Relay Robots Now Working for FedEx

Frederick Smith, founder, chairman, president, and CEO of FedEx, unveiled the news today that FedEx is employing multiple Relay robots at its TechConnect repair center in Collierville, TN and a FedEx Office store in Manhattan. Mr. Smith made the announcement and showed off a Relay robot during a presentation to a group of student researchers at the University of Memphis. 

Credit:  The Commercial Appeal, Part of the USA Today Network

FedEx’s TechConnect center, which offers repair and refurbishment of business technology equipment, currently has seven Relay robots operating in the facility.  FedEx's Relay robots have nicknames like Lil' Rico, Falcon, and Area 51. Relay delivers items to technicians in less than a minute within the repair center, which does hundreds of thousands of repairs per year.

A few weeks back, the company's first public-facing Relay robot was deployed into a FedEx Office location in Manhattan. Customers interact with Relay when bringing in mobile devices to be fixed and the robot then delivers those devices to a repair technician on site.

FedEx TechConnect is Savioke’s first customer in the large and growing logistics space. For more information visit the FedEx blog and Savioke's logistics landing page.

This announcement is an exciting step forward for Savioke.  Not only does it connect us to one of the most innovative companies in the world but it demonstrates Relay’s flexibility in indoor delivery solutions across a wide range of industries and uses.

Robots in Hospitality: Five Trends on the Horizon

Reprinted from Hospitality Technology Magazine

There’s no denying it: robots are becoming common helpers in hospitality, showing up in hotels and restaurants around the world. From Japan’s all-robot hotel, to Hilton’s robot concierge, to Savioke’s autonomous delivery robot, Relay, robots that serve hotel staff and guests are a growing trend. Robots are proving their value in restaurants, too, preparing meals, taking orders and even delivering food. Hospitality robots are clearly at a tipping point. They’re now cost-effective to build, are attaining cultural acceptance, and use sophisticated technology to safely live and work among us. But what’s next in this fast-moving field? In this article, Savioke discusses five key robot trends set to emerge in the hospitality sector. 1.  The number of people helped by hospitality robots will double by the end of 2017. Service robots that deliver room service, clean your hotel room, or entertain your kids are becoming more common – and they’ll become even more so in the coming year. As a December 2016 report on from Silicon Valley Robotics association says, robots’ roles in society are moving from “doing dirty, dull, and dangerous work to helping improve the lives of ordinary people.” In the near future, Savioke expects Relay to be joined by other “helper robots” that carry bags, give directions, clean rooms, and perform other low-level tasks that free up hotel staff to spend more time assisting guests. 2.  Robots will create a large number of jobs in hospitality and other sectors. Despite claims that robots will eliminate millions of jobs, they seem to be having the opposite effect. In fact, among hotels that use Relay robot, several have had to hire additional staff due to an increase in occupancy rates attributable to the robot. And it’s not just hotels using robots that will benefit. The robotics market is growing so exponentially fast, there will be huge demand for robot designers, engineers, programmers and business experts. To respond to this demand, higher education institutions have already added new robotics majors that span instruction in engineering, computer science, psychology, and kinesiology. And robots won’t just create jobs for highly-educated people. Service robots will help boost business in hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and other consumer-facing businesses - leading to increased revenues and additional hiring. 3.  Hospitality will be a pioneering industry for human-robot Interaction. Unlike robots on assembly lines or in factories, which are kept in cages for safety and only used by trained technicians, robots in hotels and restaurants must be easy to use and safe for everyone. They must be approachable, non-threatening, and helpful. And they must communicate clearly what they’re doing and where they’re going so people are delighted but never surprised. That’s why current hospitality robots will be a foundation for future robot design, especially for collaborative robots used in human environments. Roboticists will learn which robot features appeal to people - and which make them feel uncomfortable - so they can build robots that have the size, shape, sounds, movement, and personality that appeal to a wide swath of people, even those who’ve never seen a robot before. The best robot designers will also incorporate psychological principles (like empathy and emotional connection) to ensure success. 4.  Robots will be a critical data source. As robots perform tasks, they generate and collect all kinds of interesting data about customer satisfaction, purchase patterns, and other behaviors. Silicon Valley Robotics says, in 2017, robots will become “active mobile big data collectors” that can “unlock data-driven insights with potentially enormous additional business upside by leveraging the ubiquitous connectivity that is being made possible by cloud computing.” Since robots are machines connected to larger IoT networks, they can serve as data collection points as they interact with people or complete their tasks. It’s still early days in using robots for data analytics, but the use of robot-generated data to improve business processes and ROI in the hospitality industry is upon us. 5.  Anxiety about robots will be replaced with feelings of comfort and delight. Many people, particularly in the United States, have a lingering fear about robots, most likely due to the way they’re depicted in science-fiction movies. But that fear will dissipate as robots prove their value in terms of helping improve our lives. Just as ATMs, computers, and smartphones have become a part of everyday life, soon helper robots will just be accepted as tools to increase happiness and productivity and make life easier. The last vestiges of anxiety about robots will subside when people realize their immense value.  With hospitality leading in robot adoption, millions of people staying in hotels and eating in restaurants will soon come into contact with them. And we’ll soon see robots appear in other human environments such as stores, apartment buildings, and hospitals. Acceptance will happen quickly – just as people embraced smartphones seemingly overnight – ensuring that robots move from being novelties to useful, everyday helpers.

