Robots to the Rescue of Home Deck Owners: Interview with Gal Frenkel, CEO of RoboDeck

It’s not often that I get to look into a consumer product, and if it wasn’t for RoboDeck’s participation in TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield I would have probably missed the chance to learn about this intriguing company. The yearly gathering of top startups is usually dominated by B2B, “behind the scenes” innovations and indeed RoboDeck stood out from the crowd for their practical consumer product – a little robot that cleans and maintains outdoor wooden decks. 

After seeing RoboDeck’s presentation at TechCrunch Disrupt I reached out to Gal Frenkel, co-founder and CEO, for a robotic chat about technology and home maintenance. 

My first question has to be – why decks?

Any deck owner will deeply relate to the hassle and high expense of maintaining their deck. Owners usually have to break the bank in order to bring a professional service or find themselves spending at least a full weekend on their knees trying to carry out the grunt work. 

Turns out that this pain point is felt by over 50 million deck owners in the US alone and over 120 million worldwide. The US annual deck maintenance market is worth $10B. This aligns with Fortune Business Insights estimates that the home automation market, also called domotics, will grow to $114 billion by 2025.

Do you have a background in robotics? If not, how does one decide to build a robot?

I have a large wooden deck at my house and after my last startup, I tried to do the annual deck restoration by myself. This tedious and repetitive task combined with my love for tech, made me seek a better, robotic solution to solve this problem. Ran Zaslavsky, my co-founder, has almost 25 years of experience in developing robotic lawnmowers and vacuum cleaners. And together with Noam Rand, the third co-founder who brings extensive hardware and software expertise, we founded RoboDeck. We partnered with Lior Dahan, who comes from 20 years of experience in the deck maintenance industry.

I’m sure you get this a lot, but how is RoboDeck different from the vacuum cleaners we know as “Roomba”?

We’ve solved the essential problems of accurately and systematically navigating a deck landscape while applying a new protective layer of stain, which is very different from what a Roomba can do indoors.

A lot is going on under the hood to make RoboDeck technologically superior. For starters, RoboDeck applies a highly accurate 20-micron protective layer of stain on the surface in addition to sweeping and cleaning outdoor debris such as leaves, sticks, mold, and dirt – which is much more complex. 

We developed a method where every couple of weeks the robot carries out incremental maintenance, eliminating the need for a costly annual restoration and saving the average user over 50% in cost. 

I saw in your TechCrunch Disrupt presentation that you have a lot of tech “under the hood” – can you share the one you’re most proud of?

Asking nerds which tech they’re most proud of is like asking a parent who their favorite child is. So allow me to speak of two.

The first – we developed an air-spraying technology 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.) The spraying system incorporates two different patents and is capable of applying an extremely thin 20-micron layer from only 4 inches high, thus keeping the robot small and maneuverable. All this is achieved through a disposable patented stain cartridge that eliminates the need to clean and maintain the robot itself. 

The second is our hyper-accurate navigation system, which includes vision-based algorithms, harnesses an Nvidia GPU and Neural Networks to detect and navigate the deck landscape, and our patented Gap Sensor that is able to distinguish between a cliff, where the robot needs to stop, and a gap, where the robot needs to follow.

What was the most challenging aspect of building RoboDeck?

Robots are always multidisciplinary products, usually involving mechanics, electronics, and software. In our case, on top of that we are also incorporating chemistry and outdoor systematic navigation all in a consumer-friendly cost mindset. These challenges have made our product easily the most interesting project any one of our highly competent team members has ever worked on, allowing each and everyone to express their much-needed creativity and bring in their extensive experience from an array of domains.

What’s next for RoboDeck?

We are already working in a couple of beta households in Israel and the San Francisco Bay Area. Later this year we will be launching a robotic deck care service for select customers in both of these geographies. 

Simultaneously we are raising the next funding round, which will allow us to continue expanding our robotic deck care service to more households and locations and to complete the development of our first-generation robot. 

We plan to offer RoboDeck to consumers through a monthly subscription. So not so far from now, the costly and labor-intensive task of deck restoration will be a choice. 

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