Updated March 26 at 6:24am

Robot tackles tough corporate jobs


The story of Purifad typifies the American entrepreneurial dream of starting a family business, recognizing opportunity and embracing change.

“It’s amazing that a little family business in Rhode Island could patent something to be used worldwide,” said Manuel Martins Jr., who worked with his father’s business, Martins Maintenance, after graduating from Scituate High School. Martins now holds a patent on a robotic cleaning system and is part owner of a new family business, Purifad.

“My father started a little cleaning company in 1976 out of a basement off Elmwood Avenue in South Providence,” said Martins. The company moved to East Providence 12 years ago and bought a building. Martins Maintenance today has clients in eight states, from Pennsylvania to New York to Vermont.

It was when Martins began to see the expense of cleaning under raised-access flooring, where Under Floor Air Distribution, or UFAD, air conditioning systems and electrical systems are located, that he was struck by the opportunity for innovation.

“I was approached by a Fortune 100 company having some air quality issues,” Martins said.

“I met with the facilities manager and he asked if I could give them a quote for cleaning under the raised flooring.” The Rhode Island facility was 490,000 square feet.

“The cost to lift the tiles and vacuum underneath was astronomical,” said Martins. “We mentioned it would be pretty cool to have a robot that would drop under the floor and navigate the wires. I came up with an idea and sketched some drawings.”

He did extensive research that led to programmers and engineers in Poland who had experience that seemed similar to what he envisioned. One of the engineers had worked with NASA and another with IBM.

“I had to find programmers and engineers who could help navigate over these wires. I saw it almost like a moon environment,” Martins said. “The robot has LED lights, HD cameras and special traction tires. We communicate with it and we can see what’s under the floor. I feel kind of like Jacques Cousteau driving this robot.”

The robot is about 16 inches high and 22 inches long. The system uses brushes and a vacuum that sucks dirt into a container and moves it through a filtration system.

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