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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Personal Robotics: Facts, Myths and Blindspots

AIBO is gone!
U.S.start-up RobotAppStore, has published an infographics aimed to promote its' new marketplace for robot apps. The graph includes facts and some market statistics including data about the worldwide stock of personal and service robots of 14 million units, including 200.000 AIBO robotic dogs and 150.000 Pleo robotic dinosaurs.

A robot stock of 14 million units might  by far not be so attractive for app developers than the 500 million smartphone market IDC expects to be sold in 2011. One issue to consider is  how many of there 14 million robots are still alive and available to host some apps. Here are some historical facts and personal reflections.
The AIBO Case
Robotic dog AIBO was sold between 1999-2006 mainly in Japan for about $2500.  It was a visionary robotic toy in 1999 and is still an eye catcher.  Sony claimed in 1999 it had recorded 135.000 orders in one single launch week. According to a press release in 2001 Sony had sold as of April 2001 approx. 95.000 units.  In 2005, when the termination of AIBO was announced a Sony spokesman stated that the total number of dogs sold was slightly more than 150 000. (Cnet) How many of these 6-13 year old robotic pets might still be alive or revitalizable to host robotic apps?  Repair part stock is closed for most models (110, 210. 220. 310 Series) and service termination date for the last model sold March 2006 is March 2013.  Especially original batteries are rare.

The PLEO Case
Pleo re-born 
The robotic dinosaur Pleo shipments started on December 5, 2007and was priced about $350. In in June 2008 when Ugobe raised $12,8 million in a third round of financing  CEO Bob Christopher said, the company had sold more than 50,000 units. In April 2009, Ugobe laid off all of its employees and filed for bankruptcy. According to Wired  Ugobe had sold about 100,000 Pleos.
Chinese Jetta bought the IPR and other assets from Ugobe and relaunched PLEO in 2010.  The total global Pleo stock might be around 150.000 units, but not all units might be working.

Therefore the total number of robotic pets that can be used as app hosts might be much lower than the infographics figures, may be between 75-150.000 units. What about other 13,7 million personal robots?

The iRobot Case
Half of the figure accounts to iRobot, the market leader in vacuum cleaning robots. iRobot has sold about 6 million units since 20002, which represents almost 90 percent of total domestic robotics market. It is unlikely that all of these 6 million are still working. A guess is that 10-30 percent might have been replaced or terminated due to technical or practical reasons.  The operational stock might be 4.2-5.4 million units.

The replacement or failure rate might be even higher for the other 6 million low price robotic toys such as WoWWee, Mindstorm, Humanoids etc. Quality is often low and disfunction rates are high.

In summary the total number of personal robot stock should be below the 10 million mark.

IFR Robot Statistics
According to IFR Statistical Department the stock of robots for personal/domestic use  at end 2009 was about 8,6 million units. IFR estimates that about 2.2 million service robots for personal/domestic use were sold in 2010 (+35%). This means a total stock of 10,8 million units at the end of 2010.

IFR forecasts some 14.4 million units may be added in the period 2011-2014, including over 9.8 million units sales of all types of domestic robots (vacuum cleaning, lawn-mowing, window cleaning and other types) and sales of about 4.6 million units of all types of entertainment and leisure robots.

Independent which statistical estimate is used the global market of personal robots is still very small compared with other personal technology markets. There are few, short time success stories, the industry is still in search of viable business models, consumers get much more value from other ICT sectors.
There is a latent tendency to over estimate market size based on more or less reliable market forecasts.  
Currently the main source of global robotics statistics is IFR, the International Federation of Robotics, who publishes statistical robot data based on information supplied by national robot associations and additional robot suppliers who report consolidated data by country. Few market research studies are available that are based on independent robot user data research. Official international statistics about personal robots production and trade is not available.

User-based Market Data
An independent and open platform for collection, analysis and reporting of personal/domestic robot data based on user data instead of supply data would be an alternative for consumers and suppliers to get better insights about demand and supply and to fight speculations and myths about the industry.  Ideas and proposals are very welcome!  

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