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SaviOne: Savioke Unveils Its Delivery Robot

This robot will deliver whatever you need to your hotel room while emitting adorable R2-D2 beeps

3 min read
SaviOne: Savioke Unveils Its Delivery Robot
The delivery robot SaviOne.
Photo: Savioke

Well, we can stop speculating about what Savioke has been working on, because it's the robot in the picture above: SaviOne is a delivery robot that's operating as we speak at a hotel in Silicon Valley. It's designed to provide door-to-door delivery of whatever you desire (and can fit in its cargo bin), and it drives around autonomously while emitting adorable R2-D2-ish beeps.

SaviOne is, in essence, a very fancy TurtleBot with a bin on it. It's an autonomous wheeled platform that has enough sensors to let it navigate in (we're guessing pre-mapped) semi-constrained environments. According to an article in the New York Times, a SaviOne operating at an Aloft hotel in Cupertino, Calif., can interface with the elevator and telephone systems (the hotel named their robot "A.L.O.").

The robot is about 90 centimeters tall (3 feet) and weighs less than 45 kilograms (100 lbs), and it travels at a human walking pace. The design is really sleek, and it looks like it has a simple, friendly user interface (a touch screen that doubles as the robot's face, with two blinking eyes). Still, we think that the challenge for SaviOne (and robots like it) is whether there's enough benefit to a place like a hotel for an autonomous delivery robot to be cost effective.

Even if the robot itself doesn't cost that much (we're guessing that SaviOne will sell for something in the very low five figures), additional costs would include programming the robot to drive around in specific places and adding infrastructure to let it work reliably (with the ability of operating elevators and phones, for example). Add to that support and maintenance costs.

So the question is: Does an autonomous delivery robot offer a strong value proposition such that it will entice hotels to adopt them? Savioke says the answer is yes:

We expect A.L.O. to delight guests, and also believe that some travelers will make a point of visiting the Cupertino Aloft for the sole purpose of getting a chance to meet A.L.O. in person. We believe the staff has more important things to do than deliver a toothbrush or a package of chips to a room, and that they would prefer to spend their time creating a more personalized experience for guests.

The company plans to expand its SaviOne pilot program to include additional hotels early next year, so we'll see how popular the robot will become.

In any case, it's almost certain that Savioke, founded by Steve Cousins (who formerly ran the influential robotics company Willow Garage since its inception), is building a robot that they can constantly improve. In other words, the company is developing a platform, and the delivery robot (in this particular configuration) is only its first incarnation. As such, future versions wouldn't be restricted to hotels. So what might we see in subsequent versions?

What we've consistently heard from Cousins is that he wants to create robots that help people in "hospitals, restaurants, hotels, elder care facilities, [and] offices," and that he takes a lot of inspiration from the idea of helping people with disabilities.

To be completely honest, we were expecting Savioke to be developing a mobile manipulator. And maybe they still are. It's possible that the next version of their robot (SaviTwo?) will have an arm on it so that it can go from being a passive delivery robot to an active one, which would make it much more versatile and useful. Arms are hard, though, and Savioke is a small company, so starting off with a sort of minimum viable product could be the smartest way to go (as Cousins himself has noted before).

And if you are a hotel guest wondering if tipping SaviOne is appropriate, Savioke says they are "not sure, but tweets and selfies" with the robot are okay.

[ Savioke ]

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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

“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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