Savioke Expands into Japan with Strategic Partnerships

Savioke is thrilled to announce a new partnership with NEC Networks & System Integration Corp. (NESIC), the leading systems integrator in Japan. Headquartered in Tokyo, NESIC will be the "one-stop shop", handling distribution, installation, and maintenance for Relay robots in Japan.

In terms of number of robots sold per annum, Japan is the third largest robotics market, embracing robotics in industrial and other industries since the 1970s.  For Savioke, Japan is a huge market opportunity. With NESIC’s strong distribution network, Relay will soon debut in hotels, high-rise residences, office buildings, retail stores, hospitals, and other locations across Japan.

Japanese businesses and consumers will get a first look at Relay this week at NESIC’s Customer Fair 2017, an innovation festival featuring up-and-coming technologies held at The Prince Park Tower Tokyo.

Japan and other Asian countries are key markets for Savioke, as the company grows its international footprint. Last October Recruit Strategic Partners (Headquarters: Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo) became an investor in Savioke, and our Relay robot is in operation at the Singapore M Social. We’re looking forward to working hand in hand with NESIC to sell many Relay robots in Japan this year and in the future. We couldn’t have asked for a better systems integration partner than NESIC in the exciting Japanese market.

For Japanese readers, here’s the official NESIC partnership announcement:

Robots, Jobs, and the Human Fear of Change

Written for TechCrunch by Steve Cousins, Founder & CEO, Savioke

When it comes to technology’s impact on the economy, there continues to be concern that robots and other advances will lead to unemployment. But what does history really tell us about the impact of new technologies on jobs and the economy? And more importantly, what happens to America’s ability to compete in a global economy if we reject automation and stifle technological innovation?

As a computer scientist, researcher and now CEO of a fast-growing robotics company, I’ve spent my career building technologies to improve people’s lives and help companies grow. I care deeply about how robots will impact society as automation continues to rapidly transform the economy.

That’s why I am discouraged when, rather than celebrating innovation, news articles create fear around it. Boston research firm Forrester recently predicted robots will result in a net loss of 7 percent of American jobs by 2025. What the press coverage often omits is what Forrester says will be gained from robots. Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder says, “While these technologies are both real and important, and some jobs will disappear because of them, the future of jobs overall isn’t nearly as gloomy as many prognosticators believe. In reality, automation will spur the growth of many new jobs, including some entirely new job categories.”

A lot of data supports the fact that technological advances actually create jobs — eliminating dull and low-skill occupations, while simultaneously creating entirely new categories of work. A study of census data in England and Wales since 1871 found technology created far more jobs than it destroyed during that 140-year period. “Machines will take on more repetitive and laborious tasks, but seem no closer to eliminating the need for human labor than at any time in the last 150 years,” says the report, authored by Deloitte.

Another 2015 study from London’s Center for Economic Research shows the use of robots increases productivity and wages, while having no negative impact on overall employment. According to the study, the contribution of robots to the aggregate economy has, so far, been about the same as other important technologies in history, such as railroads and U.S. highways. In any case, robots normally don’t replace entire “jobs” but instead take over “tasks” — such as hauling goods, operating machines or providing information. When companies use robots to complete repetitive or dangerous tasks, it frees employees to do more interesting, valuable work.

But what if Forrester’s predictions are correct and robotics result in significant net job losses in the future? Is the solution to stop researching, stop innovating and stop trying to create new technologies to maintain the status quo?

In today’s competitive global economy, choosing to stem innovation would prove devastating to our country. The 2016 Bloomberg Innovation Index lists the U.S. as the 8th most innovative country in the world; in 2015 we were No. 6. Other nations, particularly South Korea in first place and Germany in second place, are forging full-force ahead to build innovation-driven economies.

To remain competitive, the U.S. needs to accelerate its use of technology to develop innovative products, not slow down. Economies grow when companies create products and services that make life better, work easier and people healthier — whether that’s air conditioning, vaccines, robots or smartphones.

