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posted by Blackmoore on Friday November 14 2014, @05:00PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the when-I-fall dept.

Patrick McGeehan writes in the NYT that the image of a pair of window washers clinging to a scaffold dangling outside the 68th floor of 1 World Trade Center have left many wondering why robots can't rub soapy water on glass and wipe it off with a squeegee relieving humans of the risk of injury, or death, from a plunge to the sidewalk? The simple answer, several experts say, is that washing windows is something that machines still cannot do as well as people can. “Building are starting to look like huge sculptures in the sky,” says Craig Caulkins. “A robot can’t maneuver to get around those curves to get into the facets of the building." According to Caulkins robotic cleaning systems tend to leave dirt in the corners of the glass walls that are designed to provide panoramic views from high floors. “If you are a fastidious owner wanting clean, clean windows so you can take advantage of that very expensive view that you bought, the last thing you want to see is that gray area around the rim of the window."

Another reason for the sparse use of robots is that buildings require a lot more maintenance than just window cleaning. Equipment is needed to lower people to repair facades and broken windows, like the one that rescue workers had to cut through with diamond cutters to rescue the window washers. For many years, being a window cleaner in Manhattan was regarded as one of the most dangerous occupations in the world: by 1932, an average of one in every two hundred window cleaners in New York was killed each year.  Now all new union window cleaners now take two hundred and sixteen hours of classroom instruction, three thousand hours of accredited time with an employer and their union makes sure workers follow rigorous safety protocols. In all, there are about 700 scaffolds for window washing on buildings in New York City, says union representative Gerard McEneaney. His members are willing to do the work because it pays well: as much $26.89 an hour plus benefits. Many of the window cleaners are immigrants from South America. “They’re fearless guys, fearless workers."

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  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 14 2014, @05:54PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 14 2014, @05:54PM (#115972)

    "because it pays well: as much $26.89 an hour plus benefits". Sorry, not even close to high enough pay to to get me to hang hundreds of feet up on the outside of a skyscraper. That looks like a super low wage for the job to me.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by tibman on Friday November 14 2014, @06:12PM

      by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Friday November 14 2014, @06:12PM (#115987)

      50K a year isn't bad. But in a city like New York it's probably terrible.

      --
      SN won't survive on lurkers alone. Write comments.
      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by bob_super on Friday November 14 2014, @06:16PM

        by bob_super (1357) on Friday November 14 2014, @06:16PM (#115993)

        Except for the fact that you physically can't clean skyscraper windows 2000 hours a year in New-York...

        • (Score: 3, Funny) by c0lo on Friday November 14 2014, @11:53PM

          by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Friday November 14 2014, @11:53PM (#116074) Journal

          can't clean skyscraper windows 2000 hours a year in New-York...

          Le'me guess: they upgraded to skyscraper windows XP?

          --
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0
          • (Score: 2) by meisterister on Saturday November 15 2014, @06:03AM

            by meisterister (949) on Saturday November 15 2014, @06:03AM (#116140) Journal

            Can you even call that an upgrade? I'll take my 2000 windows, please.

            --
            (May or may not have been) Posted from my K6-2, Athlon XP, or Pentium I/II/III.
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 15 2014, @01:42AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 15 2014, @01:42AM (#116097)

          Trollololololo

    • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 14 2014, @06:14PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 14 2014, @06:14PM (#115991)

      Contrary to how it appears, the world does not in fact rotate around you. Some people don't have the luxury of talent for high skill jobs.

      • (Score: 2) by pnkwarhall on Friday November 14 2014, @07:00PM

        by pnkwarhall (4558) on Friday November 14 2014, @07:00PM (#116013)

        You call skyrise window-washing a "low skill" job. I think that depends on what your definition of "high skill" is. "Washing a window" may not seem like a task that requires a lot of skill, but I argue that 'skyrise window-washing' requires a specific and relatively uncommon set of skills and personal attributes. It takes "a certain type of individual". I will make the assumption that, despite the lucrative pay mentioned in in GP's post, it is not easy to find quality, long-term skyrise window-washers. It just seems like the nature of the job.

