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Building inspectors develop robot to speed up jobs

When Jozef Sobotka saw a building inspector use duct tape to attach a digital camera to a broom so he could see around a corner, he realized there had to be a better way.

Mr. Sobotka and his sons, Filip and Thomas, decided to develop a robot to automate building inspections and, at the same time, do a more thorough, faster and cheaper job. The technology would provide such a ripe opportunity, Filip Sobotka said he was surprised no one had done it before.

The Sobotkas started Mississauga, Ont.-based FTD Highrise Inspection Inc., and they hired engineers to build a robot armed with a digital camera.

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To inspect a building, FTD sets up a custom-made system on the roof, a process that takes about two hours, and includes running wires down the side, which are attached to a cart on the ground. The robot, nicknamed SAM, runs up and down the wires to take photographs of each section of the building.

Traditional methods use human inspectors to swing stages or bosun chairs to look at a building's exterior. Mr. Sobotka says the problem with that approach is it takes a long time, which means only certain sections of a building are done. FTD, on the other hand, can inspect an entire building.

Mr. Sobotka says a seven-storey building can take two days for FTD, compared with two weeks with human inspectors.

After an inspection is completed, Mr. Sobotka says FTD provides a building owner or a consultant handling a project with digital photographs that correspond to each floor number. An engineer analyzes the photographs to see if there are any structural or maintenance issues that need to be addressed.

Building owners looking to do restoration work are also potential customers for FTD because it lets them get a better handle on anything that needs to be done before a project starts. It lets them get a better handle on the work involved, as well as attract competitive bids.

"We have a lot of people interested," he says. "We have a developer who wants us to do all their buildings going forward – six buildings in the next two years. We also have deals with two consulting firms where they put us in all their proposals going forward."

Mr. Sobotka says FTD has been self-financed with about $200,000 invested so far. The company is looking for investors, and it recently appeared on the popular Dragons' Den television show.

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Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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