Savioke Scores $2 Million in Seed Funding From Google Ventures and Others

We don't know exactly what this start-up is up to, but it's been amassing funds to make it happen

3 min read
Savioke Scores $2 Million in Seed Funding From Google Ventures and Others
CEO Steve Cousins (in the back row, third from the left) and the Savioke team.
Photo: Savioke

After leaving Willow Garage, Willow's CEO Steve Cousins founded a new robotics company called Savioke. It's been very much in stealth mode; in fact, even the exact pronunciation of the name is a closely-guarded secret.* Today, Savioke is announcing a substantial amount of seed funding from the likes of Google Ventures to develop a robot focused on the service industry, which leads us into some serious speculation about what Savioke might be up to.

Here's the meaty part of the press release:

"Savioke today announced that it has raised $2 million in seed financing from lead investor Morado Venture Partners, along with AME Cloud Ventures, Google Ventures, and individual investors. Savioke will use the funding to further develop its inaugural robot, focusing on the services industry. "

And here are a bunch of press-release-type quotes:

"We are passionate about delivering easy-to-use yet sophisticated robots that can help people. Our goal is to improve the lives of people by developing and deploying robotic technology in service environments."
—Steve Cousins, CEO of Savioke
 
"There's a unique entrepreneurial excitement surrounding Silicon Valley's robotics industry today, and much of that is due to the efforts of the team at Savioke. As the market for service robots continues to grow, AME is pleased to offer our support to Savioke."
—Jerry Yang, Founding Partner at AME Cloud Ventures
 
"As the lines continue to blur between industrial and personal robotics industries, Google Ventures is thrilled to be working with an exceptional group of people at Savioke. Steve and his team already have had a lot to do with moving the robotics industry forward. The next act promises to be even more revolutionary."
—Andy Wheeler, General Partner at Google Ventures
 
"In Savioke, we see an exceptional team focused on a substantial problem. They have a unique vision for bringing autonomous service robots to market, and the technology chops and proven track record to build an outstanding robot."
—Ash Patel, Managing Director at Morado Venture Partners

The last time we heard much in the way of tangible information about Savioke was last October, at the Stanford-Berkeley Robotics Symposium, where Cousins talked about a hypothetical $20,000 to $30,000 service robot that might be competitive with a human, but didn't specify whether Savioke was going to try to build that robot, or focus on developing software for one, or what.

With today's announcement, the bit that really stands out for us (besides the $2 million in funding, of course) is that Savioke is building a physical platform of their own. And not just "creating," but "further develop[ing]," implying that they've got something up and running already, which makes sense, since it's a lot easier to convince people to fund your robotics company if you have an actual working robot that you can show them.

We don't have any real information on what this robot that Savioke is working on looks like or does, but we can speculate wildly about it anyway. If we assume that nothing has fundamentally changed since last October (probably an unsafe thing to assume, but it's all we've got), we have a few pieces of information to go on. A $20,000 to $30,000 price range to be competitive with humans is a place to start, but to break into the area of service environments, where humans are pros, it's probably going to err on the side of more cost-competitive rather than less.

If we had to guess, we'd picture something in between a Turtlebot with an arm on it and an UBR-1: in other words, some kind of (hopefully) robust and (even more hopefully) capable mobile manipulator. As for where the robot is designed to be used, Cousins himself offered some hints in a February post on Savioke's blog, where he wrote:

There is a whole service industry in the middle, with hospitals, restaurants, hotels, elder care facilities, offices, that is virtually untouched by robotic hands - hundreds of billions of dollars of market opportunity, virtually untapped.

So "hospitals, restaurants, hotels, elder care facilities, offices" are some of the environments they're possibly considering. In fact, Savioke consistently mentions being inspired by helping people with disabilities (through the Robots for Humanity project), at a price point that's low enough that people might actually consider giving it a try. So this could mean they would be targeting human care environments in particular.

Or we could be totally wrong. Strictly speaking, all we know is that Savioke is building an "easy-to-use yet sophisticated" service robot for "human environments" (places people live and work), that it'll be running ROS, and that there will be user trials with it later this year. We can't wait to learn more! 

[ Savioke ]

* It's not really a secret, just a little bit confusing: it's "savvy oak," like a clever tree.

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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