        Isn't this what "people workers" (as opposed to robot workers) excel at? There are literally tons of us and we all have a variety of strengths, weaknesses, and experience to bring to the table. What may seem like an easy "low skill" job to one, may be an impossible task for another.

        It depends on the person, not the job. To every person, there is a place. Saying someone doesn't have the "luxury of talent" seriously degrades the value of a human being; merely existing as a human being means you have a talent **for something**.

        --
        Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
        • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Saturday November 15 2014, @04:27PM

          by maxwell demon (1608) on Saturday November 15 2014, @04:27PM (#116208) Journal

          However there are some things you'd wish nobody had a talent for. And people with those talents tend to make much above average money.

          --
          The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 16 2014, @02:32AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 16 2014, @02:32AM (#116298)

          You call skyrise window-washing a "low skill" job.

          I didn't. Not including it in my arbitrary definition of high skilled does not mean it falls under my arbitrary treshold for low skilled. Not all jobs necessarily fall under one of those categories.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by bob_super on Friday November 14 2014, @06:14PM

    by bob_super (1357) on Friday November 14 2014, @06:14PM (#115990)

    The Sears tower has automated window washers. Your generalization is incorrect.

    > "A robot can’t maneuver to get around those curves to get into the facets of the building."

    Sure it can. A robot hand can reach anywhere a human arm can. Just imagine a six-axis manufacturing robot gliding on the same platform that the current window washers use.

    Which brings us to the actual point that matters: How much do you want to pay for your window cleaning?
    Except for bragging rights, or buildings so huge that they require year-round window cleaning, a human is cheaper than a dedicated robot.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 14 2014, @06:19PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 14 2014, @06:19PM (#115995)

      Buy a fleet of drones.
      Give waterballoon to drone.
      Drone flies up and throws waterballoon at window.
      Drone flies back down for another waterballoon.
      Repeat until clean.

    • (Score: 1) by TheCastro on Friday November 14 2014, @07:48PM

      by TheCastro (4449) on Friday November 14 2014, @07:48PM (#116027)

      The old WTC had robots too.

      • (Score: 4, Funny) by mhajicek on Friday November 14 2014, @10:15PM

        by mhajicek (51) on Friday November 14 2014, @10:15PM (#116056)

        And look how that turned out!

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 15 2014, @06:16AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 15 2014, @06:16AM (#116141)

      Except for bragging rights, or buildings so huge that they require year-round window cleaning, a human is cheaper than a dedicated robot.

      Yeah someone else paid for the 16+ years of manufacturing and initial configuration. ;)

      But yeah I don't see why it's impossible for a robot. If someone is willing to supply vast sums of money I'd be happy to put together a team to build a skyscraper washing system where you don't need people hanging dangerously outside (could be a few humans managing many semi-autonomous washer robots - gamification anyone? ).

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by DrMag on Friday November 14 2014, @06:15PM

    by DrMag (1860) on Friday November 14 2014, @06:15PM (#115992)

    “If you are a fastidious owner wanting clean, clean windows so you can take advantage of that very expensive view that you bought, the last thing you want to see is that gray area around the rim of the window ."

    So the reason we can't use robots is that wealthy people are offended at the sight of a little dirt and grime?

    I wish there was some discussion about the technical difficulties and what it might take to make a robot that can do as good a job as a person--that would be far more worthwhile than hearing about whiny 1%ers.

    • (Score: 2) by TGV on Friday November 14 2014, @06:43PM

      by TGV (2838) on Friday November 14 2014, @06:43PM (#116006)

      I agree with the sentiment (although your tone is a bit rough): it's absurd that people wage their lives in order to clean windows. The sad thing is: there are enough people willing to do it.

      • (Score: 2) by sjames on Friday November 14 2014, @08:45PM

        by sjames (2882) on Friday November 14 2014, @08:45PM (#116039) Journal

        Yes. That's why there's so much resistance to improving the general security of the working class, gotta make sure there's enough desperation to fill this sort of job opening.

  • (Score: 2) by hoochiecoochieman on Friday November 14 2014, @11:30PM

    by hoochiecoochieman (4158) on Friday November 14 2014, @11:30PM (#116072)

    For now, of course.