Robots have been put to work in manufacturing and other industries for decades now. But until recently, most were so dangerous that they needed to be kept behind barriers to protect their human coworkers.
Steve Cousins, the former CEO of famed robotics lab Willow Garage, wants to move the new generation of human-friendly robots into the service sector. His latest startup, Savioke, announced today that it has raised $2 million in seed funding to further develop its first autonomous, easy-to-use robot. Morado Venture Partners led the round, joined by AME Cloud Ventures, Google Ventures and individual investors.
“We think there is a huge [opportunity] in the service industry: places where people live, sleep, work eat, but they are not homes,” Cousins said. “It will signal a very important step in moving robots out of the lab and out of the factory and really starting to see them among us.”
Savioke isn’t yet ready to release specifics on the robot, but Cousins said in an interview that a prototype exists. He said the design process involved “simplifying down” from Willow Garage’s PR2 robot (pictured above), which was highly functional but retailed for hundreds of thousands of dollars, to find the right combination of value and price.
Savioke’s robot is made possible by a new generation of affordable sensors, the rise of low-power computing and a general understanding of robots from years of working at Willow Garage. Willow Garage, which is best known for the PR2 and TurtleBot robots and ROS open source software platform, spun off eight startups before losing most of its remaining employees to Suitable Technologies in August.
Cousins said Savioke was brought to life after Willow Garage wound down and several members of his team still wanted to work on robots for everyday life. While the home might be too hectic for a robot more complicated than a Roomba right now, the service industry offers more structure. He named hospitals, offices and elder care centers as places that might make use of the robot.
The startup is looking to do trials with customers as soon as this year. Cousins added that he expects people will begin seeing the robot in their everyday lives over the next few years.
“Seeing robots that are actually starting to help us in our own lives is the direction we want to go, and this is a very important step along that path,” Cousins said.