I’m not naive enough to say automation won’t impact jobs. Historically, technology eliminates some jobs while creating others. As machines emerged en masse during the industrial revolution, laundry maids, blacksmiths and weavers were forced out of business. But many of these workers got better paying, more stable jobs in factories. The pace of change hasn’t slowed since then. Software, computers, mobile phones, robots and other technologies are constantly eliminating some jobs (video store owner, receptionist, mail room employee, typist, telephone operator, etc.) and creating others (video game programmer, 3D architectural designer, social media specialist, etc.).

I agree with President Obama that automation will positively impact the economy in the long run — even if we experience growing pains along the way. In a recent interview, Obama said, “I tend to be on the optimistic side — historically we’ve absorbed new technologies, and people find new jobs are created, they migrate, and our standards of living generally go up.”

Innovation is going to happen; we can’t and shouldn’t stop it if we want the U.S. to maintain its strong position in the global economy. It’s how we manage this transition that’s our collective challenge and opportunity. Income inequality continues to increase worldwide, with educated individuals gaining ground quickly in innovation economies, while lower-skilled workers fall behind. Instead of jettisoning the members of society who feel left behind by technological progress, we need to include them in the jobs created by innovation.

Finding ways to incorporate all members of society in technology’s rapid progress doesn’t just include education and training — though those are essential — but also requires engineers to design intuitive, easy-to-use machines. With touchscreen interfaces and simple commands, many of the emerging collaborative robots are easy to operate. In the same way cashiers have learned to use high-tech registers — basically retail computers — people can learn to operate robots in service, hospitality, retail, healthcare or other sectors. Thus, as robots take over mundane tasks, humans can rise into more fulfilling jobs as operators of these machines.

For my company, this means building our Relay delivery robot to be so helpful, reliable and easy to use that it becomes “part of the team.” As robots help companies achieve higher productivity and revenue, these companies will invest in hiring more staff.

People have an innate fear of change, especially when it comes to technology disrupting the status quo. But history has proven that by embracing innovative technology like robots, we’ll see great progress; progress that grows the economy overall, helps people find safer, more meaningful work and secures America’s position in a competitive global market.

 

Residence Inn LAX Boosts Revenue & Guest Delight with Relay

The Residence Inn LAX/Century Blvd General Manager, Tom Beedon shares the measurable impact of his Relay robot on RevPar, review scores, and staff satisfaction and productivity. 

“The positive social media feedback we get is overwhelming... I’m confident that conservatively a .5% boost in our RevPAR index can be attributed to the Relay robot.”
— Tom Beedon, GM

New Models of Relay Interaction

By Savioke intern, Eric Vincent, a student at Stanford University.

Eric concentrated his efforts on implementing exploratory new models of interaction with Relay. First, connecting Relay to Amazon Alexa in order to enable voice-only control of deliveries. Next, enabling robots to make HTTP calls to external APIs.

At Savioke, we are dedicated to making our robots both easy-to-use and sophisticated in their capabilities. Voice control shows potential to be a valuable step in this direction — allowing users to request a delivery without stopping their current task. Using Amazon’s Alexa Web Service, along with Echo and AWS Lambda, proved to be a simple and effective way to implement a prototype. Users of “Relay by Voice” can place a delivery from one room to another or ask Relay for the status of an ongoing delivery. Both conversational and command-like approaches are enabled.

While predominantly a delivery robot, Relay is capable of much more. Hotels use Relay to make their room service smarter, but in the future, Relay could also enable them to make their whole hotel smarter. Relay could access HTTP-enabled smart home devices, or send statistics to a web server. In the second demonstration, Relay acts a window to the “internet of things,” calling a custom doorbell app in our office. Relay meets visitors at the office entrance, guides them to our waiting area, and informs employees that there is somebody waiting.

While these exact projects may not find a place in our product in the near future, you can expect to see evidence of our close attention to Relay’s friendly and interactive nature. Relay will only become more and more natural to interact with while functionality is added.

