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.

 

Meet Crowne Plaza's Dash by Savioke

Savioke is proud to announce that another innovative hotel is using our autonomous delivery robots to provide expedient and delightful service to its guests.  The Crowne Plaza San Jose-Silicon Valley is the latest hotel property to begin using Savioke's Relay, which they call Dash. Dash is part of the Crowne Plaza front desk team and specializes in delivering items to guests in their rooms. Dash allows the other members of the front desk team to focus on value-added customer service that only people can provide. 
 
"We pride ourselves in making business travel work for our guests, and Dash will further enhance the guest experience through providing quick and seamless delivery of snacks, toothbrushes and other amenities to hotel guests," said Winnie Kwok, GM of Crowne Plaza San Jose-Silicon Valley. "Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, our hotel is making use of the best technology innovation that Silicon Valley has to offer."
 
To learn more about Crowne Plaza's Dash check out the official release:

1000 Kilometers and counting

We're proud to report on some big milestones at Savioke. In the course of doing over 4000 deliveries, our robots have now traversed over 1000 km autonomously indoors, well over half of that on trips involving elevator rides. We have also retired the last SaviOne robot from the field, so all hotel deliveries going forward will be done by our new Relay robots. 

Thanks to all those guests of the Cupertino Aloft and Silicon Valley Aloft hotels who have tried the Botlr robot delivery service, taken selfies with the robots, and posted very nice Trip Advisor reviews mentioning them. And a special thanks to the Aloft staff members who tirelessly answer the questions "what is that?" and "what does it do?" with "try it!"

We can't wait for the day when there are thousands of Relay robots doing deliveries all around the world, but right now we're celebrating this important milestone along the way.

Robots in Texas? You Betcha

Savioke will be in Austin, Texas from June 15-18 at the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference (HITEC 2015).   Relay will be on hand to dazzle and delight the attendees, and demonstrate the future of autonomous delivery.  

Stop by to meet Savioke representatives and take a selfie with Relay at Savioke's Booth 955 at the Austin Convention Center.

Also, hear CEO Steve Cousins on Wednesday, June 17th at 4 pm as he discusses how hotels have been using Savioke robots, the impact on OSAT, and what to expect in 2015 and beyond.  

And whether you are attending HITEC or not, please follow us on Twitter @Savioke and #HITEC2015 for updates from Austin. 

Successful Pilot

Savioke is proud to announce the successful conclusion of its SaviOne pilot as we transition into our next phase of delivery robots. Over the past six months, SaviOne has made over 2000 deliveries and driven over 300 kilometers. This is an unprecedented feat - our robots glided around crowds of people, rode with human counterparts in elevators, and interacted with guests as they handed off deliveries to them, all on their own, autonomously.

Early in the pilot, a Savioke "wrangler" followed the robot on all runs, acting like the safety driver in an autonomous car - not touching the controls. After extensive testing and refinement, we let SaviOne work on its own and it has been delivering snacks, drinks, and amenities without supervision ever since. We’ve expanded our fleet into more hotels and we’re excited about announcing our upcoming partners in the coming weeks.

With every end there is a new beginning: we're proud to provide a sneak peak at our next beloved robot, the all new Relay, and our early adopter program. In the spirit of teamwork and speedy deliveries, Relay works with staff to "relay" items from one person to another.  We have redesigned Relay from the ground up for volume manufacturability while expanding upon the charm that people have come to love and the service that they rely on.

Sit tight, we'll provide more information about Relay in the coming weeks. 

Stay tuned and find out how you can get involved in our early adopter program. We’re excited to announce the next step in our mission to develop robots that provide a revolutionary experience for staff and guests alike.

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.