Would you rent a vacuum cleaner for $499 a month?

softbank robot vacuum cleaner

Vacuum cleaning is a chore many people are happy to outsource, but one company is trying to persuade firms to swap an automated service for human cleaners.

Softbank, the Japanese firm behind WeWork and Uber, has launched a self-powered machine, dubbed The Whiz, at a hefty price tag of $499 (£381) a month.

Softbank says its robot is meant to replace “over-worked janitorial teams.”

The Whiz is not initially automatic, as a human has to lead it around until it can learn the cleaning route.

It has been developed by Softbank’s US robotics arm and Hong Kong-based firm Intelligent Cleaning Equipment.

The three-feet-tall (0.9 metres) vacuum was initially only offered for rent in Japan and Hong Kong.

‘Cleaning efficiency’

The machine sends an alert if there is an issue, such as bumping into a wall. After three hours, it can cover 15,000 square feet (1,394 square metres) but then will need a battery change.

Robot controls of The WhizA person has to teach the Whiz where to go

It also gathers data and produces a report with analytics on dirt levels.

Softbank says in its presentation materials this provides the ability to “actively demonstrate cleaning efficiency to stakeholders”.

One UK firm told the BBC they were planning to conduct trials with the robot in hotels around Southampton.

Ellen Gasson, marketing director for Hampshire-based Industrial Cleaning Equipment (a different business from the Hong Kong company), says when they trial the machine in hotels, a cleaner will need to be present to allow the robot into rooms to clean floors.

WeWork rescue

The vacuum cleaner launch comes after tech investor Softbank announced its worst ever financial results, earlier in November.

Softbank reported a £5bn operating loss for the second quarter of 2019, after companies it invested in, Uber and WeWork, suffered poor financial performances.

The Whiz in operationThe robot cam navigate around office workers

WeWork, a flexible office space company had to be given a multi-billion dollar rescue package. Its chief executive Adam Neumann, departed and was replaced with Softbank executives.

Despite the negative recent press, some analysts remain positive on Softbank and see the company’s stock as undervalued.

woman cleaning tables

Uber is testing new ground with an app to put casual workers in touch with employers, as it faces an increasingly tough climate for its core ride-hailing business.

The move comes as several parts of the world tighten regulation around Uber’s operations as a ride-hailing firm. California recently passed legislation  designed to pave the way for so-called “gig workers” to become employees and gain additional rights, which is expected to increase costs for firms such as Uber.

‘Vetted and qualified’ workers

Millions of American workers use staffing agencies, Uber said in a blog postannouncing the venture. But it believes the process can be made more transparent and faster for both employees and firms.

The app will provide information on pay, location and working conditions. Workers can also use it to track working hours and breaks, the firm said.

Employers would be able to tap into a ready pool of “vetted and qualified” temporary labour, Uber said.

Uber will focus on making the app successful in Chicago, where it has already operated in a test phase for the past year, before introducing it elsewhere, it added.

The growth of casual hiring, dubbed the “gig economy”, has been controversial. Some staff hired on an ad hoc basis say they appreciate the flexibility it offers, while others suffer income insecurity and a lack of other welfare benefits of employee status.

Drivers working for Uber’s original ride-hailing business have taken the company to court to establish the firm’s duty to provide staff benefits such as holiday pay and sickness cover.

Uber Works has agreed partnerships with staffing agencies in Chicago that employ, pay and handle worker benefits, potentially side-stepping this issue with the new platform.

Boeing says will take time to win back confidence


PARIS (Reuters) – The head of Boeing said on Sunday the U.S. planemaker had made a mistake in implementing a faulty cockpit warning system on the 737 MAX and predicted it would take time to rebuild the confidence of customers in the wake of two fatal crashes.

He said he expected the MAX to return to service this year and that 90% of customers had participated in simulator sessions with its upgraded MCAS software as the company works toward a certification flight with regulators soon.

Boeing says it followed long-standing engineering procedures when designing the 737 MAX. Asked how the procedures failed to capture apparent flaws in MCAS control software and sensor architecture, Muilenburg said: “Clearly, we can make improvements, and we understand that and we will make those improvements.”

He added: “When I make comments about the previous MCAS design and how we followed those processes, that’s something we put a lot of thought and depth of analysis into. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved.”

Muilenburg’s comments on the eve of the Paris Airshow highlight efforts by Boeing to strike a different tone than it did in the days after the Lion Air crash in October, when it raised questions over pilot and maintenance issues.

Muilenburg said the U.S. planemaker expected to announce some orders at the show for wider-body jets, but that its main focus at this year’s industry gathering was safety.

He forecast a $8.7 trillion marketplace for Boeing’s products and services over 10 years, up from the $8.1 trillion it projected last year, and predicted the world would need 44,000 commercial jets over the next 20 years, up from the 43,000 Boeing forecast in last year’s estimate.

He stuck to a previous timeline for the all-new 777X twin-aisle jet, which Boeing aims to fly later this year and deliver to airlines in 2020.

He said a possible new jet dubbed NMA had fallen behind the MAX’s return to service as a priority, but that the timeline on decisions and entry to service remained unchanged.

He took aim at European rival Airbus’s planned new extended-range A321XLR, saying the aircraft would only “scratch an edge” of the market segment targeted by the NMA, which would replace Boeing’s 757s and 767s.

Whether or not Boeing moves forward with the new mid-sized plane to serve a niche market falling between narrow- and wide-body aircraft is expected to reshape competition with Airbus, which dominates the top end of the medium-haul sector.

Asked whether he had been interviewed or submitted evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation launched by the U.S. Department of Justice in the wake of the 737 crashes, Muilenburg said, “We are fully supporting any government inquiries and providing information.”

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November 2019