Robots in demand: A new era of mainstream robotics

Robotics start-ups are beginning to get global recognition as consumers are finally indicating a demand for their services. First there were robot vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers, then robot chefs. Now robot (driverless) cars are making their way onto our roads. With populations ageing rapidly in many countries, the maturation of this technology could hardly be better timed. Robotics hotspots, such as the research divisions supported by Cambridge corporate finance in the UK, are set to drive the next wave of big robotics exits.

Busy consumers want robots to perform mundane household tasks: A survey of smartphone owners that was conducted by Ericsson ConsumerLab in ten cities around the world during October 2014 found that the task consumers most wanted robots to help them with was doing the laundry (57% of respondents). This was followed by teaching them how to use technology (50% of respondents), cooking (49%), driving (46%), advice on what to eat (44%), help with mobility (41%), helping children with their homework (40%) and keeping them company (36%). 64% of respondents were of the opinion that household robots would be commonplace by 2020.

The first domestic robots to enter the public consciousness in a significant way were robotic vacuum cleaners like iRobot Corp’s Roomba. iRobot Corp shipped almost 500,000 of these devices worldwide during the first three months of 2015 alone. Given the fondness of many people for anthropomorphising robots (treating them like humans), it is unsurprising that some have personalised or ´pimped´ these devices, indicating that customisable robots are likely to prove popular with consumers.

Robotic lawnmowers are also increasingly commonplace, while robotic gardeners like Droplet (a smart sprinkler system) are beginning to emerge. “We can accurately target two plants less than 15cm away from each other and give them very different amounts of water… we take into account weather data, so if there’s an 80% chance of a thunderstorm tonight, it’ll delay and wait to see if the rain actually falls”, according to Droplet Robotics founder Steve Fernholz. Apart from their convenience, such devices are also likely to prove popular in such locations as California, where water is increasingly scarce and expensive.

Cooking robots like Thermomix or Bimby (as it is called in some markets), which is made German company Vorwerk & Co., have been around for a number of years. Bimby consists of a stainless-steel container and a steaming unit and has the appearance of food processor. It weighs ingredients, chops, grates, blends, beats, mixes and cooks without human intervention.

Despite costing more than $1,000, it has proven to be particularly popular in Italy and Portugal – countries not traditionally associated with the early adoption of high-tech gadgets. However, many users claim that it saves them money in the long run as they eat more meals cooked from scratch and buy less processed food. Such devices could also help people to eat healthier diets. Discussing the popularity of this device in Portugal, the Wall Street Journal described it as “a multitasker that outsells high-end iPads and is more popular on Facebook than the country’s best-known rock band”.

Perhaps the single area with the greatest potential in this area is self-driving cars, where the car is effectively a robot. Google has been a pioneer in this regard. It is planning to start test drives of a prototype self-driving car it has manufactured on public roads during summer 2015. During early 2015, riding-sharing company Uber began to work with the National Robotics Engineering Center at Cargenie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on driverless technology, something that would be a natural fit with its existing business model.


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