 

Savioke’s Internship program provides college students with an opportunity to integrate aspects of their degree program with the real world application of open source hardware and software development. Over the course of two to three months, interns contribute their expertise to the body of knowledge that forms the foundation of Savioke’s Robotics program, and gain valuable experience working with real, deployed systems.

The Savioke Approach to Safety

Two years ago, Savioke put its first generation of Relay, our delivery robot, into service at the Aloft Cupertino Hotel. The robot had gone through a rigorous and comprehensive safety protocol to watch for obstacles in its path and avoid them. Within the first week the robot captured images of a child’s bare feet with its downward camera (the one that looks for small obstacles to avoid), graphically reminding us of why we take such care to avoid obstacles. Robots attract people of all ages, but especially children, and as a company we are committed to making safety the highest priority.

The robotics industry takes a very conservative approach to safety for good reason: the industrial robot arms that work in factories are inherently strong, fast, and therefore dangerous. For decades, industrial robots were only run inside locked safety cages, designed to keep people away from harm. In the last few years, new industrial robot arms that work safely around people (so-called “co-bots”) have become more popular. It is also increasingly common for robots to use sensors so they deactivate automatically when people come near. According to the Robotics Industry Association, the best practice for deploying robots around people is to do a risk assessment then implement safety measures to minimize the risk of harm.

NASA has one of the most stringent safety processes in the industry, since they produce systems in which people depend on numerous automated systems for their survival in space. Since 2012, Robonaut 2, a general purpose humanoid robot, has been in operation on the International Space Station. Robonaut 2 is strong enough to cause damage to the space station or the people inside it, so how did it pass the NASA safety reviews? The answer, in a word, is redundancy. NASA never relies on a single component or safety path to protect astronauts, but assumes that any sensor or connector or component can fail. Robonaut needs to be safe in the face of such failures.

At Savioke, we take safety seriously and have incorporated both the Robotics Industry Association and NASA best practices in the safety analysis and implementation of our robots. When we deployed our early robots, a human “wrangler” was always nearby, monitoring the robot’s performance and ensuring the safety of people it came in contact with. The wrangler used a wireless run-stop, that allowed him or her to stop the robot with a button press. Remembering those little toes near the robot, we embarked on what became a six-month risk assessment study, then added redundant systems and re-engineered whatever was needed to make sure that the risks identified in the assessment were addressed. Not until the risk assessment and all of the implied engineering was completed did we remove the requirement for a wrangler with a run-stop.

One of the possible risks identified by the assessment was the risk of a robot bumping into a person. Our approach to this risk also followed NASA’s safety guidelines: make sure we have incorporated redundant layers of safety into the robot to minimize the risk of harm ever occurring. 

Like most mobile autonomous systems today, we use sensors to create a virtual bumper around the robot. This required us to place the robot’s sensors so that it can avoid obstacles.  However, since today’s sensors have strengths and weaknesses, we also added redundant sensors that complement each other. But because our virtual bumper is essentially high-level software, there is no way to guarantee that both the software and hardware will be bug free, so we added a redundant layer of safety: a physical bumper. Adding a robust, reliable physical bumper was not a simple process. It took significant engineering resources to design, added time to our schedule and cost to our final product, but the resulting system independently stops the drive motors if the robot ever bumps into something. 

Going one step further, we asked ourselves what harm could be caused if both the physical bumper and the virtual bumper failed. It turns out that the answer to that question has to do with a combination of physics and design. The speed and mass of the robot play an important role, as does the shape of the robot. We partnered with an independent safety assessment company to evaluate the physiological ramifications of impacts at different speeds with bumpers disabled.  We then set the maximum speed for our robot based on those results. We also built the robot with flowing, rounded surfaces with no sharp edges or exposed screws to minimize harm in case there is an impact.

Safety is a fundamental pillar of the robotics industry. At Savioke, we will continue to implement the best practices in the industry: risk assessments, and redundant safety systems. People love Relay, and we want to make sure that he gives the love back!

