Chinese startup develops robots to clean “curtain walls” on buildings

Chinese startup Yingxing Zhineng is hoping to expand its curtain wall-cleaning business overseas four years after developing robots using artificial intelligence to do the job.

Spotting a gap in the market, the company started building and developing the robots in 2016. Curtain walls, which are outer coverings of buildings that are typically aluminum-framed and can be made of glass, are used in 5% of high-rise buildings in China.

The curtain wall-cleaning market is estimated to be worth between 20 billion yuan ($2.87 billion) and 40 billion yuan in China alone and many times that overseas, according to the company. Cleaning fees in China have been rising sharply, after provincial governments set standards to regulate such services.

In the past, curtain walls were cleaned manually using ropes and lifts. They are now cleaned by qualified and skilled workers, which has resulted in surging labor and operating costs.

To meet this demand, Shanghai-based Yingxing Zhineng incorporated its business at the start of 2018. The company has released four models that services more than 60 clients, including building management companies and cleaning companies, at a costs that it claims is 20% to 30% lower than employing people to do the job.

The company’s robots have multidirectional arms and can choose the most suitable cleaning solutions depending on the shapes and materials of curtain walls. They can also move horizontally and vertically, thanks to the company’s hoisting system, and can clean 150 sq. meters per hour, a rate that is three to four times more efficient than humans, the company said.

Furthermore, the robots can identify different window frames and glass panels using image recognition technology. The robots also use global positioning systems to help avoid obstacles and plan cleaning routes.

Yingxing Zhineng does not yet sell any equipment. But the company hopes to be able to offer value-added services, including recording data about curtain walls, customize cleaning plans and inspect and measure the walls. It is also planning to develop a robot that can paint curtain walls.

Eventually, Yingxing Zhineng hopes to make forays overseas, including Europe, the U.S., Japan and South Korea, where curtain wall cleaning fees are estimated to be more than 500 billion yuan, the company said.