Acknowledgements

We are one year old this month, and have been working on SaviOne since October. This is an extremely busy time for Savioke, but I don’t want to let this moment pass without acknowledging at least a few of the many people who have helped us get to this point.

First and foremost, I have learned something from every one of the hundreds of people who worked at Willow Garage. Indeed, it was a deep robotics education for me, made possible by Scott Hassan who founded that company. Willow Garage brought the Savioke founding team together, and was a place where we could get a broad view of the robotics landscape.

The Willow Garage family included Creativa 77, a company in Argentina led by Julian Cerruti. They have been working closely with us as an extended part of our team, contributing directly in areas such as navigation logic, user interface, software architecture as well as leading services engagement with our customers in the area of Android-based autonomous navigation for ground and aerial vehicles.

The Robot Operating System (ROS), created by Willow Garage and a number of universities, notably Stanford, and contributed to by a worldwide community that I won’t attempt to enumerate here, is the basis for our work. ROS maintenance and evolution is now led by the Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF), and Brian Gerkey and the great team there continue to be extremely responsive to needs of the community, including us.

ROS, and more generally the fact that we can now build commercial robots, is made possible by the thousands of researchers who have been working on fundamental problems for decades. It would be impossible to describe this body of work in a short blog, but let me give a concrete example. At the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Robotics Institute, hundreds of mobile robots from self-driving cars to indoor robots like ours have been developed over the past 30 years. Manuela Veloso’s CoBots group has had mobile robots running around the CMU campus since 2009, an effort that gives us confidence that indoor navigation around people over long periods of time is indeed possible. Her work builds on prior work at CMU and around the world. Organizations like the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society, Silicon Valley Robotics, and RoboBusiness have kept the fire alive for this budding industry for a long time now.

On the hardware side, we are the beneficiaries of technical progress on a wide number of fronts. 3D printers, especially low-cost versions made widely available by the “Maker” community, have enabled us to build and refine great-looking prototypes at an unprecedented rate (we particularly like MakerGear and GigaBot!). We benefit from 50 years of exponentially decreasing processor costs, low-cost sensors from the game industry, readily available electric motors and gearboxes, batteries, etc.

Operationally, we have been able to move very quickly thanks to Amazon Prime, and more generally the ability to purchase components or have them made, and have them delivered within a day or two. And we’ve found trusted partners that help us move fast, particularly Function Engineering for mechanical systems and OLogic for electrical systems. Ruth Mohanram at Many Happy Returns does an amazing job for us (and many other startups) on HR and Finance.

We benefit from being part of a very supportive community of people who have been informal or formal advisors, making suggestions and introductions that are invaluable, people like Mark Frisse, Mark Yim, Adam Schroeder, Henry Evans, Dan Steere, Steve Croft, Stefan Nusser, Shiz Kobara, and many others. We’re fortunate to be in Silicon Valley, where the investment culture is such that there is a large group of people who are willing to listen to new ideas, offer advice, and fund them if they seem promising. Manu Kumar, an investor and friend, pointed out that if you want contacts in the hotel industry you literally just have to go to hotels and ask for the manager. All of our investors have been willing to give us feedback on strategy questions, and Google Ventures in particular has an extensive support network of designers, marketers, and other experts available to help their portfolio companies.

Finally, thanks to the folks at Starwood for believing we could make this robot work, and helping us to find ways to delight their guests and empower their people, and for Lance McCurdy and Jeff Zogg at the Aloft Cupertino for “getting it” right away and supporting the SaviOne/Botlr pilot.

Your Robot Butler Has Arrived

SaviOne-in-hallway.jpg

All of us at Savioke are pleased to announce the unveiling of our new robot – SaviOne.

As of August 20, anyone who wants to see our robot in person can do so at the Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, California.  The only catch is that you'll have to be a guest there and forget to pack your toothbrush or cell phone charger - because SaviOne is a service robot designed for the hospitality industry.  Guests that request items from the front desk can have that item delivered by a robot. 

Next week marks the beginning of Savioke's pilot program, and we are very excited to be partnering with Starwood Hotels and Resorts, the parent company of Aloft Hotels. You can read Starwood's own announcement here.

Savioke will expand its pilot program to include additional hotels early next year.  Anyone wishing to sign up for our early adopter program can do so here: http://www.savioke.com/contact/.  

Guests at the Aloft Hotel in Cupertino are able to meet A.L.O., Starwood's name for the newest member of their team, the first “Botlr”.  

The robot is approximately 3 feet tall, weighs less than 100 lbs., has a carrying capacity of 2 cubic feet, and is designed to travel at a human walking pace.  It can even travel independently between floors via the hotel elevator.  When Aloft's A.L.O. arrives at the appropriate guest room, it phones the guest to announce its arrival, delivers the goods and makes its way back to the front desk.  A.L.O. will know when a guest opens the door via an onboard camera. Once the door opens, A.L.O. will unlock, open its lid and provide instructions through onscreen prompts for guests to remove the item and close the lid.  

