BOULDER CREEK, Calif. — Recent market studies on global trends in service robots conclude that the consumer-robot category is growing faster than any other kind. In 2020, service robots for domestic or personal use could well account for 40 million units sold — some of them by robotics startups, which are also on the rise.
The service-robot category covers just about all robots other than the fixed-in-place, industrial machines designed to do one main job very accurately and very fast. Service robots vary widely in form and function and sell in far higher unit volumes than industrial robots. Most analyses distinguish between professional service robots, such as those used in military or medical applications, and robots for domestic and personal use, such as smart vacuums and toys. Professional service robots are more complex, command a higher price tag, and account for annual unit sales in the tens of thousands. Domestic and personal-use robots are simpler, cost much less, and sell in the millions of units per year. Most robots of both types are produced in the United States.
Global unit sales of professional service robots increased 24% in 2016 over 2015, while the dollar value per robot increased by only 2%, according to “World Robotics: Service Robots 2017,” a report from Germany’s International Federation of Robotics. IFR attributes the low rate of revenue increase to a slight decline in sales of high-value military machines, which accounted for 19% of units sold in 2016. Unit sales of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the largest military type, grew 4%, but unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) unit volumes declined by 32%.
About 10% of professional service robots are “field” or agricultural machines, such as milking systems. These also declined slightly in 2016. But unit sales of medical robots — by far the highest-priced of any service robot — rose 23%, accounting for 2.7% of professional-robot sales in 2016. In a separate category are powered exoskeletons that help rehab patients walk or reduce the weight of loads carried; unit sales of these machines rose 21%. Growing even faster are logistics systems, such as the automated guided vehicles (AGVs) used in factories. Their volumes increased 34% in 2016, and they now constitute 43% of professional service robots.
Most of the domestic/personal robots sold are machines that perform household tasks, such as vacuuming and lawn mowing. The IFR report estimates unit growth of 25% for such robots in 2016. Another rapidly increasing category is entertainment robots, such as sophisticated toys, for which volumes rose 22% in 2016.
Most service robots are made by U.S. companies.
Source: International Federation of Robotics
The IFR expects aggressive growth in the next few years for service robots. The organization estimates a 17% rise in total unit sales of professional robots for the current year and predicts increases of 20% to 25% annually for the professional category between 2018 and 2020. Some of the fastest-growing professional service robots are public relations systems, for which volumes are estimated to have jumped 37%, to 10,300 units, in 2017 and are predicted to grow to 66,100 units by 2020. Logistics systems such as AGVs in factories, hospitals, and e-commerce environments will jump 46% in 2017 and then grow 25% to 30% per year between 2018 and 2020.
Logistic systems, such as automated guided vehicles used in factories,
are among the fastest-growing types of professional service robots.
The subcategory now represents 43% of the volume market
for professional service machines.
Source: International Federation of Robotics/Omron
Powered exoskeletons will continue to log rapid growth, according to IFR, which estimates a unit increase of 35% for the category in 2017, followed by 25% growth per year between 2018 and 2020. Domestic/household robot unit volumes overall have grown 30% in 2017 and will rise 30% to 35% annually in the 2018-2020 time frame. Entertainment robot unit sales will increase 20% to 25% annually during the forecast period.
Most domestic and personal service robots are designed for household chores,
such as vacuuming and lawn mowing, or entertainment.
Consumer-oriented robots are sold in the millions of units and are growing fast.
Source: International Federation of Robotics
“The growing interest in service robotics is partly due to the variety and number of new startups, which currently account for 29% of all robot companies,” Martin Hägele, chairman of the IFR Service Robot Group, said in a statement. About 200 startup companies in the United States are developing service robots, along with 170 in the European Union and Switzerland, and 135 in Asia.
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