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June 30, 2012

Innovations in high rise window washing

I was watching window washers clean the highrise across the street the other morning, and I couldn’t imagine how much adrenaline must course through them when they’re dangling 30 storeys above the ground. It seemed strange to me that with all the modern technology we have, and regulations around safety, that we still send people that high up, with nothing but a harness, to wash windows. Curious, I decided to do some research into what other options are out there, and while no alternative method has become mainstream yet, I did discover a few promising (or at least interesting) innovations in safe high rise window cleaning.

Sebot AG in Switzerland has invented a series of climbing robots that can clean everything from windows to solar panels. Their GEKKO Junior G1 is a robot designed specifically for washing the outside of skyscrapers.

“The GEKKO Junior G1 can also operate under normally too dangerous conditions, like strong wind, that forbids manual work for safety reasons,” the company explains.

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Back in 2010, Singularity Hub wrote a piece on Serbot AG’s goal to “revolutionize Dubai’s massive building cleaning industry,” and to move on to other cities if proven successful.

“The Gekko and Clean Ant aren’t just faster than humans, they’re a lot faster,” Singularity Hub explains. “A professional washer could probably manage 20 to 30 square meters per hour. The Clean Ant can work on all sorts of curved surfaces and corners and still manage 150. Gekko, which is used on flat surfaces, has a blazing top speed near 360!”

In South Korea, another window cleaning robot was invented, but this one works through the use of two magnets, one on either side of the window pane (a method that’s long been used to clean aquariums, howstuffworks pointed out). Because it can’t move beyond barriers, the Windoro robot by PIRO and Ilshim Global wouldn’t be an option for washing entire skyscrapers, but it’s a neat concept for homes, restaurants or shops.

The Zatz ZA-1 is a similar concept, and one I’ve kind of fallen in love with. My inner clean freak dreams about being able to wash the outside of my condo windows, but instead, I’m forced to wait until the entire building is washed. If I had a Zatz ZA-1, however, I could just do it myself with the magnetic two-way sponge device whenever the exterior dust smears get to me.

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The final innovation in this series comes from researchers at Zhejiang University in China. Similar to Serbot AG’s robots, these climbing robots can also scale smooth surfaces, but they use water pressure to do so.

“The inspiration for this design was the gecko, arguably the best wall-climber in existence, and the upshot of it is that the robot can climb relatively quickly (constrained only by the time it takes to establish a solid vacuum) and turn in either direction with just one single spinal actuator,” IEEE Spectrum explains. “And of course lastly, the water is squirted out at the end of the robot’s arm to do the actual washing.”

What kind of inventions have you seen used to clean the exteriors of high rise buildings? Do you think there’s a need for a window-washing robot, or do you think we should continue with the traditional man-power method?