In the News
LAS VEGAS — 2016 was a good year for all three panelists at the “Delivery Robots Knocking at Your Door” session at the Consumer Electronics Show here this month. Each innovator in the first session of the Robotics Conference at CES 2017 has taken a different route to delivery robots, but their technologies and markets are maturing fast.
Starship Technologies is testing its ground-delivery robots in nearly 60 cities worldwide, Savioke’s room-service robots are in 50 hotels, and CyPhy Works is conducting tests of aerial drone deliveries with United Parcel Service Inc.
How did the founders of these companies assess their prospective user base, and what can we expect from delivery robots this year?
- The leaders of CyPhy Works, Savioke, and Starship Technologies all said at CES 2017 that they expect delivery robots to become more routine this year.
- The market for automated deliveries will grow from $15 million in 2015 to $54 million by 2020, predicts Technavio.
- Robotic deliveries have some safety and technical hurdles to overcome, but testing is occurring, and major partners such as UPS and Mercedes-Benz are preparing for new markets.
Delivery robot opportunities
“You all have different backgrounds,” observed moderator Steve Crowe, managing editor of Robotics Trends (sister site to Robotics Business Review). “Why did you come to delivery robots?”
“The problem is we saw a lot of cool robotics tech in YouTube videos, but not a lot of business opportunities,” said Ahti Heinla, the CEO of Starship Technologies who formerly worked at Skype. “We identified three main areas where robots could be used in big ways in everyday lives … service, agriculture, and delivery.”
“When you look at the numbers — UPS delivers 15 million packages a day,” said Helen Greiner, chief technology officer of drone provider CyPhy Works and co-founder of iRobot. “Nobody thinks drones will replace the whole infrastructure, but they will add value.”
“I came from [research lab] Willow Garage. PR2 was cool, but at a quarter-million a pop, there was the question of how to get robots in the world,” recalled Steve Cousins, CEO of Savioke. “There’s the tech curve — we could now get robots into unstructured environments, and the service industry was an untouched opportunity.”
“We also thought going in that we’d be able to justify the value in savings,” he continued. “What we found in hospitality was that, while we saved some labor, improving the guest experience was more valuable.”
“Hotels find that room service is a money-loser,” Cousins said. “With a delivery robot, it’s a chance to use an outside kitchen and get the same service to a guest in the hotel. This helps hotels keep stars for ratings.”
“With a delivery robot, it’s not asking for a tip or judging what I’m wearing, and it gets there fast,” said Cousins. “In practice, a person is washing windows while waiting to make deliveries in a smaller hotel. Why interrupt those tasks?”
“What is the future map of robotic delivery?” asked an audience member.