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The 2021 edition of TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield has just concluded, with the editors voting to hail a stem cell production automator as the ultimate winner. This year’s batch of 20 participants includes startups that offer products in a variety of areas, from education to programming, finance, medicine, engineering, and alternative technologies. However, one participant in the annual startup competition could very well merit another look.

TechCrunch calls it a “robot that keeps your house’s deck looking good.” The publication, however, points out that simply describing it as a “Roomba for resealing your deck” is not doing it justice. It is called RoboDeck and it seeks to bring automation seamlessly into the $10 billion deck maintenance market.

Not a mere deck counterpart of Roomba

Gal Frenkel, CEO and co-founder of RoboDeck, says that calling this product a Roomba for decks is like downplaying its underlying technology and the efforts put behind it. For one, it is not just a vacuum cleaner that removes dirt, debris, and other unwanted loose objects on decks. It is an automatic deck maintenance product that performs not only cleaning but also treatment.

“We didn’t just hack a Roomba; we have developed a multi-layered, cutting edge technology to power RoboDeck,” the company emphasized. The product comes with a number of features that make it completely different from a Roomba or other automatic home cleaning devices.

For one, it features an all-new navigation system. Unlike automatic vacuum cleaning robots that work on solid surfaces, RoboDeck has to deal with gaps that ordinary floor cleaning robots may mistake as edges or drops. For this, it uses vision-based algorithms that harness Nvidia GPU and Neural Networks; it employs an array of sensors to enable accurate systematic navigation that does not only detect edges but also ensures that the robot does its stain-spraying job properly.

As part of its deck maintenance work, the RoboDeck is designed to apply stain sprays on decks to keep them looking new. It features a proprietary air-spraying technology designed for efficient stain spraying. The company says this tech is “capable of applying just a fraction of the regular stain volume, at a consumer-friendly price point (the cost of such a system as it is available today can run to the tens of thousands of dollars).”

Again, it is not just a reimagining of an already existing product. RoboDeck is built with an in-house developed mainboard, which is responsible for running the robot’s real-time embedded system, processing its sensing capabilities, and managing its power system. 

Revolutionizing deck staining

To achieve a robotic product that is suitable for effective deck maintenance, the building of RoboDeck called for the development of other proprietary sub-products such as a special stain and, proprietary navigation and spraying systems. The product also includes cloud connectivity and app control.

For the stain, the company said “we chemically engineered our stain, allowing it to be used across all deck types regardless of wood material and coloring.” This unconventional staining product is said to be “suitable for a 20-micron layer application,” which is notably better than the 100 to 200-micron layer application employed by ordinary deck staining systems. 

RoboDeck adds that the company conducted experiments showing their product is superior compared to traditional deck restoration products and methods. The newly-stained deck does not fade away in a few months because of the special stain and the unique stain-spraying process followed by the product.

RoboDeck’s spraying tech brings together the benefits of two patented technologies to ensure efficient stain application. It delivers the stain from a height of around four inches (10 cm) to maintain excellent maneuverability. With the help of its sensor array and vision-based algorithms, the robot is not only able to stop at cliffs but also follow gaps to apply the right amount of stain to hard-to-reach places. Additionally, it smartly maps its course to avoid rolling into the parts of a deck that have just been stained.

The creators of this automatic deck maintenance robot made sure that it can differentiate between cliffs and gaps. The detection of cliffs makes the device stop or change course, while the sight of a gap tells the robot to follow through with the stain application to ensure adequate coverage. The robot is designed with the knowledge that delivering the same amount of stain across a deck while ignoring gaps leaves some parts that can become vulnerable to the elements, thus incurring damage earlier compared to the other treated parts.

Additionally, RoboDeck can be operated through its dedicated app. It can be controlled to do a Brief Clean or a Full Staining job right away or according to a specified maintenance schedule. Also, through the app, users can monitor the robot’s progress in real-time.

Inspired by experience, built by experts

Frenkel intimates that he was inspired to create the product after failing to find a robot designed for deck maintenance. An Israeli serial entrepreneur, he had some free time after doing work on his last startup, so he thought of doing his own deck restoration. He realized that the tediously repetitive tasks involved in deck maintenance can be automated. He tried to look for a deck maintenance robot similar to Roomba but found none. So he decided to build one himself.

Frenkel held a brainstorming session with business partners to discuss the idea of building RoboDeck in view of the profitability of the outdoor deck maintenance market. After deciding that the automatic deck maintenance concept has serious potential, Frenkel founded the RoboDeck company and proceeded with product development.

Frenkel’s co-founders include a robotics expert, an extensively experienced hardware and software developer, and an expert in deck maintenance coats and stains. The robotics expert is Ran Zaslavsky (co-founder and CTO), who has more than two decades of experience in building robotic vacuum cleaners, mowers, and long long-endurance drones. The hardware and software developer is Noam Rand (co-founder and COO), a veteran from an Israeli Intelligence Unit. Lastly, the coats and stains expert is Lior Dahan of Deck King. He played an important role in creating RoboDeck’s special stain.

Product outlook

RoboDeck’s prototype is capable of maintaining a deck with an area of up to 500 square feet in one charge. For larger areas, the company offers a charging dock to automatically recharge the device and proceed to complete the maintenance job in the unfinished areas. The company is still in the beta testing stage. However, they say that using RoboDeck through its subscription-based use scheme can save deck owners up to 50 percent on their deck maintenance expenses.

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