Reimagining Intralogistics with Savioke

My new year 2016 begins with robots — even in hotels now!

Early January 2016, during a startup field trek to the Bay Area, I visited the Grand Hotel in Sunnyvale, California. I had just been on a 28-hour long flight from India, and I was too tired and lazy to walk to the reception to collect a toothbrush and a sandwich. It was late in the night past 11 pm so I called the reception to enquire if they were open for room service. The receptionist surprisingly sounded excited to help. In less than 10 minutes, I receive a call in a somewhat automated but pleasant voice tone, asking me to open my room door. I’m amazed! There is a cute little robot at my door. The lid of the robot pops open — carrying a toothbrush and a sandwich. The robot had a pleasant design with a slick and ‘simple’ user interface. I gave it a 5-star rating using its intuitive touchpad. It rolled its eyes, said bye, and then headed back to the reception.

Over the last few years, I have seen myriad types and forms of robots — some under development at Carnegie Mellon University, and also a variety of industrial robots during my internship at General Motors. I knew that with advancement in technology, the market and investments in the field of robotics has been growing exponentially over the last few years. As per the McKinsey report on disruptive technologies, it is estimated that the application of advanced robotics across healthcare, manufacturing and services could generate a potential economic impact of $1.7 trillion to $4.5 trillion per year by 2025. However, until this day — I had not yet seen many deployed robots that were ‘independently’ solving problems directly in open spaces near end consumers. I felt proud as a fellow engineer — the Savioke team had accomplished precise navigation in variable environments along with automated interaction with both building elements including elevators and human stakeholders including guests and receptionists.

Since I had a very delightful experience with the Savioke robot, I was curious to learn about the experiences of the hotel staff and other hotel guests. Next morning I spoke to the receptionist — he was happy to help, and also offered to connect me to the Hotel IT lead. My conversations with the hotel staff and guests convinced me that while Savioke has a lot more to accomplish — it has successfully delivered an efficient, reliable, and simple solution to a real customer problem.

So what’s the real problem Savioke is trying to solve with this initial system?

Intralogistics can be expensive, mundane, repetitive, and in many cases unavailable. With Relay, Savioke is trying to first provide an intralogistics solution to the hospitality industry. The hotel staff used Relay to deliver smaller items that required less customer interaction such as toothbrush, towels, water bottle, and silverware. Servicing such requests is increasingly expensive, and many times the service charge and tips for providing them is higher than the cost of the item itself. In many of the hotels today — not just 2 or 3 star, but also premium hotels — room service for such items is not offered or is not efficient. Furthermore, in instances with multiple simultaneous room service requests, requests of these small items are also often deprioritized and delayed.

Relay not only brings down intralogistics costs for hotels enabling them to continue providing these services efficiently, but also improves the customer journey significantly.

What makes Relay by Savioke a great product?

Relay is functionally useful, simple to use, and can be trusted to make reliable deliveries. It further improves guest satisfaction by reliably delivering delight, and leaving a feeling of pride and comfort amongst hotel staff. As the team at Savioke describes it — “He is sophisticated on the inside yet fun on the outside.”

Relay does very well in terms of functionality — the entire system is well integrated and the robot can work almost independently without adult supervision. It is able to automatically navigate through the hotel including elevators, call hotel guests, and even go to its charging station. Thus making the solution viable as the hotel does not need staff to maintain the robot.

The user interface on the robot is simple to use and intuitive to understand for both the hotel staff and the guests.

Experience of the hotel guest
Web Application to monitor Relay

The hotel staff can also check the status of the robot, monitor its view, and call it to make another delivery via a simple web application. Relay’s exceptional use of a human-centered design simplifying a rather complicated robotics system definitely gives it a leg up.

Savioke with Relay as a service model — provides an end-to-end solution to hotel owners that comes with an efficient deployment process making it easy for the hotel to get started. Since the hotel owners do not need to purchase the system up front the barriers to entry are reduced allowing Savioke to deploy and test in a wider market.

