It's like a Roomba, but on steroids.
Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Robotics LLC and Nilfisk, a Danish floor cleaning company, announced Tuesday the launch of an unmanned industrial floor scrubber and dryer.
Officials from both companies said the robotic floor cleaner will change the industry, improving efficiency, productivity and safety. The technology will free workers now riding on or walking behind the machines to clean more complex areas.
"This will fundamentally change cleaning,'' Jonas Persson, president and CEO of Nilfisk, said during an announcement in Copenhagen.
Floor-cleaning robots such as the Roomba, the cute robotic vacuum introduced by iRobot, have been around since the early 2000s. Few companies have jumped into industrial floor cleaning.
Industrial floor scrubbers and dryers are popular in schools, gymnasiums and arenas, offices and retail spaces, hospitals and other buildings with large floors.
Models such as the scrubbers and dryers made by Nilfisk weigh hundreds of pounds and cost thousands of dollars. Vacuums and floor cleaners designed for home use weigh less than 10 pounds and cost hundreds.
Research firms peg the robotic floor-cleaning market, both for industrial and home use, at about $1 billion and project it to grow into a $2 billion to $3 billion market by 2020.
Nilfisk is the largest floor cleaning company to introduce a robotic scrubber and dryer. Smaller companies such as Avidbots, Cyberdyne and Taski, which acquired Intellibot Robotics, have introduced industrial robotic models.
This is Carnegie Robotics' first foray into the cleaning industry. A spin-off from Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center, Carnegie Robotics has worked with the military, agricultural, mining industry and infrastructure, said Steve DiAntonio, one of the founders of Carnegie Robotics.
John Bares, another founder of Carnegie Robotics, left about two years ago to head Uber's self-driving car initiative.
Carnegie Robotics developed four sensors for the floor scrubber, DiAntonio said. One looks for obstacles close to the machine. Another is designed to sense people. A third sensor maps the space around the floor scrubber. The fourth sensor looks out for any drop-offs, mainly stairwells.
"That's the last place you want to bring an autonomous scrubber,'' DiAntonio said.
The scrubber and dryer can operate in a manual mode or autonomous mode.
Nilfisk plans to showcase the machine at The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association's ISSA Trade Show this month in Chicago and launch the product next spring.