April 20, 2017      

DELFT, the Netherlands — Melonee Wise, CEO of Fetch Robotics Inc., aided in the kickoff of RoboBusiness Europe here this week by sending a call to action to all roboticists to continue innovating. She also urged them to do so with ease of use and the “end-user experience in mind.”

“There is a lot of growth, but the next big challenge for robotics is putting it in the hands of people in their daily lives,” Wise said. “The only way we are going to do that is by increasing user groups through ease of use.”

Wise’s message may seem basic. However, it reflects an early-stage industry on the verge of breaking out but still facing a significant learning curve in its efforts to penetrate markets and increase adoption levels.

It’s easy for roboticists to forget that the biggest pool of potential robotics users is made up of people who don’t have an intimate understanding of the technology.

“It’s about enabling someone to use a robot, even when they don’t know how a computer works,” Wise noted. “This is very real.”

Business Takeaways:

  • Fetch Robotics CEO Melonee Wise helped open RoboBusiness Europe 2017 by noting reasons for increasing commercial adoption of robotics.
  • Ease of use is a key factor in the spread of automation into new industries and among small and midsize enterprises worldwide.
  • Wise observed that developers who remember that robots need to be used in daily life will find career opportunities.

San Jose, Calif.-based Fetch Robotics provides robots for logistics and material handling applications. The 2017 RBR50 company’s technology includes autonomous mobile robot Freight and picking system Fetch’s core software. Combined, they provide comprehensive turnkey solutions to increase warehouse productivity.

Ease of use guided Fetch Robotics' logistics offerings.

Fetch Robotics CEO Melonee Wise discussed logistics robotics at RoboBusiness Europe 2017. (Click here to enlarge.)

Wise said Fetch Robotics spent significant time building ease of use into its offerings. “We set out to enable people to create workflows in their warehouses through simple drag-and-drop interfaces,” she said.

The company’s robots simply move things from Point A to Point B, according to Wise. The operator specifies points where Freight and Fetch should travel through a simple interface, and the robots take care of the rest.

“One thing robotocists are really bad at, beyond trying to find commercial avenues for our invention, is enabling people to use our products,” Wise acknowledged. “We [at Fetch] understood this, and that’s why we spent a lot of time on usability.”

She observed that a significant increase in awareness in the past few years has contributed to the growth of commercial robotics. Wise also identified the following factors as contributing to the upswing:

An open design platform

Wise credited the open-source Robot Operating System (ROS) as a facilitator of robotics adoption.

“ROS is the underpinning of startups and runs on thousands of robots globally, including those of the largest companies,” she said. “It has created set of tools and libraries that has become the LAMP stack of robotics.”

Wise added that ROS has created job opportunities for developers with the right skills. “When you see that on a job application, a company will know there is a level of understanding about robotics,” she said.

An increase in venture funding

“The amount of funding has never been higher,” Wise said.

2016 was a stellar year for the robotics industry, as Robotics Business Review has reported. Global transactions within the fourth quarter of last year — including direct investments, mergers and acquisitions, government funding and initial public offerings — reached well over $60 billion.

Robotics ease of use and adoption depend in part on affordable components.

Dropping component prices have helped with robotics adoption, said Melonee Wise.

Components get cheaper

“There is a huge cost change in components and processing parts; the same goes for lasers, which are the base of mobile autonomy,” said Wise. “We are shifting towards a robot economy that is moving from low volume and high list price to high volume and low list price.”

Web-based front ends

Fetch Robotics’s Web-based interface allows warehouse floor managers to get real-time access to the locations of robots, how orders are being fulfilled, and inventory status.

“This is driving the way fleet services are being dealt with and managed,” Wise explained. “Some think of Web-based front ends being something for Netflix and YouTube, but it will actually be the backbone of autonomous robots of the future.”

More on Robotics Adoption and Ease of Use:

Acceptance and ease of use lead to new markets

“We are transitioning from industrial robots to putting them into the wild, or semi-structured environments that have rules that are systematic and where there are a social and economic penalties for hurting a bot,” Wise observed.

Wise concluded her keynote by reiterating her message to developers and the industry as a whole to embrace the existing momentum and advances, particularly in ease of use.

“I’ve spent 18 to 19 years working in robotics, building robots, doing commercial research, and now commercializing robots,” she said. “Robotics has been overpromising and underdelivering for years. But that is changing.”

“As a roboticists and entrepreneur, your intention is there, but sometimes the execution is not what you wish it to be,” Wise said. “But we are not in the harsh reality of underperforming or the realm of dreams. We are at a very exciting point in robotics.”