing the industry’s reliance on manual labour.
“It’s intimidating, hard work that most workers don’t want to do,” said Dabiri, noting that on average, windows on commercial skyscrapers are cleaned four times a year and windows on residential high rises are cleaned twice a year. “There’s high overhead to manage the hiring, allocation and training of workers, and sometimes they quit as soon as it comes time to go on a high rise.”
Autonopia’s robot — scheduled to begin its first pilot project early next year — differs from similar window cleaning technology in that it can operate on any façade or surface structure, no matter how complicated. It works three to four times as fast as a human and can withstand wind and cold temperatures, leading to significant operational efficiencies in window cleaning. Its modular, plug-and-play design also enables it to work on any building, without requiring additional infrastructure to be installed.
As the company prepares for next year’s pilot, it will welcome its first full-time employee in July, with additional hires in the pipeline for the remainder of the year. It is also seeking investors as it looks to raise its first round of seed funding this summer.
“Sometimes people make the argument that automation takes jobs away from people, but in this case, we’re actually saving people’s lives and creating new opportunities for them to work safer, easier and smarter,” said Kamali, explaining that robots require skilled supervisors to oversee the work. “Why would you want to keep things manual, inefficient and dangerous? It doesn’t really make sense.”
Kamali is one of five winners of the Mitacs Entrepreneur Award. These awards celebrate start-up companies founded by outstanding former Mitacs interns, postdoctoral fellows, and training participants who have gone on to lead their respective fields as business owners. The winners are recognized for their efforts to turn their research into an innovative business that impacts the lives of Canadians.
“Supporting innovation is essential to help Canada rebound from the repercussions of the global pandemic, and Mitacs is extremely proud of the remarkable accomplishments achieved by our network of talented entrepreneurs,” said Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director John Hepburn. “We are thrilled that our continued investment in talent, research and development is translating into more and more Mitacs interns successfully turning their groundbreaking research into dynamic startups, helping to boost both Canada’s economy and our country’s position on the global innovation stage.”
Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. Mitacs is funded by the Government of Canada and provincial and territorial governments.
Find out more about the other award winners here.