now boarding: automation

Houston airports deploy disinfecting robots in their terminals

Six Breezy One robots have landed in Houston's airports. Photo via buildwithrobots.com

What stands four feet tall, measures 22 inches wide, and weighs about 265 pounds? One of the six robots that disinfect George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport and William P. Hobby Airport.

Last year, the Houston Airport System spent close to $1 million for six Breezy One robots made by Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Build With Robots. The robots, each costing $160,000, now help the airports’ human crews keep the two airports sanitized.

George Bush Intercontinental has four of the robots, and Hobby has two.

“Breezy One is an autonomous disinfecting robot. It moves on its own and disinfects any route that someone chooses at the push of a button. It disperses a disinfectant fog which reaches all surfaces, penetrates fabrics, and even disinfects the air,” according to Build With Robots.

The robot disinfects germy surfaces such as tables, chairs, doorknobs, and keyboards. A Breezy One robot can decontaminate more than 150,000 square feet of space in one hour with a patented, environmentally safe disinfectant, purportedly eliminating 99.9999 percent of viruses and bacteria. New Mexico’s Sandia National Laboratories developed the disinfectant.

Build With Robots, founded in 2017, launched Breezy One in 2020 at the Albuquerque International Sunport. The company developed the technology in conjunction with the City of Albuquerque’s Aviation Department. In January, Build With Robots announced it raised $5 million in funding. That was preceded by a seed round of about $1 million.

Before the disinfectant-filled robots go about their work, members of the Build With Robots team map the buildings where they’ll operate autonomously. The team members then load the maps into the robots. The robots follow commands given by a facility’s custodial team.

Traci Rutoski, manager of custodial services at Hobby, says Build With Robots “is providing us with the best tools to keep our passengers, employees, and stakeholders safe.”

Sam Rea, terminal manager at George Bush Intercontinental, says the Breezy One robots have enabled the airport to step up cleanliness in the COVID-19 era.

“With the onset of the pandemic, we needed to explore new and innovative solutions so that when people come through the airports, whether for work or travel, they feel safe and secure,” Rhea says in a news release.

Augusto Bernal, a spokesman for the Houston Airport System, says that while the disinfecting robots have been effective, there are no plans to add more of them.

Aside from the Houston Airport System and the Albuquerque airport, customers of Build With Robots include HVAC manufacturer Goodwin’s 4.2-million-square-foot operation at Daikin Texas Technology Park in Waller, Mount Vernon ISD in East Texas, the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and Albuquerque’s Electric Playhouse amusement center. The robots, which can be purchased or leased, are designed to sanitize airports, arenas, stadiums, school buildings, and other heavily trafficked places.

Goodwin has installed one robot in Waller.

“This robot’s going to be able to clean 200,000 square feet of office and conference rooms in two, maybe two-and-a-half hours,” Charlie Strange, facilities manager at Goodwin’s Waller operation, told The Verge last November. “It would take my team all night long to do that — wiping down every surface by hand.”

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Building Houston

 
 

A Houston founder shares an analysis of relationship banking, the pros and cons of digital banking competition, and an outlook of digital banking inroads to develop relationship banking. Photo courtesy

After our doctor and our child’s school, a bank is an institution with which we share the relationship that is most personal and vital to our well-being in this world. Some might put a good vet third, but other than that, no private entity is more responsible for escorting us to a healthier and happier outcome over the course of our lives.

The bank vault is a traditional symbol of security and prosperity, and not just for our pennies. We safeguard possessions in banks that are so important we don’t even trust keeping them in our own houses. Wills, birth certificates, and the precious family heirlooms of countless families are held in safety deposit boxes behind those giant vault doors, and banks have been the traditional guardians not only of our wealth but our identity and future as well.

The importance of relationship banking

Faith and confidence in our banks is so fundamental to the customer relationship that it has evolved into a unique and otherwise unthinkable arrangement for any good capitalist in a healthy marketplace: banks pay us to be their customers. Imagine a doctor offering you $20 for trusting them to give you a colonoscopy and you’re on the road to understanding the sacrosanct union between bank and customer.

In fact, this trust is so deeply anchored in the American psyche that a new generation of digital banking companies has sprung up on the idea that it doesn’t need to exist in physical reality. The fintech industry has exploded in the last decade, and today, over 75 percent of Americans are engaged in online banking in one form or another. Every single one of those 200 million customers are taking for granted that they will be well served, despite having no personal guidance through any of the financial products and services that these online entities provide.

Benefits of fostering relationships with banking customers

In the late 90s and early 2000s brick-and-mortar banks realized that greater personalized care for their customers was going to be a critical point of competition. The in-person experience is an opportunity to offer advice and incentives for a wide range of products and financial management assistance. It’s rooted in an incredibly simple axiom that is taking hold in every aspect of modern society: everyone benefits if we all get along better.

There’s a lot of statistical traction behind this theory. Customers who report they are “financially healthy” are down 20 percent over the last year, which means people are looking for guidance. 73 percent of customers who visit a local bank branch report having a personal relationship with their bank, while only 53 percent say the same of their digital institution. Most importantly, although many digital banks are offering similar products and services to their real-world counterparts, customer engagement remains very low.

It starts with your products

The truth is, today’s bank customers still want that same personal relationship their great-grandparents had before they engage with deeper financial products and services. They believe it makes them more financially successful, and confirm that human connections and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Products that are Challenging for Digital Markets

Residential mortgages, for example, are an $18 trillion dollar industry that deals in durations longer than most digital banking services have even existed. The perception of continuity and stability is highly valued by clients in the mortgage relationship. Today, most customers feel that only comes with a handshake and a smile from an employee who has to fit in a meeting before they pick their kids up from school.

While digital firms have proven themselves capable of offering savings and checking services, most have fallen flat on the mortgage front because of the premium on personal relationships. Loyalty is the reward for time, service, and shared experience, and financial institutions that cannot provide that package for their customers are never going to access a deeper and more meaningful portfolio of services.

Finding Well-suited Products for Digital Finance

The message for the digital finance world is as clear as it is pressing. The future of the industry will revolve around more personalized experiences, interactions, and long-term products. At the same time, the American public has embraced digital banking, and we are looking at a new generation of bank users who may never walk through a branch door in their life.

In order to compete, the digital industry will need to identify and develop a range of long-term products and services that make sense for customers in today’s environment. Mortgages may be out of the question, but the safety deposit box holds great promise for industry in-roads. Optimal services for deeper, more personal customer engagement include things like:

  • Legacy and estate planning
  • Will preparation and safeguarding
  • Preservation of cherished photos and videos
  • Important personal data storage


Because these things are product-based, they are well suited to the digital ecosystem. The cryptocurrency industry and modern online banking have solidified consumer confidence in the digital bank vault, and there is a great deal of faith in the perpetuity of electronic documents and storage.

The IRS estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Americans are E-filing their taxes and that only comes with a widespread belief that our highly sensitive information can and will be preserved and protected by digital architecture.

Secure your future

Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them.

The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents.

It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.

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