There’s no denying it: robots are becoming common helpers in hospitality, showing up in hotels and restaurants around the world. From Japan’s all-robot hotel, to Hilton’s robot concierge, to Savioke’s autonomous delivery robot, Relay, robots that serve hotel staff and guests are a growing trend. Robots are proving their value in restaurants, too, preparing meals, taking orders and even delivering food.

Hospitality robots are clearly at a tipping point. They’re now cost-effective to build, are attaining cultural acceptance, and use sophisticated technology to safely live and work among us. But what’s next in this fast-moving field? In this article, Savioke discusses five key robot trends set to emerge in the hospitality sector.

1.  The number of people helped by hospitality robots will double by the end of 2017. Service robots that deliver room service, clean your hotel room, or entertain your kids are becoming more common – and they’ll become even more so in the coming year. As a December 2016 report on from Silicon Valley Robotics association says, robots’ roles in society are moving from “doing dirty, dull, and dangerous work to helping improve the lives of ordinary people.” In the near future, Savioke expects Relay to be joined by other “helper robots” that carry bags, give directions, clean rooms, and perform other low-level tasks that free up hotel staff to spend more time assisting guests.

2.  Robots will create a large number of jobs in hospitality and other sectors. Despite claims that robots will eliminate millions of jobs, they seem to be having the opposite effect. In fact, among hotels that use Relay robot, several have had to hire additional staff due to an increase in occupancy rates attributable to the robot. And it’s not just hotels using robots that will benefit. The robotics market is growing so exponentially fast, there will be huge demand for robot designers, engineers, programmers and business experts. To respond to this demand, higher education institutions have already added new robotics majors that span instruction in engineering, computer science, psychology, and kinesiology. And robots won’t just create jobs for highly-educated people. Service robots will help boost business in hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and other consumer-facing businesses - leading to increased revenues and additional hiring.

3.  Hospitality will be a pioneering industry for human-robot Interaction. Unlike robots on assembly lines or in factories, which are kept in cages for safety and only used by trained technicians, robots in hotels and restaurants must be easy to use and safe for everyone. They must be approachable, non-threatening, and helpful. And they must communicate clearly what they’re doing and where they’re going so people are delighted but never surprised. That’s why current hospitality robots will be a foundation for future robot design, especially for collaborative robots used in human environments. Roboticists will learn which robot features appeal to people - and which make them feel uncomfortable - so they can build robots that have the size, shape, sounds, movement, and personality that appeal to a wide swath of people, even those who’ve never seen a robot before. The best robot designers will also incorporate psychological principles (like empathy and emotional connection) to ensure success.

4.  Robots will be a critical data source. As robots perform tasks, they generate and collect all kinds of interesting data about customer satisfaction, purchase patterns, and other behaviors. Silicon Valley Robotics says, in 2017, robots will become “active mobile big data collectors” that can “unlock data-driven insights with potentially enormous additional business upside by leveraging the ubiquitous connectivity that is being made possible by cloud computing.” Since robots are machines connected to larger IoT networks, they can serve as data collection points as they interact with people or complete their tasks. It’s still early days in using robots for data analytics, but the use of robot-generated data to improve business processes and ROI in the hospitality industry is upon us.

