April 09, 2014      

Steve Cousins, former CEO of the now-defunct Willow Garage robotics lab, is again looking to move the new generation of human-friendly robots into the service sector.

Cousins’ latest venture, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup Savioke, is getting closer to doing just that as it has raised $2 million in a seed round of funding from AME Cloud Ventures, Google Ventures, Morado Venture Partners and other individual investors.

Savioke says it will use the funding to develop and build its first autonomous robot for the services industry. Savioke hopes to begin customer trials later in 2014.

There are no specifics about the robot, but one can speculate it will be built on the open source robot operating system (ROS) that Cousins lead the development of while at Willow Garage, which was best known for its PR2 and TurtleBot robots. The company was spun off into eight startups before losing most of its remaining employees to Suitable Technologies in August 2013.

According to IEEE Spectrum, Cousins discussed a “hypothetical $20,000 to $30,000 service robot that might be competitive with a human” in October 2013 at the Stanford-Berkeley Robotics Symposium. Whether the funding will be used on that robot or a new idea is unknown, but Savioke says there is tremendous opportunity in “hospitals, elder care facilities, hotels, restaurants, office services.”

“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,” says Jerry Yang, founding partner at AME Cloud Ventures. “As the market for service robots continues to grow, AME is pleased to offer our support to Savioke.”

“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,” says Andy Wheeler, General Partner at Google Ventures. “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.”

This statement on Savioke’s website offers more insight into the company’s vision:

“We are a group of people who intend to make the world a better place by creating robots that help people. We do not intend to create a race of robot overlords. Rather, we will create robots that enable people to do more: to stretch outside the bounds of our bodies, to do things we could never do, or can no longer do.

We are also impatient. Many of us have the training to be successful academic researchers, but we want to see the results of our work sooner rather than later. We want to solve problems and then see our solutions in action, making the world a better place.

We want to change the world. Although robots are often portrayed as evil or controlling, that?s more Hollywood story-making than reality. We have seen firsthand the power that robots under human control can have for good: we are inspired by the stories on the Robots for Humanity website (r4h.org), in which robots help people to overcome disabilities.

Although Savioke is only a few months old, the founding team had worked together at Willow Garage, where we contributed to Robots for Humanity with the PR2 robots, and where we forged our resolve to put robots into the world for good.”

In fact, TechCrunch reports “everyone but one of Savioke?s full-timers and an intern” are former Willow Garage employees.

Attempts to reach Cousins were unsuccessful.