Every home has one or will real soon! It’s just a matter of time.
This is a brief, survey-based overview of the markets and technologies for smart toys, educational robotics, hobby and personal robots.
Consumer robotics in North America is a multibillion-dollar industry that continues to provide new opportunities for manufacturers and stakeholders in multiple markets. Our research reveals that the consumer robotics industry in North America, and by implication, the markets in Asia and Europe, will experience significant growth in the years ahead.
As evidence, the number of respondents to our survey who express an intention to purchase a home care/lawn care robot is roughly three times the number of those who currently own a product within that category. Even more dramatic, 4 percent of respondents indicate they currently own a home healthcare robot, while 29 percent anticipate purchasing one within two years.
Our research results show that increased buyer acceptance of consumer robotics products in North America will provide ripe opportunities for both established players and new entrants. Approximately three times as many respondents say they intend to purchase a home care/lawn care robot within the next two years than those who currently own one. Also, those who intend to purchase home healthcare robotics devices within two years outnumber current owners by more than 7-to-1.
This report contains a good many additional examples that suggest a robust future for consumer robotics. For the purposes of this report, we define consumer robotics as robotic technology products purchased by individual buyers or families and used to educate, entertain, or assist in the home. These automated devices perform a variety of common tasks, from vital to entertaining to practical. The tasks include healthcare support, learning and game-playing, as well as cleaning floors and mowing lawns.
Our research covers the full range of product categories within the consumer robotics space, including robotic smart toys, educational robotics/hobby kits, home care and lawn care robots, home healthcare robots, and personal robotics.
Robotics Business Review undertook a survey of home-technology enthusiasts and their interest in the consumer robotics market. The survey respondents, subscribers of Electronic House magazine and ElectronicHouse.com, are early adopters of home technology products.
In all, some 306 responses were received, which offer an in-depth understanding of the leading selection criteria that buyers use when purchasing various robotics products, as well as the underlying technological and social drivers moving the market.
Quality and value
When making purchasing decisions, respondents indicate that the top-ranked selection criteria involve quality and value identifiers. This trend is evident across all consumer robotics categories, and it is manifest in respondents’ high rankings of individual criteria such as “product works as advertised” and robustness.
Although cost ranks third at 57 percent and “device is practical/solves a problem” ranks fourth at 53 percent, respondents list them as top factors in selecting consumer robotics. For companies that design and build these devices, it is important to note such key criteria, especially those pertaining to usefulness or value features.
Still in the early-adopter stage
While the future looks bright for consumer robotics, current levels of ownership remain low, indicating the industry continues to reside in the early-adoption stage. As expected, ownership of lower-cost products is most common among survey respondents, with 33 percent indicating they use a smart toy in their home.
The drop-off among consumers for home care/lawn care and educational robots is significant, with only 16 percent and 15 percent, respectively, making use of them. Best Buy carries five different brands of robot vacuum cleaners. The category leader, the autonomous robot Roomba, has sold in excess of 6 million units, according to its manufacturer iRobot. So obviously, there’s a significant market for robots in the home.
The robotics products with the lowest percentage adoption are home healthcare and personal robots. Factors related to price and functionality play a role in their slow adoption. However, opportunities for growth in these categories will increase significantly in the future, with continued research and development as well as a push to create new markets (and expand existing ones).
The important takeaway is that consumers want products that solve real problems or provide a quality user experience, but they are unwilling to pay excessively for those benefits. When asked which types of consumer robotics products respondents plan to use in their homes within two years, nearly half (47 percent) cite home care/lawn care robots.
That is 17 percent higher than those who intend to purchase personal and educational robots within the same period (30 percent each). The percentage of those who plan to purchase home healthcare robots follows closely at 29 percent. The percentages of those planning adoption within two years are significantly higher in each category (with the exception of robotic smart toys) compared with the current use percentages in the same categories.
This points to opportunities for manufacturers and suppliers of all varieties of consumer robotics, and it is positive news for investors and industry professionals. Market expansion will encourage additional research and development aimed at building products with the right balance of consumer appeal, functionality, and price.
Robotic smart toys
Robotic smart toys must overcome the “one day of play” challenge, whereby children put newly purchased toys aside after a day or so or play with them infrequently. With this reality in mind, companies need to develop products that encourage continued use over long periods of time.