Beyond Hospitality: How Robots Can Improve Your Customer Experience Anywhere

While the idea of an autonomous robot workforce has been inciting both concern and hope for decades, here at Savioke we’re building robots that are designed to empower human workers, not replace them (nor participate in any kind of robot apocalypse, duh.).

Our flagship robot, Relay, is revolutionizing the customer service aspect of the hospitality industry by giving hotel employees more time to serve guests in the moments where it matters most. Relay is on call anytime an item needs to be delivered to a guest room, freeing up employees to be available for phone calls, warm greetings, and lengthy conversations about the best microbreweries in town if that’s what floats your boat. Relay takes on the mundane task of walking the hallways alone so that employees are able to stay as engaged as possible. 

But the hospitality industry is just the start of an autonomous robotic workforce that allows employees to have the most impact in their field. As Savioke co-founder and design-lead, Adrian Canoso, recently told Wired UK Edition, “We’re breaking the boundaries on where robots can go,” adding that the ultimate business plan is to design robots that enable “a peer-to-peer micro-delivery service [to make] the last 300 meters of any delivery more frictionless.” 

The healthcare industry has seen the advantage that robots can provide to hospital staff who are often pulled between spending more time with their patients and performing the necessary but less skilled duties of their jobs. “Service robots… are utilized in hospitals to transfer and deliver supplies, pharmaceuticals, patient food trays, and even trash throughout the hospital,” says Dr. Bernadette Keefe, M.D. on behalf of the Mayo Clinic’s Center For Innovation. “Countless hours of repetitive labor are handled by these devices.” Maybe robots are the key to shorter waiting room times? One can hope. 

Autonomous robots are also making an impact in the retail landscape, helping survey store shelves (think pharmacy vitamin aisle) so employees can make improvements as necessary. “Large retail environments are typically structured according to ‘planograms’, or visual blueprints of how each shelf should look, created to ensure standardization across stores,” Simbe Robotics CEO, Brad Bogolea, tells Wired UK. “The planogram is the ideal state of the store, and we’re capturing the real state of the store.” With the ideal store state and actual store state captured by the robot, simple pattern matching enables staff to close the gap and improve the shopping environment for their customers.

The possibilities of how robots can augment the human workforce across vast industries are nearly infinite. We believe that humans are at their best when they’re able to work as their authentic, most human selves, and when robots can relieve them of the automated and mundane aspects of their work they are more able to achieve this. Whether at a hotel, a hospital, a grocery store, or any other myriad workplace environments, a patron’s experience can be shaped largely by their interactions with the employees they interact with. Our goal is to improve those interactions for everyone involved, even the robots.   

From Rosie to Relay: Where Robots Fit In The Workplace

If The Jetsons were as familiar a part of your childhood as they were of ours, perhaps you, too grew up believing that a robot maid - your very own Rosie - was the way of the future. Perhaps you dreamed of eschewing your chores in favor of more leisure time while Rosie tidied up your room, completed your homework and prepared dinner. 

As you entered adulthood, perhaps you clung to some of this hope - can we get a robot that takes care of junk mail and allows us to be in two places at once, please? - but you also came to more fully appreciate the value of human connection and the difference that a personal touch can make in an otherwise sterile corporate transaction. Perhaps as more and more jobs seemed to get more and more automated, you started to wonder if Rosie might have been an ominous precursor to the end of humanity in the workplace.

Fortunately, our humanity is strong, even though sometimes technology deployments fail. Last year three restaurants in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou attempted to replace their waitstaff with robots, a bold move that attempted to replace an autonomous, customer facing position with artificial intelligence that has typically been best utilized for repetitive tasks in manufacturing. The result? After a year, two of the restaurants have closed their doors and the third has sent all but one of the robotic waiters back, determining that even a task as simple as pouring water requires a human touch to be done well. The devil is in the details with any technology adoption. Word processors were clearly a "win" over typewriters, even if giving people thousands of fonts leads to some really ugly documents.

