Savioke’s Hotel Robots Spark $15M Investment for Robot Fleet

Savioke, a Bay Area startup that has deployed 15 of its errand-running robots in California hotels, has scored a $15 million Series A financing led by Intel Capital.

The Santa Clara, CA-based startup, founded in 2013, plans to use the cash infusion to expand its fleet of rolling robots, which deliver towels, Starbucks coffee, and other items, to hotel guests at their doors. Savioke also hopes to find other service roles for its Relay robot, after demonstrating that a mobile automaton, which looks something like a svelte space station recycling bin, can navigate safely through a complex hotel environment that includes milling people and bulky suitcases.

A high-profile Relay delivery at the Intel Developer Forum in August might have foreshadowed the funding from Intel’s investment arm. One of the Savioke robots brought a Diet Coke to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich onstage as he was making a keynote speech. Savioke announced during the forum that it had equipped its robots with Intel’s RealSense cameras. That component gives the robot valets both vision and depth perception—a key sensory skill for automatons operating in the 3-D human environment.

To make the Intel camera work in the Relay, Savioke developed a “wrapper,” or driver, that could make it easier for other inventors to use the camera in robotic devices based on the open-source Robot Operating System. Low-cost elements such as the open-source operating system and increasingly inexpensive components have been stimulating growth in the robotics sector.

The Intel collaboration may put Intel in competition with Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), which acquired an Israeli 3D sensor company, PrimeSense, in 2013. Intel’s involvement with Savioke is also a bellwether of growing interest in robotics on the part of big tech companies and investors, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Interest in Savioke extends outside the United States. Joining Intel Capital in the Series A financing round were EDBI, the corporate investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board, and Northern Light Venture Capital, a Hong Kong-based venture firm with an office in Menlo Park, CA.

EDBI CEO Swee-Yeok Chu said in a written statement that EDBI will “support Savioke’s activities in Singapore to advance the application of innovative robotics technology in the local services industry.”

In 2015, Savioke’s small army of autonomous Relay robots made more than 11,000 deliveries to guests of five hotel chains, including Starwood and InterContinental Group. The top of the robot features a screen for greeting guests and giving them directions, and a bin deep enough to carry bottled drinks and other requested items.

What’s the most commonly requested thing delivered by the hotel robots? Toothbrushes.

Although the robot has no face, the Savioke website uses the personal pronoun “him” to refer to the Relay, and describes it as “adorable.” Kids tend to follow the robot down hotel corridors, and adults often give the bot tips for deliveries, Savioke CEO Steve Cousins told attendees at Xconomy’s Robo Madness event in April.

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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