Toilet-cleaning robot makes us feel better about all this AI business
It can really get us down watching as AIs learn to write music, poetry and technology news, but watching this clever autonomous toilet-bot mop up the bogs somehow makes it all worthwhile. It's good to know robots are coming for the crappy jobs too.
There are plenty of people out there cleaning toilets for a living, but I think it's fair to say very few people really aspire to this kind of work. And if I learned one thing from high school, it's that toilets definitely need to be cleaned.
It's the kind of job that's begging to be automated, and New York company Somatic is all over it, offering a US$1,000 per month service, with no up-front fees, in which an autonomous trolley-bot will come and live in a closet at your office building, and clean your bathrooms for 40 hours a week.
That's roughly US$5.68 an hour, sneaking comfortably in under the horrifying US$7.25 federal minimum wage in the USA.
And check out the job this little fella does, opening and closing doors for itself, riding the elevator between floors, hitting the cans, walls and floors with high-powered disinfectant and water sprays, lifting the lids to clean underneath, then vacuuming everything dry and stowing the vacuum on its back before going on its way.
While it operates autonomously on a day-to-day basis, the setup process requires some hands on. Somatic explains to Techcrunch in a 2020 video that the company sends out a shoebox-sized sensor kit before the robot arrives on site, and has somebody walk the floor plan of the building, going in and out of all the elevators and bathrooms to map the building with video and 3D depth data.
Then, an operator at Somatic plays "the worst video game in the world" in a VR headset, virtually cleaning the toilets while seeing more or less what the robots will see. A lot of this stuff can be cut 'n' pasted, since office bathrooms tend to be pretty uniform. And then, once the robot is given somewhere to live and recharge, with access to water and electricity, it's ready to take over and get to work.
It's not designed to totally replace your janitorial staff, just handle routine sanitation. If it finds something unexpected – which it would've with disturbing regularity at my high school – it'll email photos to your janitor and skip on to the next area. Those are gonna be some spicy notifications, best leave your phone silent during lunch.
The service is up and running commercially, and appears to be available now, although the company is tight-lipped on how many bots it's built, and how many are out there in service, taking one for the team and helping humanity separate itself further from its base, bestial nature.
March on little toilet-bots, we salute you. We're just not sure we wanna share an elevator ride with you.