The Evolution of Consumer Robotics

POSTED BY Nick Maynard
Robotics has for a long time caught the imagination of the public and media. Opinion of robotics has been influenced over the years by sources as varied as novels by Isaac Asimov (I, Robot) or the Star Wars franchise. The notion of the robot is changing from humanlike to a much broader concept where robots come in numerous form factors and are designed to perform an individual or range of tasks.

In the public’s imagination robots have superior intelligence and robotics has quite rightly become increasingly identified with AI. The hype around robotics has created an expectation that the devices will be perfect. However, technological development is lagging behind consumers’ imaginations.

That is not say that current consumer robotics products lack sophistication; robot-based toys, vacuums and lawnmowers now widely available, as well as companion robots. However, there have been setbacks; many manufacturers of entertainment robots such as Anki. Kuri and Jibo no longer in business. How the market reacts to these developments is crucial to the future of the area.

The entertainment robotics area has traditionally been one of the most high-profile market segments for consumer robotics, on account of their different form factors as virtual pets, commercial tie ins with prominent films and their relatively low-price points compared with other segments.

The consumer drone market has changed over time, meaning that its addressable market has broadened significantly. In particular, the greater availability of devices and reductions in ASP (Average Selling Price) have meant that products appeal to a much wider audience, rather than just hobbyists.

In the domestic aide area, the use of robotics is well-established, having been in existence since 2002 with the first launch of the Roomba vacuum cleaner robot. Now, task robotics are priced at cash-rich but time-poor consumers, with variants able to carry out many tasks around the home and garden.

Meanwhile, healthcare robotics is rapidly becoming an important area. Investments in healthcare robots are largely driven by the onerous cost of supporting the healthcare requirements of an aging population. Japan is the most notable example of this phenomenon, but West Europe and the US also need to prepare for the challenge.

Improvements in connectivity have made telepresence solutions more viable, with suppliers launching robots which can connect patients with caregivers and family members simultaneously. One of the key applications for telepresence is reminding patients to take their medication, rather than having them visit hospitals to receive care.

Additionally, educational robotics is no longer a niche area as government, educators and parents prioritise STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) subjects. As well as having specifically tailored educational robot systems, manufacturers in other segments are adding coding features to their products, meaning that the lines between other segments and educational robotics are blurring.

Juniper Research forecasts that over 74 million consumer robots will be shipped in 2024, up from an estimated 28 million in 2019. It found that vendors’ focus on educational features in consumer robots, such as coding tools, and adding features to established device ranges, will increase the consumer value proposition, driving the growth of consumer robotics adoption over the next 5 years.
Figure 3: Total Consumer Robot Shipments, All Segments, 2024: 74 million