We’re not surprised by that outcome here at Savioke. Sure, we make robots, but we believe that robots are best used to augment the limitless capabilities of the human spirit, not replace them. Relay, the robot we built to relay items from point A to point B, has been deployed in the hospitality industry as an effective way to deliver items to guests with minimal disruption to their stay, allowing hotel staff to remain fully engaged in the more impactful touchpoints of the guest experience. Relay empowers the well trained and highly effective staff of world class hospitality institutions, it doesn’t compete with them.

We’re a team of real people who believe that we can make the human experience more efficient, more convenient, and more revolutionary through the robots we build. We’re not interested in removing the humanity from the shared experience of working together, creating together, and serving each other; we’re interested in freeing people up to be the best versions of themselves possible. And we’re not too proud to ask Rosie to clean up after us sometimes. 

Savioke elected as top 50 Companies to Watch in 2016

Savioke RBR50

We’re extremely happy to announce that we have been selected as the Robotics Business ReviewTop 50 Companies to Watch in 2016.” It’s already been an exciting year for us with our recent fundraising announcement plus all the momentum Relay is gaining in the hospitality space and beyond. For more information please see the press release here

Relay Delivers Series A Funding

 
Savioke was featured at Intel's booth at CES 2016 with three robots running drinks and snacks to attendees in need. 

Savioke was featured at Intel's booth at CES 2016 with three robots running drinks and snacks to attendees in need. 

 

We’re happy to announce the completion of our Series A funding round. At the end of 2015, we raised $15M, in a round led by Intel Capital, with strong participation by EDBi of Singapore and Northern Lights Venture Capital (NLVC) of China, among others. This “fresh powder” (as the VC’s say) enables us to scale our business, continuing to deploy Relay in hotels and beginning to explore other uses for our adorable point-to-point delivery robot. Details available in this press release.

Our heartfelt thanks go out to all of the investors who have supported us through the past couple of years, as well as to our early adopter customers. With their support, we’ve been able to work through the early issues and come up with a product that really works, 24/7, in real human environments. Last week, the fleet of robots in the field surpassed 12,000 deliveries to hotel guests.

Savioke is just over two years old, and the next few years promise to be exciting, fun, and productive. Want to join the ride? We’re hiring!

 

Summer Travels

 
 

It's been a very busy and hectic last few months bringing Relay to market and spreading the word on autonomous hotel delivery robots, but also a very fun summer as well. 

It began with a bang at HITEC, the annual tradeshow for hospitality technology.  It's fair to say we were one of the hot topics there, but don't take our word for it.  Check out Hotel robots catch up to personalization as hot topics in hospitality.

We have a lot of exciting announcements coming along the way.  Follow us on Twitter @Savioke or check our blog for updates. In the meantime, here's what's coming and going on at Savioke.

Live in Five Hotels

Relay is now appearing in hotels around Silicon Valley and beyond. During the summer, our fleet of Relays surpassed 5,000 deliveries made and over 1,000 miles traveled. In addition to the robots in the Aloft Cupertino and Aloft Silicon Valley, Relay can now be found in the Crowne Plaza Silicon Valley/San Jose and the Holiday Inn Express in Redwood City. Watch for announcements of other hotel deployments in Sunnyvale, Los Angeles, and across the country by the end of the year.

Production version of Relay

A few months' back we announced the newly redesigned, production version of Relay. Relay is the culmination of months of prototype testing, code hardening, and rolling in customer feedback. We’re now in production and proud to say that a majority of parts are fabricated in California with the final assembly taking place in our in-house production facility. This was a big milestone in scaling to meet demand for our early adopter program.

Backed by Support

We have big ambitions for Savioke and to meet those goals we're going to need some great partners.  With that in mind, we announced partnership agreements this summer with both Konica Minolta and Bell and Howell.  While our early customers have been deliberately in our Silicon Valley backyard, these relationships allow us to confidently expand across the U.S. and beyond.

