Tokyo-based Softbank Robotics is bringing its Whiz commercial cleaning robot to Hong Kong and Macau on trial and subscription basis. These are the first two markets outside of Japan that Whiz has been made available. Softbank named Intelligent Cleaning Equipment (ICE) the exclusive Whiz distributor for Hong Kong and Macau.
Whiz leverages the autonomous navigation expertise of San Diego-based Brain Corp. to move around and avoid obstacles in its environment. Initially, users have to teach Whiz the layout of the environment, but the robot will remember the routes after that. Softbank said Whiz can record up to 600 cleaning routes and clean an area up to 1,500 square meters for three hours on a four hour battery charge.
The Whiz robot comes with the Whiz Connect smartphone app that has real-time alerts and cleaning and status reports. The Whiz robot will be offered as a robot-as-a-service (RaaS) monthly subscription model for HKD3,980 (US$509) per unit/month.
Bringing the Whiz robot outside of Japan is an important test for Softbank. The Whiz robot arrived in November 2018 after Softbank received humbling news about the interest in its Pepper humanoid robot. According to a Nikkei Tech survey, only 15% of companies planned to renew their three-year contract for Softbank’s Pepper robot that began in October 2015.
A clearly defined use case has often led to questions about the usefulness of humanoids in general, but the Whizz robot offers a much more practical application. Commercial cleaning robots are gaining traction in the market, whether it be Brain’s partnership with Walmart or startup Avidbots’ partnership with DHL.
The Robot Report is launching the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, which will be on Dec. 9-10 in Santa Clara, Calif. The conference and expo will focus on improving the design, development and manufacture of next-generation healthcare robots. Learn more about the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, and registration will be open soon.
Softbank has sold more than 25,000 robots worldwide, but most of those sales are thanks to the Nao robot. The Whizz robot is another sign of Softbank diversifying its robotics portfolio. Softank acquired Boston Dynamics in June 2017 for an undisclosed amount. Since the acquisition, Boston Dynamics, which is primarily known for its humanoid and quadruped robots, has since moved into the logistics space with the acquisition of Kinema Systems.
Softbank has also had since 2018 a partnership with Simbe Robotics, the San Francisco-based startup that develops the Tally retail robot. Softbank has the infrastructure to support Simbe’s global expansion needs and recently agreed to fund the manufacturing of the next 1,000 Tally units.
Softbank led Brain’s $114 million funding round in mid-2017 via the Softbank Vision Fund. Brain recently opened its European headquarters in Amsterdam. It also opened an office in Tokyo in 2017.