Indoor robots gaining momentum – and notoriety

25 July 2017

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Savioke Relay Dash delivery robot. Source: Savioke

Recent events demonstrate the growing presence of indoor mobile robots: (1) Savioke’s hotel butler robot won the 2017 IERA inventors award; (2) Knightscope’s security robot mistook a reflecting pond for a solid floor and dove in face-first to the delight of Twitterdom and the media; and (3) the sale of robotic hospital delivery provider Aethon to a Singaporean conglomerate.

Are we beginning to enter an era of multi-functional robots? Certainly that is the vision of each of the vendors listed below. They see their robots greet, assist and run errands during business hours and then, after hours, prowl and tally inventory and fixed assets, and all the while – 24/7 – check for anomalies and things that are suspicious. SuperRobot? Or one of the many new mobile service robots that offer each of these services as separate tasks? For example, Savioke, the hotel butler robot, is now using their Relay robots with FedEx in the warehousing and logistics sector.

The indoor robot marketplace

Travis Deyle, CEO of Silicon Valley startup Cobalt Robotics which is developing indoor robots for security purposes, in an article in IEEE Spectrum, posited that commercial spaces are the next big marketplace for robotics and that there’s a massive, untapped market in each of the commercial spaces shown in his chart below:

“Commercial spaces could serve as a great stepping stone on the path toward general-purpose home robots by driving scale, volume, and capabilities. So… while billions are being spent on R&D for autonomous vehicles, indoor robots for commercial and public spaces reap the technology and cost benefits on sensors, computing, machine learning, and open-source software.”

Although the chart above focuses on the many applications within the commercial space, there is also much activity in various forms of indoor material handling using mobile robots in warehouses and distribution centers. The list of companies in that marketplace is quite large and will be detailed in a future article.

Hospital mobile robot firm sells to Singaporean conglomerate

ST Engineering acquired Pittsburgh, PA-based hospital robotics firm Aethon for $36 million. Aethon provides intralogistics in hospital environments by delivering goods and supplies using its TUG autonomous mobile robots. ST Engineering's strategic reasoning for the acquisition can be understood by this statement about the purchase:

“We evaluated the autonomous mobile robotics market thoroughly. Our evaluation led us to conclude that Aethon was the best company in this space having the right technology along with proven success in the commercialization and installation of autonomous mobile robots,” said Khee Loon Foo, General Manager, Kinetics Advanced Robotics of ST Kinetics.

Hotel robot wins 2017 IERA Inventors Award

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) and the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE/RAS) jointly sponsor an annual IERA (Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Robotics and Automation) Award which this year was presented to the Relay butler robot made by Savioke, a Silicon Valley startup.

Savioke's Relay robot makes deliveries all on its own in hotels, hospitals or logistics centers. Thanks to artificial intelligence and sensor technology, the robot can move safely through public spaces and navigate around people and obstacles dynamically.

The robots, which have already completed over 100,000 deliveries, can be seen in selected hotels in California and New York, Asia and the Middle East.

Indoor Robot Companies

Listed below are a few of the companies in the emerging mobile robot indoor commercial marketplaces described in Deyle's chart above. The list is not comprehensive but intended to give you an overview of who those new companies are, how far along they are, and how global they are.

Indoor Security Robots:

Recent research reports covering the security robots marketplace forecast that the market will reach $2.4 billion by 2022 at a CAGR of 9% from now til then. These forecasts include indoor and outdoor robots. 

  • Knightscope is a Silicon Valley security robot startup with robots in shopping malls, exhibition halls, parking lots and office complexes. It was Knightscope's robot that took the face dive in the Washington, DC pond. [Graphic of Knightscope robot from Twitter.]
  • Cobalt Robotics, also a Silicon Valley security robotics startup, but, as described by co-founder Travis Deyle, “Security is just one entrée to the whole emerging world of indoor robotics.”
  • Gamma Two Robotics, a Colorado patrol robot maker, whose new Ramsee mobile robots have sensors for heat, toxic gas, motion detection and acoustic listening.
  • NxT Robotics is a San Diego mobile robot startup offering both an indoor (Iris) and outdoor (Scorpion) security patrol solution.
  • SMP Robotics is a San Francisco maker of mobile security robots for outdoor and indoor facilities.
  • Anbot (Hunan Wanwei Intelligent Robot Technology Co.) is a Chinese security robot with a robot very similar looking to Knightscope's. It can be seen prowling airport and museum public spaces in China.
  • Robot Security Systems is a Netherlands-based startup indoor mobile security robot provider.
  • China Security & Surveillance Technology also offers both indoor and outdoor security mobile robots.

Indoor Guides, Assistants, Greeters, Food Handlers and Gofor Robots:

This list could be much larger – particularly the gofor robots in the material handling field – but has been limited to those startups delivering product or with working prototypes focused on one or all of the commercial indoor market sectors. 

  • MetraLabs is a German provider of fully autonomous mobile inventory, public space guide and retail robots for stores, malls and museums.
  • PAL Robotics is a Spanish maker of humanoid robots used as guides, entertainers, information providers and presenters – in multiple languages.
  • Pangolin Robot is a Chinese maker of restaurant server/waiter/busing robots and which also has a line of greeting and delivery robots.
  • Simbe Robotics is a San Francisco provider of a retail space inventory robot auditing shelves for out-of-stock items, low stock items, misplaced items, and pricing errors. Simbe's Tally robot can perform during normal store hours alongside shoppers and employees or autonomously after hours.
  • Bossa Nova Robotics is a Pittsburgh developer of a store robot that scans products on the shelves, makes store maps and helps employees keep track of where items are located.
  • BlueBotics is a Swiss provider of mobile robots, robotic platforms and products for mobile guides, marketing assistants and industrial cleaning.
  • Pepper, the mobile emotion-detecting robot jointly produced by Foxconn, Alibaba and SoftBank, is serving as the first point of contact in coffee stores, banks, corporate offices and other public spaces.
  • Yujin Robot is a Korean consumer products maker with a line of hotel and restaurant delivery robots.
  • Fellow Robots is a Silicon Valley developer of the NAVii robot which is used as a greeter but also maps and performs inventory scans. 

Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report, and is also a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series.
Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report, and is also a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series.

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