Creating a longer user experience contributes to overall value and satisfaction with these entertainment devices, and it has the potential to increase the sales price of such toys. For this reason, it is not surprising that long battery life (61 percent) and long-term play (49 percent) are deemed top criteria for robotic smart toys. Both attributes address the need for longevity of play.
Survey respondents also say they are willing to pay between $50 and $100 for a robotic smart toy (39 percent). But significantly, only 11 percent will pay more than $200. Value is the key, with buyers willing to spend more for an enhanced user experience.
In an increasingly technological world, robotics is a key educational tool. Developing educational kits and other robotics products is therefore an enormous market opportunity for manufacturers and solution providers. The products encourage student participation in engineering and science disciplines, and thereby boost market adoption and stimulate research and development.
Educational robots follow an implementation and acceptance path in K-12 and post-secondary schools similar to that of personal computers. That is, robotics technology is first introduced in individual classrooms as a teaching tool. It is next incorporated at the school, district, or state level. Robotics then moves up the value chain to disciplines outside of science and engineering.
The top-rated attribute in the survey for educational robots is “thoughtful designs and quality manufacturing” at 53 percent, followed by “easy assembly of robot” at 43 percent. Nearing last place out of 16 attributes is “finished robots can be used in robotic competitions” at 16 percent, which contrasts with what is often the intended purpose of these products.
Hobby robotics kits come with sophisticated functionality such as complex movement — walking, running, dancing — activated by motors, actuators, sensors, and controllers. High-quality components (63 percent) and thoughtful design (50 percent) are important for these products, according to survey respondents because they are to be used for competitions or research projects. Cost is important for 59 percent of survey participants, who indicate they would be willing to pay an average of $403 for a hobby robotics product.
Home care/lawn care robots
Home care/lawn care robots include an array of products designed to assist homeowners with a variety of chores and processes. Typically designed for one intended purpose, these products have attained a greater degree of market acceptance than other segments of consumer robotics, and many possess significant long-term growth potential.
Convenience and time savings are the key benefits for consumers. For outdoor projects, 46 percent rank lawn mowing as the top selection criterion.
Indoors, 68 percent rank floor vacuuming as the most important criterion. Overall, 49 percent of respondents are willing to purchase a robotic device that performs tasks as well as a human, while 35 percent say it has to do a better job than they do, and 15 percent say it does not have to perform as well as a human, but it does the job more often.
Personal robots are technically advanced and designed to assist in the home. They are generally autonomous, but some can be operated remotely via the Web or smartphones. The market for personal robots is still limited in the United States, so development follows a top-down approach, originating with high-cost products sold in very small amounts.
Future market expansion will come slowly, as cost effective alternatives are introduced. ? Functionality captures the top six criteria rankings, demonstrating that these costlier products must offer significant capabilities to their intended consumers. ? Consumers are willing to pay an average of $3,705 for a personal robot, which is significantly higher than all other robotics classes except for healthcare robots ($7,972 average).
Home healthcare robots
Home healthcare robots provide medical-specific automation for consumers — primarily the elderly — but are closely related to personal robotic technologies. As with personal robots, the market for home healthcare robots is currently limited.
Intelligence/reminding and data collection/surveillance are the most important criteria for home healthcare robots at 46 percent and 45 percent, respectively. These are followed by telepresence (42 percent) and mobile manipulation (39 percent).
Social interaction ranks as the lowest criterion (26 percent). Each of these factors offers value to consumers, and the high price they are willing to pay for these products demonstrates that this complexity is desired.
Why home healthcare robotics lags
Home healthcare robotics encompasses important new technologies that enable older adults to live independently for longer periods of time. With an aging population in North America and elsewhere, it is somewhat surprising that only 33 percent of survey respondents consider home healthcare robots important.
Instead, that top status goes to home care/lawn care robots, at a still-modest 40 percent. This higher ranking in home and lawn care robotics could be due to several factors, including market acceptance, the length of time such products have been on the market, knowledge of the technologies, and greater need for home/lawn assistance.
Consumer robotics will grow
Overall, our survey findings reveal an industry on the upswing, with markets expected to increase for all robotics categories in the survey. The consumer robotics industry continues to expand market opportunities and technology development by adding increasing functionality with only a slight increase in price, with the exception of personal and healthcare robots.
The number of consumer (home and entertainment) products increases each year, while all categories are projected to maintain healthy growth curves during the next several years.