We expect A.L.O. to delight guests, and also believe that some travelers will make a point of visiting the Cupertino Aloft for the sole purpose of getting a chance to meet A.L.O. in person. We believe the staff has more important things to do than deliver a toothbrush or a package of chips to a room, and that they would prefer to spend their time creating a more personalized experience for guests.

According to Brian McGuinness, Global Brand Leader of Aloft Hotels, "The appointment of Botlr makes Aloft the first major hotel chain to utilize robots both back and front of the house. People have been waiting decades for their robot butler to arrive and we’re happy that the time has finally come and that our guests can be the first in the world to take advantage of this amazing technology and service breakthrough."

Is tipping appropriate? We're not sure, but tweets and selfies with A.L.O. are more than welcome at #meetbotlr.

They say that every journey begins with a single step.  Next week marks a major milestone in our mission to create autonomous robots for the services industry.  Except, in this case our robot’s journey begins with a single robot wheel rotation.

SAVIOKE SECURES SEED FUNDING FROM AME CLOUD VENTURES, GOOGLE VENTURES AND MORADO VENTURE PARTNERS

Former Willow Garage CEO to Lead Service Robotics Company

SUNNYVALE, Calif.,  —  April 9, 2014Savioke today announced that it has raised $2 million in seed financing from lead investor Morado Venture Partners, along with AME Cloud Ventures, Google Ventures, and individual investors.  Savioke will use the funding to further develop its inaugural robot, focusing on the services industry.  

CEO Steve Cousins and the team at Savioke established the company in 2013. Cousins was previously president and CEO of the personal robotics pioneer Willow Garage, where he oversaw the creation of the robot operating system (ROS), the PR2 robot, and the open source TurtleBot. In the last three years of his tenure at Willow Garage, Cousins also managed the successful spin-off of eight different robotics companies.  

“We are passionate about delivering easy-to-use yet sophisticated robots that can help people. Our goal is to improve the lives of people by developing and deploying robotic technology in service environments.”

— Steve Cousins, CEO of Savioke

“There’s a unique entrepreneurial excitement surrounding Silicon Valley’s robotics industry today, and much of that is due to the efforts of the team at Savioke. As the market for service robots continues to grow, AME is pleased to offer our support to Savioke.”

— Jerry Yang, Founding Partner at AME Cloud Ventures

“As the lines continue to blur between industrial and personal robotics industries, Google Ventures is thrilled to be working with an exceptional group of people at Savioke. Steve and his team already have had a lot to do with moving the robotics industry forward. The next act promises to be even more revolutionary.”

— Andy Wheeler, General Partner at Google Ventures

“In Savioke, we see an exceptional team focused on a substantial problem. They have a unique vision for bringing autonomous service robots to market, and the technology chops and proven track record to build an outstanding robot.”

— Ash Patel, Managing Director at Morado Venture Partners

The Savioke team includes a wide variety of experts in the field of robotics, business, and design, including robot hardware and software.  The company's robot will utilize and build upon ROS, the open source robot operating system.  

Savioke plans to begin customer trials later this year.

About Savioke
Savioke (pronounced "savvy oak") is creating autonomous robots for the services industry. Savioke aims to improve the lives of people by developing and deploying robotic technology in human environments.  Savioke was founded in 2013 and is headquartered in Sunnyvale, CA.  For more information, please visit http://www.savioke.com, or follow the company @Savioke

Press Contact:
Tim Smith
Element Public Relations
415-350-3019
tsmith@elementpr.com

TOP TEN THINGS I LEARNED AT WILLOW GARAGE

[Originally presented at the
Silicon Valley Robotics Investor Forum in Palo Alto,
with an obvious homage to David Letterman]

10. Focus Focus Focus. When I started at Willow Garage, we had two projects (an autonomous car and an autonomous boat) and were planning to grow to 60 people, and I thought we needed to “round out the portfolio.” WRONG. Well, kind of wrong… the third project, the personal robot, ended up being the one we focused on. But it was absolutely the right thing to do to focus.

9. Market First - What Does It Do? Willow Garage produced the PR2 robot, a $400K two-armed, mobile manipulator that was capable of doing all kinds of things. We programmed it to play pool, to deliver a beer from the fridge, and delivered it to researchers who made it do tons of more things. But that question “what does it do” was always hard to answer. The real answer was that it enabled researchers to advance robotics, but that’s not the answer someone asking “what does it do” was looking for.

