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Man vs Machine – Aurel battles the window cleaning robots

Aurel Stevens
14.06.2017
Revision: Eva Francis

I had never heard of window cleaning robots until our product manager Nermin presented me with one. I took a closer look and decided I’d have to do battle with it.

Things don’t look good for humanity at the moment. We have been poor competitors at chess since 1966 and for a year now we’ve been second best at AlphaGo. As if that weren’t enough, robots are now taking over some of our jobs.

Today I wanted to see what the situation looks like for window cleaners. Who can do a better job, a person or a machine?

On your marks, get set, go

We start with a window on the ground floor of our office building. I came well equipped with a bucket, cleaning fluid and a squeegee. Meanwhile, our vlogger Linus puts my opponent, Hobot 268 into position.

I make a mess with the cleaning fluid and underestimate how much foam it makes. But as I’m cleaning the pane of glass, I already know I’m going to beat the Hobot. While I’m already finished and the glass is clean, the Hobot is still sauntering around in the first section of the window.

I don’t get bored, though. There’s something relaxing about watching the Hobot as it makes its way systematically across the surface. I notice it skirts around the window handle that we had left protruding as a kind of test. After ten minutes, it finally cleaned the four-to-five square metre area.

The machine itself is pretty fascinating. It creates a vacuum to cling to the glass. It also has two tracks that let it move and change direction. Admittedly, the Hobot does create a bit of noise, but that’s to be expected when it needs enough suction to glue a 1.2 kg robot to a pane of glass.

In terms of energy, the Hobot has an inbuilt battery. But this is more of a life insurance policy for the robot so it doesn’t come hurtling down like a dead bird if there is a power cut. As soon as the power is off, the Hobot stays still and lets out frantic beeps to let you know it is in distress. If the worst comes to the worst, you can use a remote control to bring it back as you would a toy car.

Not for me, but…

Although I loved watching the Hobot, I’m still not sure whether a window cleaner like this is a worthwhile investment. I only needed to think about it for 0.1 seconds to realise it would take me longer to position the robot on our intricate windows than it would for me to clean them myself.

Having said that, I could certainly imagine other set-ups where this robot would come in handy. If I ever win the lottery and move into a loft apartment with big windows, I’d consider investing in a cleaning robot. It would be able to reach parts of the windows my arms just couldn’t stretch to.

Another place the robot would come in handy would be inaccessible windows around a corner. Retailers that need to keep their shop fronts gleaming to show off their products could also benefit from a cleaning robot.

The verdict

Whether you could make use of a window cleaning robot or not depends entirely on your window situation. It is worth considering if you have big, continuous windowpanes or a distinct dislike of scrubbing sheets of glass. What is important to note is that the cleaning robot only works on light areas of dirt. To get off stubborn marks such as bird droppings or limescale you would need to go over the area quite a few times.

It looks like this round is (still) an easy win for people. Yus!

Video: Linus Konetschnig

The models mentioned above

The top model

The younger brother with an app

The starter model

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I'm the master tamer at the flea circus that is the editorial team, a nine-to-five writer and 24/7 dad. Technology, computers and hi-fi make me tick. On top of that, I’m a rain-or-shine cyclist and generally in a good mood.


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