Remember when R2D2 and C3PO seemed like the stuff of science fiction? Who needs a galaxy far, far away when robots are right here in Hell’s Kitchen. They’re maintaining skyscrapers, elevating restaurant dining experiences — and even helping the NYPD.
Skyline Robotics’ window-washing robot has already begun work at 10 Hudson Yards. Ozmo is named after the reverse osmosis process that purifies the water and prevents streaks on the glass windows. It employs LiDAR technology, which creates 3D environmental maps, to identify the building’s exterior and to determine the window dimensions. It is also powered by AI technology, which helps it react to the outside environment in real time.
“That doesn’t mean all of a sudden our AI is programmed to do very different things than it’s intended to do, but it makes autonomous decisions based on the environments that it faces and how to most efficiently clean the facade,” said Ross Blum, President & Chief Operating Officer of Skyline Robotics.
A major concern with integrating robots into the workforce is the potential job threat to human workers. Ross says the workforce for window cleaners, in particular, has dwindled in recent years and Skyline Robotics technology can “create a really interesting new group of window cleaners for the future that really does want to learn new technology.”
“In the United States, 76% of window cleaners are over 40. And only 9% are between the ages of 20 and 30,” said Ross, who explained that Ozmo is under the control of a human operator positioned atop the building. “So when you pair that with the rate of new construction of skyscrapers, which has really increased over the last 10 years, you have a market infrastructure problem.”
Robots are also doing much simpler tasks. The VIA 57 West building has its own robotic cleaner that vacuums the building’s corridors, giving them a vibe echoing an iconic scene in classic horror movie The Shining. Restaurant and bar Carla, at 331 W51st Street (between 8/9th Avenue), even has a robotic server named Bella who can sing Happy Birthday and bring diners their preferred appetizer.
“I think she’s the most famous staff member we have,” said Michael Kydes, operating partner at Carla. “She’s mostly just a fun and entertainment-focused part of dinner.”
The NYPD is also making use of robots. Mayor Eric Adams just announced a 420-pound K5 Autonomous Security Robot with cameras capable of sending live video back to NYPD headquarters — at a cost of just $9 an hour. The bot is set to patrol Times Square’s public areas, accompanied by a real-life police officer during a two-month trial.
“Public safety and justice are the prerequisites for prosperity — and we are committed to exploring innovative tools to keep New Yorkers safe,” said Adams.
The K5s join the ranks alongside NYPD’s $75,000 robotic Digidogs, which are remote-controlled and will be deployed in difficult situations.
What will be next? Only time will tell.
“When you’re bringing innovation the foundational layer of gaining traction is trust and even though we created really interesting types of technology, at the end of the day we do business with people,” said Ross. “Buildings might be metal and glass but they’re full of people that make decisions for that metal and glass. So at the end of the day, we just try to be humble and hungry, understand our place, understand the challenges that we’re taking on, stay focused and deliver results.”