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    Wilmer Balmocena

    Operations Manager

    Contributor to freshtrax and Operations Manager at btrax in San Francisco. Wilmer’s extensive background in Business Operations gives him a fresh perspective on various topics. He is passionate about understanding what motivates businesses and individuals to succeed and excel.

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  • Aug 9, 2018

robots lined up different kinds of robots

The Future of Robots In Building Management

Have you ever been greeted by a robot upon entering a building lobby? Have you ever called the concierge at a hotel, requesting more towels to your room and a machine carried out the delivery? Robotics are being utilized in business facilities across different types of industries (office spaces, hospitals, hotels, retailers, etc.), but D.Haus wanted to explore how these machines are being used and what we can expect from them.

On July 12th, D.Haus, a community workspace created to connect people and technology through design, curated a panel of robotics experts and building managers at btrax to dive into this topic.

The discussion explored a variety of topics within building management and current day robotics and in the end, guests left with a deeper understanding of how robots are improving building management and what the future holds for this emerging trend in business operations.

The panel was made up of the following industry experts: Dr. Travis Deyle (CEO of Cobalt Robotics), Mike Bai (Inventor in Robotics), Warner B. Bonner III (Managing Partner of Innovation Properties Group), and Jay Anthonypillai (CEO of Berkeley BioLabs).

Robots have come a long way

Before we go any further, lets get rid of the image of a Wall-E type of robot from our minds. As Mike Bai, an investor in various robotic companies, reiterated throughout the discussion that multipurpose, can-do everything including hold a conversation type robots still don’t exist.

Well, they do, but those types of robots are not very common. Rather, the robots we’re seeing in today’s society are designed for a particular purpose. Though there is no line in the sand as to what constitutes a robot, the panelists all agreed that robots (as defined at the outset of the event) are computers that can reach out and affect the world.

Robots consist of hardware and AI technology; robotics need AI to help it understand different things and help it make the action to be performed.

Mr. Bai described the two technologies to the audience by suggesting, “robots are disrupting physical labor and blue collar type of work. AI is involved in taking information, synthesizing it and making actions…white collar type of work.” This helped the audience clearly understand the differences between the two and the different impact each can have on society.

The panel agreed that the current abilities of robots are completely changing the way indoor applications are being used. Gone are the days of being wowed by a Rumba; current robots have the ability to manage security, inventory, cleaning, transportation of materials, and even construction type tasks.

Robots x Building Operations

As new technology develops and the complexity of building management remains, naturally building managers have turned to the growing robotics industry for solutions. Innovation Property Group’s Warner B. Bonner III discussed his current search to see how his company can best utilize robotics.

His main objectives are reliability, consistency, and lowering operational costs. Mr. Bonner suggests, “At the end of the day, if you’re an owner or operator of a facility, your tenants are your lifeline, the members of your facility are your lifeline. You want to keep them happy and that happens with consistent service. It’s great having a personal connection, but it’s also great to always lower your operational costs.”

Mr. Bonner and Jay Anthonypillai’s, CEO of Berkeley BioLabs, current needs for their operations provided a good segway into the current status of robots in building operations.

Robotics are being used in different industries and address different problems. Cobalt robots are being used for security as they monitor facilities after hours, Bossa Nova robots are being used for inventory control in retail stores to identify any mispriced items and ensuring inventory on the shelves are filled, and Pepper is being placed to greet and answer general questions to guests in hotel and retail lobbies.

These and others are examples of types of robots that are allowing companies to free up employees’ time to focus on other human-centric tasks. Those repetitive, time-consuming tasks no one in the company wants to do are being addressed.

panel of robot experts at btrax in san francisco discussing the future of robots in building managementThe panel at btrax discussing robots in building management. Left to right: Warner B. Bonner III (Innovation Properties Group Managing Partner), Jay Anthonypillai (Berkeley BioLabs CEO), Dr. Travis Deyle (Cobalt Robotics CEO), and Mike Bai (robotics investor).

Robotic Hurdles

Though current robots are providing solutions to building management needs, challenges remain. An undeniable challenge for robot builders (and building managers) is the high initial investment. Though prices have lowered significantly, the initial investment is still high, notes Dr. Deyle, the CEO of Cobalt Robotics.

“Developing a robot and finding that one application that can justify the cost of getting it installed is always the hardest part. Cleaning, security, logistics…these, in very specific situations, can justify the cost.” Access to different technology has brought prices of these robots down, but depending on the type of robot use building managers are seeking, ROI has to make sense.

In talking about his experience with Cobalt clients, “People recognize the value they have” but the client’s expectations need to be set and that value needs to be clear.

Another limitation mentioned by Mr. Bai was the ability for current robots to operate in a dynamic “real world”. Current robots are great at highly repetitive tasks and navigating throughout a structured environment. Doors, cords, elevators, escalators – these are obstacles humans can navigate around without thinking about.

Mr. Bai gave an example of individual tasks one particular robot is incapable of performing by describing a restaurant waitress – taking a customer’s order, navigating around kids, bussing and cleaning tables, delivering the food to a table, and giving good customer service. He makes the case that these tasks are best performed by humans as robotic technology is not currently there yet.

Robots x The Next Gen

Today’s robots are being engineered to address real problems rather than being “sexy”. The panel discussed the continued trend of utilizing robots to doing things humans have difficulty doing, particularly in construction – transporting lumber, screwing baseboards in awkward positions, or installing drywall.

Dr. Deyle suggests a movement of utilizing robotics from mobility (which is the main task robots are used for today) to mobile manipulation. “This tends to be driven by cost. Ten years ago, for a 6 degree of freedom arm, you were looking at $100-200K per arm. Now, they’re significantly lower in price”. As the cost of hardware goes down, the implementation of this will become more prominent and affect the industry.

Mr. Bai adds that robots will be going into more retail locations and senior citizen homes to help seniors move things around. “Everyone wants a robot with sensors, like Cobalt’s, but with an arm to manipulate or move some things around, to where they’re not mobile, but they’re moving things. These are being developed but it’ll take some time to get there.”

As we wait for the tipping point of when the application of robots is developed full force to drive volume and essentially drive cost down until we see them everywhere, the use of robots in building management will continue. It may take a while, but some time in the near future, Wall-E type of robotics may be a reality. Technology and cost willing, of course.

 

About btrax

btrax is an Innovation Design company specializing in UX and Service Design to create innovative products and services on a global scale.

We drive results through our dynamic team of experts based in San Francisco and Tokyo, with backgrounds in design, technology, and marketing.

Services

  • Products and Service Development
  • Brand Development and Growth Strategy
  • Innovation Workshops
Learn more about btrax or contact us at sf@btrax.com to see how we can help your business.
 

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