5.  Anxiety about robots will be replaced with feelings of comfort and delight. Many people, particularly in the United States, have a lingering fear about robots, most likely due to the way they’re depicted in science-fiction movies. But that fear will dissipate as robots prove their value in terms of helping improve our lives. Just as ATMs, computers, and smartphones have become a part of everyday life, soon helper robots will just be accepted as tools to increase happiness and productivity and make life easier. The last vestiges of anxiety about robots will subside when people realize their immense value.

 With hospitality leading in robot adoption, millions of people staying in hotels and eating in restaurants will soon come into contact with them. And we’ll soon see robots appear in other human environments such as stores, apartment buildings, and hospitals. Acceptance will happen quickly – just as people embraced smartphones seemingly overnight – ensuring that robots move from being novelties to useful, everyday helpers.

Relay is Honored Guest at Singularity University Event

Members of Singularity University’s Executive Program were treated to a personal introduction to Relay at the group’s Tech Demo Night on Monday at Moffett Field in Mountain View, CA.  Savioke’s senior mechanical engineer, Mia Shanholtzer, provided a hands-on demonstration of Relay while answering a range of questions about his technology and solutions.

The Executive Program at Singularity University (https://su.org/programs/executive-program/)  brings together 90+ senior executives from around the world to spend a week in Silicon Valley learning about future technologies and how they can solve the global challenges humanity faces.

Participants of the program are staying at the Aloft Cupertino, where they got to experience Relay (nicknamed “Botlr”) first hand as they had amenities and snack delivered directly to their guest rooms.   The group was so interested in and captivated by Relay, Singularity’s director invited Savioke to be part of the program so participants could learn and understand the robot at a deeper level.

Big thanks to the Singularity team for inviting us to show off Relay’s capabilities and talk about his successes.  We are looking forward to collaborating on more programs in the future.  

Savioke Named to the 2017 RBR50 List

RBR50.png

Savioke is thrilled to be named to the Robotics Business Review  Top 50 Companies to Watch in 2017! For a second-year running, Savioke joins an impressive list of top robotics companies on the RBR50 list, all doing groundbreaking work across markets and industries.

“For this year's list, our team had the daunting task of evaluating numerous competitive nominations. The RBR50 for 2017 represents the cream of the crop of the world's most innovative, most influential, and most commercially successful robotics companies,” said Eugene Demaitre, RBR senior editor.

The international RBR50 competition spans 10 countries and includes companies ranging from startups to established robotics companies such as Lockheed Martin and Softbank Robotics. Savioke is honored to be part of such an illustrious group of up-and-coming and proven robotics makers.

With 100,000 successful deliveries, our Relay robot has a track record of increasing productivity and delight for every customer he serves. It’s an exciting time for Savioke and this award is a testament to the team’s innovation and commitment to excellence.

Thanks for the recognition Robotics Business Review!

Savioke's Adrian Canoso to Join SXSW Panel on Robotics

Adrian Canoso, Savioke’s Head of Product & Design, is heading to South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin on March 15th to join a panel discussion on the future of sound in robotics technology.  Other members of this distinguished panel include Nuri Kim from Uber, Thavidu Ranatunga from Fellow Robots, and Hamish Tennent from Cornell University.

At Savioke, we’re always exploring new models of interaction for our robots using sound and digital innovation.  Communication is especially important for our Relay robot, which is working among people in busy environments.  “Because most people who encounter Relay are new to robots, it’s important that we immediately put them at ease and that means clear communication,” says Canoso.

Relay’s robotic beeps and chirps, combined with clear messaging and friendly personality, goes a long way to communicate his purpose and intentions.  “It’s critical that we don’t disappoint or confuse people so we keep everything simple,” says Canoso.  “We see the success of Relay’s communication style every day on the delighted faces of people who he serves.”

SXSW:  The Sound of Robots, March 15. 3:30 - 4:30 JW Marriott Salon 6, http://schedule.sxsw.com/2017/events/PP65771

Join the audience if you’re in Austin or keep an eye on Twitter for conversations about the panel.

