SoftBank’s new robot Whiz skips the chit chat, gets to work mopping office floors

Bloomberg

SoftBank Group Corp. is introducing a new robot that, unlike the talkative Pepper, skips the chit chat and just mops the floor.

Whiz, an autonomous floor-cleaning machine for businesses, will go on sale in Japan in February, the company announced Monday.

The 32-kg machine is powered by self-driving software and an array of sensors from Brain Corp., a San Diego-based startup that is part of SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund. It will be available for rent for ¥25,000 a month.

Pepper, SoftBank’s first foray into robotics, was marketed as a companion in the home and as a sales assistant on the shop floor. While that robot is capable of expressing humanlike body language, keeping eye contact and engaging in limited small talk, it failed to catch on.

Brain doesn’t make its own hardware. It focuses instead on developing software that endows machines with autonomy in closed environments.

“At Brain, we want to see the future where robots are everywhere,” Eugene Izhikevich, founder and chief executive of Brain, said at a briefing in Tokyo. “We want to enable this revolution.”

The robot comes with a handle which a human uses to “teach” it the layout of the space that needs cleaning. After that it can perform the task autonomously.

The machine comes equipped with a laser range finder, 3D camera, collision sensor and a battery that can power it for as long as three hours. It can operate safely even when humans are present.

SoftBank itself pays about ¥180,000 a month for a crew of three people to tidy its own headquarters, said Kenichi Yoshida, chief business officer at SoftBank Robotics.

Because floor cleaning accounts for about 40 percent of the work, using Whiz could shave about ¥35,000 off that bill, Yoshida said.