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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.