How Robotic Delivery will Disrupt the Grocery Industry

Written for VentureBeat by Christian Fritz, Principal Robotics Application Engineer, Savioke

In the US, groceries is a $650 billion market. Which is not overly surprising because unless you are a robot, you need food and this probably won’t change, at least not in the foreseeable future. But what very well may change is how you get your groceries and prepared foods.

Currently, if you are an average consumer, you are going to the supermarket around 1.6 times per week and each time you spend on average around $32, or $51.20 per week. If each trip takes 30 minutes, then you incur an opportunity cost of 0.8 times your hourly wage per week. The median hourly wage for people with a Bachelor’s degree or more is currently approximately $24 in the US, which means these people essentially pay a 37.5% markup on the groceries they buy for going shopping themselves. Given these numbers, and given how boring and repetitive grocery shopping can be, it’s no surprise grocery delivery startups like Instacart have achieved $2B+ valuations. Grocery delivery startups are so popular, there are other startups that help you bootstrap your own grocery-shopping-as-a-service startup. All of this is good news because it means you won’t have to go shopping yourself anymore. But these services also have downsides: you no longer control when you receive your food and these services usually have minimum order sizes, making them impractical when you have a specific craving for ice cream right now.

But what if you could just get groceries in less than two minutes without even leaving your apartment? Another beer? This time try an amber rather than the lager you just had? Think guacamole would go extremely well with those Doritos you just opened? Missing an egg for Sunday morning pancakes? In other words, what if you could get groceries quickly delivered to your door with the click of a button or by saying, "Alexa, get me a beer".

This and a lot more will be possible in the next five years as robots become more reliable, inexpensive, and efficient. The necessary technologies to make the above a reality in high-rise apartment buildings already exist: In-door delivery robots that can safely and autonomously navigate around humans and take elevators. Such robots could remove items from refrigerated shelves in the basement and ferry them upstairs to apartment dwellers. The automated “bot-marts” could be operated by grocery retailers or residential property management companies. Together with RFID-based payment systems, loading and unloading mechanisms to and from the fridge, and AI algorithms to optimize inventory and restocking management, delivery bots could autonomously supply a building’s residents with groceries.

And because software could track the demand for specific items, these mini-marts could automatically order supplies as needed, eliminating waste. Since most consumers actually don’t change their grocery purchasing habits all that much each week, such a system could rather quickly learn what its residents like to eat and drink and make sure to always stock those items. This means you could have a never-empty fridge without ever having to go to the grocery store again. Once such a system is in place, there’s no reason automation couldn’t expand to restaurant delivery or on-demand, automated cooking. For instance, autonomous cooking robots can already prepare specific meals autonomously, including burgers, pizza, sandwiches, and coffee. There are even attempts to create general cooking robots that learn from human chefs to cook just about anything. Integrated with the bot-mart, these robots could provide residents with hot meal options.

Perhaps the only question remaining is whether there is a business case for this. The main cost driver would be restocking the on-site shelves, and revenue could come from a monthly flat service fee for residents. Given the opportunity cost of going shopping, one could charge up to $20 per week per resident! In a 20-story high-rise with four units per floor, this would mean $1,600 of revenue per week. And this still leaves a lot of upside with higher-income residents who will value this service even more. Initially, this may only be profitable for high-rises that are big enough, but over time, automated grocery delivery could be expanded to single-family homes. That will require secured outdoor delivery robots that can deliver from automated fridges spread across neighborhoods; and self-driving cars and trucks will help further automate the restocking process to where even the cost of that can be reduced to a minimum. Eventually, robotic grocery shopping will not only be more convenient but also cheaper than going shopping yourself.

The speed of innovation in robotics delivery is ever increasing and startups are finding new, profitable applications that benefit the consumer, both indoors and outdoors. This spans from warehouse logistics, hotel room service, and hospital delivery, to take-out, drug, blood, and, most importantly, beer delivery. While it is still too early to tell how the arrival of this technology will eventually reshuffle the cards in the logistics market, one thing is clear: consumers will find it ever easier to get what they want, when they want it, where they want it. Some people may enjoy driving to Whole Foods, fighting parking lot rage while they circle for a spot, picking out items one by one, pushing a cart into a long line, and then lugging groceries home. But I’ll bet most people find grocery shopping a chore and would rather have bots do it for them. That future is not far off.

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.