Trust is a big barrier to entry while deploying new robotic solutions but on the other hand without deploying the systems it is very hard to build trust. Savioke’ ‘Robotics as a service’ model helps solve this chicken and egg problem

The receptionist I spoke to also said that “the bot really hasn’t given us any trouble in the last few months. Initially there were slight issues navigating to the charging station. But Savioke monitors the robot remotely and fixed the problem — sometimes even before we realized. They even sent someone in immediately — whenever need be.” Creating such successful experiences is helping Savioke create trust amongst the hotel owners, which would eventually translate into more sales. Furthermore, Relay is built on the strong technology platform and has proven to be very fault tolerant. This reliability has helped build confidence amongst the hotel staff as they believe they could trust Relay to perform the assigned work. Also, having a robot provide room service for de-prioritized small-items or during the wee hours, further increase the hotel guest’s trust and satisfaction with hotel’ room service.

The excitement that customers experience when a robot butler shows up is unparalleled. Digital eyes and cute sounds have been used effectively to convey emotions which the guests love. The hotel staff suggested few guests have literally followed Relay back to its docking station and asked for demos. Stories like these spread and set trends — very necessary for a new solution to become mainstream. Personally, I believe at least for the next few years until consumer robotics becomes mainstream — early adopting hotels would directly benefit from the publicity this generates. The good news for Savioke is that majority of the people who have seen this product were delighted both by the efficiency of the service and experience. The emotional connection of the early customers really shows its potential.

So what do people think about it?

One individual posted the following after seeing Relay at CES:

“There were robots. Terrifying robots. Terrifying six-legged four-foot-tall arachnid robots, plus a small army of its brethren doing a synchronized dance. It was creepy. Then there was the Savioke Relay. If this is what the robot uprising looks like, I have bad news: we’re all doomed, because its cuteness is disarming. They gave it eyes. They gave it happy little digital eyes that somehow manage to convey more expression than certain people I know.”

Twitter Sentiments are positive

So what should Savioke do next in terms of product?

The Bin Size and Shape for Relay currently is fairly small and it cannot really transport larger items. I would redesign the bin with room service items and will also try to incorporate options to carry hot snacks. Further analysis of service request data can help Savioke decide whether separate compartments to serve multiple rooms in single trip makes sense.

Integration of a Video Calling application such as Facetime or Skype would enable seamless guest interaction with the receptionist whenever necessary. The ‘Are you Satisfied’ screen could be updated to include a ‘Connect with Reception’ button.

Mobile App integration to allow hotel guests to order items without making calls. Such a simple application could further help reduce the workload for the receptionist. Guests would be able to order items directly without interacting with the receptionist. This would also enable further optimization of delivery scheduling. An interesting example of such an app by Marriott is available at http://mobileapp.marriott.com/mobile-requests/.

Integrating voice commands and experimenting with a larger form factor to carry luggage (personal porter) or complete food trays will also be interesting.

Exciting prospects for Savioke?

Deploying a fleet of robots into the real world and capturing data would enable Savioke to gather information and feedback early on. I believe Savioke is following a model similar to Tesla. Where Tesla is working to create a fully-autonomous vehicle it already has a fleet of electric vehicles that are functional in the real world and gathering data for it. When the time comes this approach will truly puts Savioke ahead in the game compared to other Robotics companies. Savioke has built its technology on top of the ‘Robotics Operating System’ by Willow Garage with a platform architecture. Employing a platform strategy with a focus to conquer one very large market — the hospitality industry — will further allow it to expand into other market segments such as healthcare, offices, and education. Beyond hospitality the healthcare industry seems to be very lucrative — an area Savioke has been eyeing. Gartner predicts that robotics in hospitals and assisted living centers would be worth more than $800 billion to $2.6 trillion by 2020. Nurses invest large amounts of time moving items like medicines, linen, waste, etc. in and out of rooms of patients. The amount of intra logistics involved in hospitals and assisted living centers is exceptionally high and very expensive to maintain. Savioke could help bring down costs making medical care more affordable.

One might argue that ‘would we really want robots to replace human touch’ especially for such sensitive tasks. However, I believe effort and money spared on mundane tasks can be invested into other more valuable forms of interaction.

Logistics is a huge part of day to day life. Services like Postmates, UPS, Uber, and now the driverless cars are trying to solve the logistics problem outside the building. Savioke is trying to solve this problem inside buildings. It’s one step forward to move towards ‘The Jetsons’ world where people can focus on more meaningful interactions whereas logistics can be handled by autonomous systems. Definitely to be a financially stable business like any logistics platform provider wider deployment and adoption would be fundamental.

Some interesting facts and figures!

Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter@sakshig12 or connect with me on LinkedIn