 Intel Developer Forum 2015

We had an incredible time at this year's IDF. Relay was featured during the Intel CEO, Brian Krzanich's keynote address, autonomously delivering a Diet Coke for a mid-presentation refreshment. We also announced our collaboration with Intel with the integration of their RealSense cameras into our robots. We are proud to be working with Intel to release an open-source RealSense ROS driver, available to the community later this year.

Upcoming Events:

If you still haven't had a chance to take that robo-selfie with Relay, look for us at the following events this month:

RoboBusiness

Sept. 23-24, San Jose

We’re excited to be a part of this year’s RoboBusiness. Our team will be there to answer questions and show off Relay, our delivery robot. You can find us by the entrance of the Expo Hall in Booth 201.  You can also hear CEO Steve Cousins discuss Integrating Robotics: The Selling As A Service Trend, and Tessa Lau and Adrian Canoso discuss Designing Service Robots at the Expo Theater.

Southern California Hotel & Lodging Conference

Sept. 23, Los Angeles

Look for Relay at the biggest hospitality conference and trade show in Southern California.  Details here.

ONA15

Sept. 28, Los Angeles

Relay will be sharing the stage with noted futurist Amy Webb as she discusses Tech Trends in Journalism.

Hotel Technology Conference

Oct. 22, Singapore

Relay makes its first international trip!  Details here.

Greatest Hits:

Given that summer is vacation season, you might very well have been off on some deserted island and unable to keep up with Savioke's press coverage.  Below is a tiny sampling of some recent articles with the full gamut here.

Hotels Get Delivery Robots Thanks to Bay Area Startup

NBC Bay Area 

Welcome to the Future: Robot Room Service Is Here

Yahoo! Travel 

Delivery Robots are Coming to a Hotel Near You

Popular Science 

Smart robot delivers a Diet Coke to Intel chief on stage

VentureBeat 

Intel camera gives robots 3D vision

ZDNet 

Hotel robots catch up to personalization as hot topics in hospitality

Tnooz 

 

Relay Heads to Asia

You can read the official announcement here, but we wanted to let you know that Relay is getting ready to take his first international road trip!

Relay will be making its debut outside the U.S. at the Hotel Technology
Conference on October 22 in Singapore.

Savioke is teaming up with show organizer Questex to make this happen.
Questex operates a variety of market-leading events throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific region,
including the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) Summit Series:
the International Hotel Investment Forum, held annually in Berlin; North
America Tourism & Hospitality Investment Conference (NATHIC);
Mediterranean Resort & Hotel Real Estate Forum in Madrid (MR&H); Russia &
CIS Hotel Investment Conference (RHIC); Turkey & Neighbours Hotel
Investment Conference (CATHIC); and Asia Pacific Hotel Investment
Conference (APHIC).

As Alexi Khajavi, Executive Vice President of Questex Hospitality Group,
has said: "Hiring talented staff members is becoming increasingly
difficult in Asia, so hoteliers are looking toward technology innovations
to help increase productivity.

Savioke's Relay is the perfect solution to ease our peoplepower shortage and
we are delighted to host the first occasion where Asian hoteliers will
observe Relay in person.

If you plans take you to HotelTech in October, please be on the lookout
for Relay.  Hope to see you there.

Intel RealSense Camera on ROS

The complete release is here, but today we announced our collaboration with Intel to bring ROS support to the Intel RealSense Camera. (Related article on Venturebeat here).

The announcement was made during Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s opening keynote at the Intel Developer Forum this morning.  Our hope is that this work will make the Intel RealSense Camera more accessible to the worldwide robotics community by developing a wrapper for ROS. The wrapper will allow developers to make use of the longer range Intel RealSense Camera, which is ideal for sensing the environment.

A fleet of Relay robots, our state-of-the-art robot designed for autonomous delivery of items between people, are on site during the course of the Intel Developer Forum this week.