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Robots keep houses clean in times of COVID-19

There has been a huge surge in demand for floor and window cleaning robots. As many as 300,000 to 400,000 cleaning robots are expected to be sold this year against last year's 10,000.

June 18, 2020 / 12:01 AM IST

Soiled floors and grimy windows, too, much of a chore for you? You have help.

While getting house help has become difficult due to the coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown, robots are helping people keep their homes clean.

“We can’t call maids and for the next six months also I don’t think we can get house help. Plus, I think it will be risky. That’s why I bought a cleaning robot,” Mohan Kumar, a working professional from Delhi, said.

So, he got himself Milagrow’s IMap 9 floor cleaning robot.

Floor and window-cleaning robots have seen a surge in demand after the locked down on March 25 to break the chain of infections.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Rajeev Karwal, Founder and Chairman, Milagrow Robots, expects 300,000 to 400,000 cleaning robots to be sold this year. In 2019, market leaders Milagrow and iRobot together sold 10,000 units.

For home, Milagrow has robots that can clean floors, windows, walls and pools. The Gurgaon-based company also has robots that can mow lawns and massage backs.

“Maximum sales after the pandemic have been for the floor-cleaning robot. The demand for the product has gone up by 3,000 to 4,000 percent,” said Karwal.

The floor robot is shaped like a plump frisbee armed with sensors to navigate the surface. It can be controlled from a phone app or a remote.

“After floor cleaning, window-cleaning robots are the second biggest category and we are seeing a lot of inquiries for that. The demand for robotic solar ionizer is also seeing strong demand in the residential segment for ultra-rich,” he said. The ionizer maintains PH balance and keeps the pool algae free for six to eight weeks.

Milagrow’s IMap 9 wet and dry is the most popular in the floor cleaning segment. 

In the wet mode, it can also sanitise the floor with sodium hypochlorite, a disinfectant that keeps surfaces germs-free. It also purifies the air as it moves along, Karwal said.

Shaarda Kapoor*, who lives in Mumbai, recently ordered a Milagrow cleaning robot for her parents in Delhi.

"With no domestic help, it was getting difficult for my parents to clean the house every day. For me, buying the house-cleaning robot was a necessity,” she said.

Almost 25 percent of the cleaning robots were being purchased by senior citizens or were gifted to them, Karwal said. The rest of the buyers are in the 25 to 40 age group, “with the income bracket of Rs 8-10 lakh”.

The cleaning robot doesn’t come cheap. An IMap 9 wet and dry will set you back by Rs 80,000. Milagrow plans to launch cheaper products to appeal to a larger consumer base.

There are some cheaper options in the market like iRobot’s Braava jet, a robot mop that costs around Rs 50,000. The Roomba series vacuums are priced between Rs 20,000 and Rs 70,000.

The specs

Don’t be fooled into dismissing them as mere toys, there is some serious tech involved there. Maps, sensors, navigation and the works.

iRobot uses vSLAM technology, which, according to Karwal, does only 60-65 percent of cleaning. 

Milagrow relies on LiDAR, the sensor used in unmanned electric vehicles or driverless cars. “LiDAR moves around more and it has more versatility which means more money,” he said.

Milagrow has patented the fast-mapping mechanism, which is called real-time terrain equipment technology.

“If the path planning algorithm is good, a robot immediately forms the map, goes around, remembers the map, even if the battery finishes it recharges itself and starts from the uncleaned area. You can have sequential cleaning as well,” Karwal said.

While the demand is high for cleaning robots, logistic issues were hampering deliveries.

“In the last two months, we got 20,000 serious inquiries. We have not been able to serve more than 15 to 20 percent of those serious inquiries,” he said.

And customers are not confined to metros.

In 2012-13, the top five markets like Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai accounted for 90-95 percent of sales. 

“Now, the top 12 markets are contributing 95 percent, with cities like Ahmedabad, Pune, Kochi, Coimbatore, Lucknow, Surat coming up,” he said. 

Delhi NCR and Bengaluru still lead the sale charts followed by Chennai, Pune and Hyderabad. Kolkata is ranked sixth.

Karwal expects Milagrow, which saw its sales drop by more than half after demonetisation, expects to grow into a Rs 15-crore plus company by end of this financial year.

He is confident that demand will continue to be strong as people would want to be less dependent on house helps.

And perhaps that is the reason the company is planning to launch robots to do the dishes.

The tech age is upon us.

(*name changed on request)

Maryam Farooqui
first published: Jun 17, 2020 07:54 pm