Canadian Manufacturing

Autonopia founder receives Mitacs award for developing a cleaning robot for high rises

Autonopia prepares for a 2022 pilot project, and will welcome its first full-time employee in July of this year.

June 10, 2021  by CM Staff

Autonopia founder receives Mitacs award for developing a cleaning robot for high rises (Credit: Autonopia)

VANCOUVER — Autonopia’s patent-pending robot, which combines AI, robotics, mechatronics and motion control technology, has earned Hossein Kamali, 32, a prestigious award from Mitacs, a national 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 — will be presented the Mitacs Outstanding Entrepreneur Award on June 10 at a virtual awards ceremony.

The idea for a window washing robot was born when Autonopia Co-Founder Mohammad Dabiri witnessed a traumatizing incident firsthand while at work in a high rise office building in Southeast Asia. “It felt really absurd to me that people were putting their lives at risk, just to clean windows,” Dabiri said. “If you compare how the Empire State Building was cleaned in 1930 to how it’s done today, it’s more or less the same process.”

Dabiri partnered with Kamali to launch Autonopia in 2019 and, since then, the company has been working to remove the element of human risk from the window cleaning business. At the same time, they’re helping to solve the major obstacle facing the window cleaning industry today: reliance on manual labour that is difficult to attract and retain.

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“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.”

Earlier attempts at window washing robots were limited by their ability to work on flat, glass surfaces only. Autonopia’s robot — which is scheduled to begin its first pilot project early next year — 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 a business that is pegged at roughly US$5.1 billion in the U.S. alone.

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.