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Friday, 23 October 2020 16:48

VIDEO INTERVIEW: Chris Chiofalo talks robots & cobots as SoftBank Robotics Australia launches Featured

Chris Chiofalo, Associate Director of Solutions and Services at SoftBank Robotics Australia Chris Chiofalo, Associate Director of Solutions and Services at SoftBank Robotics Australia

SoftBank is one of the world's most technologically connected companies, and for years has also had a robotics division which has now reached Australia, with its new robot being a true whiz at cleaning and arriving at just the right time to help deal with our new post-COVID reality.

SoftBank Robotics says it believes "the future of work lies in robotics, with the potential to make our lives more productive and more fulfilling – but also more filled with joy, excitement, and wonder. It all starts, though, with the right technology – enhancing the way robots learn, interact, and connect with people".

Now, SoftBank Robotics has launched in Australia and has brought its new AI-powered autonomous robot vacuum, Whiz, which the company says is "reinventing commercial carpet cleaning", using a "trusted AI platform, that delivers a higher quality, more efficient clean – with proof of performance", and in the video interview embedded below, I spoke with Chris Chiofalo, the Head of SoftBank Robotics Australia, and its Associate Director of Solutions and Services all about the company, its first robot Pepper, its second robot Whiz, ethics and plenty more.

But first, what is Whiz? Well, Whiz is a multi-award winning robot that first launched in 2018, became commercially available in Japan in May 2019, and which in June this year surpassed the 10,000 mark (PDF link) in global sales, making it the "global No.1 in market share for autonomous professional cleaning robots by sales".

In response to COVID-19, SoftBank Robotics verified the virus can be reduced by using Whiz to clean floors, and the company also began offering a "Disinfection Solution", which is "an agent combined with Whiz, to disinfect walls, door knobs and other points inside buildings".

Indeed, we're told that "Whiz has cleaned floorspaces equivalent to over 335,000km, or approximately 8.5 laps around the world", and of course, the company "expects to see even more worldwide demand for autonomous professional cleaning robots in the future", which is a great reason why it has opened an Australian office.

So, before we go any further, here's my interview with Chris Chiofalo - the article continues thereafter, so please read on!

What are told are the top four reasons to clean with Whiz?

They are:

  1. Cover 1500sqm on a single charge
    Whiz can run up to 3 hours and cleans up to 1500 sqm on a single charge.

  2. Over 2 hours saved in cleaning time
    Whiz frees up 2hrs 22 mins of manual cleaners time per 500sqm, allowing them to focus on higher value tasks.

  3. Almost 2x the effectiveness compared to manual vacuuming
    Whiz cleans 98% of the available floor space compared to 52% by a manual vacuum cleaner

  4. Data driven, measurable results
    You can easily demonstrate the effectiveness of Whiz’s cleaning to key stakeholders and measure ROI. With reports from Whiz Connect, you can keep track of cleaning, identify opportunities for route optimisation and much more.

Whiz is powered by BrainOS, which we're told is "the system behind the robotic industry’s leading provider of intelligent, self-driving technology, Whiz is able to easily navigate complicated and dynamic spaces".

Here's the official demo video of Whiz in action:

We're also told that Whiz works straight out of the box, and that you can "simply use it to clean a space once and from there on out, it can run the same route on its own. A remote notification pager alerts your cleaners if Whiz has finished a route or needs assistance".

Here's the official video on how quick and easy it is to set a brand new Whiz:


Why is SoftBank working on robotics?

At its site, it says it is wanting to "augment the workforce through automation", SoftBank tells us that "right now, we have a one-way relationship with our technology – we tap on screens, we talk to speakers. Robotics offers the potential for something more – something interactive, responsive, multisensory, personal".

Now, all of that is true, and humans have been the potential of robots for decades through the minds of sci-fi writers, with the company also stating it is "committed to cobotics, or collaborative robotics, creating helpful assistants to perform tasks that alleviate, and elevate, human work".

The company also states that "robots are designed to help" and says it is "here to make sure they help the right way, elevating how we work, how we learn, how we connect, and how we grow".

SoftBank Robotics already has more than two dozens customers in Australia, with one being GJK Indigenous Solutions, an Aboriginal owned and operated commercial cleaning and associated services company.

It's clear that robotics is here to stay, and that the good robots of our sci-fi dreams are finally starting to become reality at last, with killer robots of dystopian futures still far off into the distance.

Here's a summary of the questions Chris and I spoke about:

  • I started by introducing Chris Chiofalo as the Associate Director of Solutions and Services at SoftBank Robotics, welcomed him to the program and asked him to tell us a bit about parent company SoftBank.
  • We then spoke about Pepper, the company's first robot and which seems to have been widely cloned in China, after which I asked Chris to tell me how he got into robotics and whether Isaac Asimov's famous robot novels and other sci-fi TVs shows and movies played a part, as you'd expect.
  • Chris then told us about Whiz itself, to which I made allusions that it was a bit like a harmless Dalek that simply wanted to exterminate dust.
  • We spoke about cobots - known as robot coworkers, and where this would go in the future, and then we talked about ethics, Asimov's three laws and I alluded to the famous story "with folded hands".
  • I asked Chris to share his thoughts on when robots like Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons or those in the I, Robot movie might appear, and seeing as those are likely decades off, what we're likely to see over the next decade.
  • Chris shared some great advice he has received in life and then shared his final message to iTWire viewers and readers, to his current and future customers, partners and... robots!

So, please watch the video interview above, and if you see Whiz in an office or public venue near you soon, you'll truly know the robot revolution is underway, and that the only thing they're doing, at least for the moment, is cleaning up our messes, with viruses and bacteria the only things they're currently killing.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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