8. “Research Market” is an Oxymoron. Lots of startups have focused their marketing efforts on the academic research market. It’s attractive, because the customers are just like us. They have a little money, so you get paying early adopters. But it’s very difficult for companies to jump to a “real market” after starting this way.

7. Home vs. Factory is a false dichotomy. There is more to the world than just homes and factories. There is a whole service industry in the middle, with hospitals, restaurants, hotels, elder care facilities, offices, that is virtually untouched by robotic hands - hundreds of billions of dollars of market opportunity, virtually untapped.

6. $400K is too much for a service robot. Not always too much for a robot - “too much” depends on use, and certainly there are space robots or special-purpose robots that would be worth much more. But the robot has to provide more value than it costs, and $400K is a lot of cost.

5. The Press Loves Robots. Robots capture our imagination, and this cuts both ways. It’s easier to get attention for a humanoid robot than it is for much other technology, but the history of robots in movies and stories sometimes raises unrealistic expectations.

4. Less is More. The statement “build the minimum viable product (MVP)” is very true - any extra features add cost, complexity, and risk. This is well known, but so tempting that it’s worth repeating, as a mantra, about once every couple of days in a startup.

3. Perfect autonomy is not necessary. A service robot is part of a system that is designed to do some work, and it is fair game to augment the environment or have a human in the loop as long as the overall cost is acceptab

2. $15M is too big for a Series A funding round. Period.

1. Simple is Hard… and worth it. A successful venture will try to simplify everything: the use of the product, the adoption curve, the sales process, etc. Nest is a beautiful example of taking common technology and making it easy on the outside in spite of the complexity on the inside.

WHO ARE WE AND WHY ARE WE HERE?

[I was once advised that every presentation should either implicitly or explicitly answer “who are you and why are you here?” at the beginning, since the audience will be trying to figure it out before they hear your message anyway. I was once asked the question directly during a job interview… awkward, especially since I’d been working with the interviewer as in intern for 6 months… but I digress.]

We are a group of people who intend to make the world a better place by creating robots that help people. We do not intend to create a race of robot overlords. Rather, we will create robots that enable people to do more: to stretch outside the bounds of our bodies, to do things we could never do, or can no longer do.

We are also impatient. Many of us have the training to be successful academic researchers, but we want to see the results of our work sooner rather than later. We want to solve problems and then see our solutions in action, making the world a better place.

We want to change the world. Although robots are often portrayed as evil or controlling, that’s more Hollywood story-making than reality. We have seen firsthand the power that robots under human control can have for good: we are inspired by the stories on the Robots for Humanity website (r4h.org), in which robots help people to overcome disabilities.

Although Savioke is only a few months old, the founding team had worked together at Willow Garage (www.willowgarage.com), where we contributed to Robots for Humanity with the PR2 robots, and where we forged our resolve to put robots into the world for good.

TESSA LAU GIVES TALK AT MIT MEDIA LAB

On Friday, November 22, 2013, Savioke Chief Robot Whisperer Tessa Lau gave a talk at the MIT Media Lab on usable robots for all.

Abstract

About a year ago, knowing nothing about robotics, Tessa Lau joined Willow Garage with one mission: to create robots so easy to use that everyone, including persons with disabilities, could use them to improve their lives. From an HCI researcher's perspective, robotics is a very rich field: incredibly complex systems which are sorely in need of good design and usable interfaces. Because of their complexity, merely using robots requires precise specification of what they should do: in short, programming. Yet how can we expect mere mortals to program robots? In this talk Lau will detail what it is about robotics that makes programming difficult for end users, and propose a few strategies that may help get more robots out into the world.

Biography

Dr. Tessa Lau is Chief Robot Whisperer and co-founder at Savioke, where she is creating a new generation of usable robots for the service industry. Previously, Dr. Lau was a Research Scientist at Willow Garage, where she led an effort to develop simple interfaces for personal robots based on end user programming. She also spent 11 years at IBM Research developing end user programming systems for enterprises. More generally, Dr. Lau's research is in the area of intelligent user interfaces: combining techniques from artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction to create systems that enhance human productivity and creativity. She has served on organizing and program committees for major AI and HCI conferences and journals. She also served on the board of CRA-W, the CRA committee on the status of women in computing research. Dr. Lau holds a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Washington.

FORBES ARTICLE ON SAVIOKE

STEPPING OUT OF THE LAB: STEVE COUSINS' NEW ROBOTICS COMPANY

by Jennifer Hicks, Contributor

At the Pioneers Festival in Vienna, several of the leading voices in robotics, including Rodney Brooks, Founder, CTO and Chairman of Rethink Robotics, and Steve Cousins, former CEO of Willow Garage gathered to have a candid discussion about the future of robotics.

Read full article on Forbes site...