6 service robots at CES-2020

A comprehensive review by Oleg Kivokurtsev, Promobot CBDO.

CES is the largest consumer technology convention in the world. It has been held since 1967 in various cities: New York, Chicago and Las Vegas. Since 1995 it is held in Las Vegas permanently. All types of companies are presented at CES ― from tiny startups to industry giants. It was CES where a compact disc, a video camera and Xbox were first shows to the world. In 2020, a foldable laptop and an invisible keyboard were featured at the event.

For 2020 one of the expo’s trends were indoor service robots. This is our third time at CES, before that it was two service robots at best per several hundreds companies who had a booth at the event. This time, it is six different robots. I decided to visit all of these companies, spoke with reps, took a few pictures and made some conclusions. In this review I will share what I gathered.

The main goal of service robotics is to optimize the presence or completely exclude a human involvement in tasks that are distinctly menial or repetitive and relate to the service industry. Sooner or later we will find robots across different industries performing in three areas of work: the dangerous one, the filthy one and the boring one. Service robots are responsible mostly for the latter: they operate as consultants, administrators, receptionists, vendors. They give the same answers to the same questions, issue the same passes and scan the same documents.

Amy robotics

Founded: 2004
Country: China
Main business: robotic vacuums
Service robot solution: Amy robot
Sales: 2000 pcs.
Countries of work: 20
Price: $7000

According to its creators, Amy is designed to consult and answer users’ questions in various crowded places. Another functionality that was mentioned is using the robot at restaurants ― for that, the company developed immovable arms and put a tray in them.

According to the company’s CEO, more than 2000 robots were sold, albeit mostly in China. The company mentioned that due to difficulties related to technical support it is hard for them to enter the international market. That seems like the case if you consider that it was planned to have three Amys at CES, but instead just two were presented and one of them was shut down throughout the whole event.

Just like other visitors at the booth, I was unable to chat with Amy ― it didn’t recognize my face nor my speech. It couldn’t see me and it couldn’t hear me, period.

Canbot

Founded: 2007
Country: China
Main business: service robot
Service robot solution: Canbot
Sales: 10000 pcs.
Countries of work: 15
Price: $30000

Aside from Canbot’s standard functionality as service robot in crowded places, it can also serve as a home assistant. A big Canbot advantage is the design: its arms, head and body are detachable and can be transported easily.

I chatted with the company’s CTO about their robot and mentioned that I’d like to speak with it. The director’s response was that the robot won’t hear me because there’s no internet at the expo and that it’s too loud here anyway. He asked if I’d like to see the robot dance. While I liked the moves, especially accompanied by Rihanna soundtrack, I definitely can’t commend it for its communicative functions.

According to CTO, they got $500 million in investments from the Chinese government. So far, at least according to company reps, they sold 10 000 robots in 15 countries around the world. What’s interesting is that the price tag is quite significant, especially for the service robot market ― each robot costs $30 000. When I asked about technical support, I was informed that they would gladly repair the robot should anything go wrong, it simply has to be sent back to Shenzhen. Wondering if anybody will try that in light of recent news.

Since I never met Canbot in action I decided to find more info on the internet. After all, I managed to find Amy online, so what gives? But as it turned out,

  • There are no news about investments in the company, nor are there any news about any large deals.
  • Before somebody asks, not just on Google but across the Chinese outlets also.
  • The official(?) YouTube channel for Canbot has 16 subscribers.
  • #Canbot on Instagram shows toys rather than service robots.

Chuangze intelligent robot

Founded: 2010
Country: China
Main business: service robot
Service robot solution: Intelligent Commercial Service Robot
Sales: 2000 pcs.
Countries of work: 1
Price: $27000

Chuangze’s booth was the largest one for service robots at CES. 10 ambassadors were presenting 4 robots, no less. Interestingly, only one of those ten people spoke English.

From what I managed to ask, the company attracted investments from the chinese government for the amount of several hundred million dollars, just like every other one from the region. Aside from service robots Chuangze produce home robots and security robots.

The robot under the name Intelligent Commercial Service Robot (try and say that three times) did not respond to my attempts to break the ice. None of the members of the team could explain it to me, I came up with two reasons for that: either jet lag or the good old ‘first night in Vegas’ hangover.

The company hasn’t made any attempts at export so far. At the very least this would require a second language or jet lag resistance.

Hancom robot

Founded: 2014
Country: Korea
Main business: Specialized software development
Service robot solution: Hancom
Sales: 0 pcs.
Countries of work: 1
Price: N/A

At joint booth of Korean companies (not Northern, Southern, why is it even jointed anyways?) I found Hancom Inc., the service robot developer and their new product ― a robot assistant Hancom.

According to Hancom CEO, the company hasn’t sold any robots just yet and the development for it was arranged out of company’s own funds. Their first deals were expected at CES.

Just as the case with the Chinese companies, their Korean counterparts couldn’t provide a Wi-Fi connection to the robot. No chat with the robot for me again. I couldn’t find any feature demonstration on the Internet, either. Still, this is only the beginning for the company, perhaps soon we’ll hear more from them.

LG

Founded: 1958
Country: Korea
Main business: consumer electronics
Service robot solution: LG CLOi GuideBot
Sales: 0 pcs.
Countries of work: 0
Price: N/A

The LG solution to service robots ― the LG CLOi GuideBot ― was first demonstrated at CES in 2017. It hasn’t appeared on the market as of yet. There is very little information about it on the Internet. Most likely, the development is still in the process.

Guess what was the response when I asked to speak with the robot? ‘No Internet’, of course! At last year’s CES it was presented at a special booth, but still hasn’t been tried during the event environment, even at CES itself.

Promobot

Founded: 2015
Country: Russia
Main business: service robotics
Service robot solution: Promobot V.4, Robo-C
Sales: 500 pcs.
Countries of work: 37
Price: $25000 (USA)

We brought two robots to CES: Promobot V.4 and a humanoid robot Robo-C.

Robots need a constant Internet access for proper speech recognition. The ADSL price offer from CES was 70% of the whole booth’s price. That’s a lot. We decided to go another way:

  • We set up Personal Hotspots from our phones (two SIM cards cost $140)
  • We bought a 4G-router ($80)
  • We asked an ADSL password at the nearby booth (for free). We calculated there’s no need for anything but linguistic database connection, which didn’t take a significant amount of traffic from our colleagues.

Conclusion

The companies presented from Asian market appear to actively use the Quick Dollar strategy: more items, less production time, more visual appeal and less thought put into functionality. This approach does not account for stable service or infrastructure development. When you hurry too much often you lose in quality. And that is the way.