MRO Magazine

Vancouver innovator advances robot for high rises window cleaning


Hossein Kamali has advanced a robot that can mimic the behaviour of human window washers, including getting into the nooks and crannies of all types of building facades.

The patent-pending robot, which combines AI, robotics, mechatronics and motion control technology, has earned Kamali, 32, an award from Mitacs.

Kamali, a Mitacs postdoctoral researcher in Mechatronic Systems Engineering at Simon Fraser University, and Autonopia Co-founder and CTO, was presented the Mitacs Outstanding Entrepreneur Award 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.

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“It felt really absurd to me that people were putting their lives at risk, just to clean windows,” said Dabiri. “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.

“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.”

Autonopia’s robot, which is scheduled to begin its first pilot project early next year, can operate on any façade or surface structure. It works three to four times as fast as a human, and can withstand wind and cold temperatures.

“Sometimes people make the argument that automation takes jobs away from people, but in this case, we’re actually saving people’s lives and creating new opportunities for them to work safer, easier and smarter,” said Kamali. “Why would you want to keep things manual, inefficient and dangerous? It doesn’t really make sense.”