Waiting For Humanoid Robots While Living In A World Of Unseen Robots

Is the world ready for personal robots?

Silicon Valley Robotics’ managing director, Andra Keay spoke about the reality of solid personal robots during the O’Reilly Solid Conference in San Francisco held on May 21 – 22, 2014 in San Francisco. She told the conference attendees that “robots are the new black” – the hottest new thing.

New Hotness: Robotics And Hardware

According to Keay, robotics and its hardware are the new “in and hot” thing. A lot of people in the industry are saying that hardware is the new software as evidenced by the rush of interest in a wide array of new hardware products. She cited Amazon’s recent acquisition of Kiva Systems, a company that builds robots used in logistics systems, in 2012. She further noted the apparent increase in investments directed to hardware and robotics – including all component parts such as two phase AC servo motors, gear boxes, etc., which are all indicative of a projected wave coming and moneyed people are making sure they are riding into the big-buck future of this industry.

Kiva Systems’ mobile-shelving robots acquired by Amazon which are for

deployment in Amazon’s warehouses.

Notable Interest In Robotics

Keay also made mention of the increasing interest in robotics as indicated by the launch of the first robotics that went through IPO via Robo-Stox, in November last year. The market value of the companies in Robo-Stox is between $200 million to $125 billion with a median value between $2 billion and $3 billion. An impressive but misleading valuation, Keay said because many of those companies do a lot more than what’s considered robotics.

Professional Service Robots: Growth Area For Robotics

The robotics industry remains an emerging field, with a lot more room to grow outside of the industrial installations which at a $30 billion market value is comparatively saturated, according to Keay. Other than the industrial manufacturing plants, the real growth area for robotics is what she refers to as the professional service robots – those used in:

  1. Surgical
  2. Logistics
  3. Agricultural
  4. Health

These industries can provide the opportunity for high unit cost and high growth rate for service robots.

Professional service robots find their way in medical and health facilities.

Personal Robots: Untapped Market

But those are not the only fields robotics can explore. There’s another big market waiting to be tapped – the market for personal robots. These robots include:

  • Toys
  • Educational devices
  • Appliances

The unit costs for this type of robot run up to $200, which is way below the costs projected for professional service robots. So how can this niche overtake the market value of professional service robotics? Personal robotics need to sell billions of units. That could be a long shot but personal robotics is just at the beginning of penetrating the market, with copious opportunities remaining for the right players to cash in.

Robotic Vacuum Sold 10 Million Units

An initiator, the floor vacuum called Roomba has already reached the 10 million units mark, making it the world’s largest-selling robot. While 10 million units is nowhere near a billion, others can easily follow through using the right approach and attitude in pursuing the personal robotics market. Keay said that instead of building robots, the industry should focus on building services.

iRobot’s vacuum has already sold 10 million units.

Living With Unseen Robots

She cited South Korea’s plan of providing every home with a humanoid robot by 2020, which she feels is a wrongheaded approach. Robots should not be perceived as personal servants or companions but as invisible providers of services. Recognizing the world’s increasing dependence on micro-processor controlled environment, by the year 2020, the household robot South Korea is planning will be your house, and not the humanoid robot in one’s imagination. The world is already surrounded by ‘unseen robots’ and yet, it’s still waiting for the kind of robot one pictures in his mind.

Personal robots should no longer be perceived as humanoid servants.

Do you have an invisible robot in your house?


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