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Service Robots Hit Double-Digit Growth, Says IFR

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November 8, 2021

The International Federation of Robotics has reported that the market of professional service robots worldwide has reached $6.7 billion, up 12% compared with 2020. At the same time, sales of new consumer service robots grew 16% to $4.4 billion. The figures are part of the IFR’s World Robotics 2021 report.

“Service robots continued on a successful path proving the tremendous market potential worldwide,” said Milton Guerry, president of the IFR. “Sales of professional service robots rose an impressive 41% to 131,800 units in 2020.”

The IFR said professional service robots drove five big application trends, driven by extra demand due to the global pandemic:

  1. Autonomous mobile robots and delivery robots, providing flexible solutions.
  2. Cleaning and disinfection robots, due to the coronavirus.
  3. Medical and rehabilitation robots, providing individual support for patients.
  4. Social robots, including telepresence robots, which were useful during the pandemic lockdowns and remote work rush.
  5. Automated restaurant robotics, which helped address labor shortages and reduced personal contact.

The group said one out of every three units were built for the transportation of goods or cargo. Sales of AMRs and delivery robots grew by 11% to over $1B. Most units sold operate in indoor environments for production and warehouses. The trend goes towards flexible solutions, the IFR said, so that the AMRs act in mixed environments together, with forklifts, other mobile robots or humans. The IFR said there is also a strong market potential for transportation robots in outdoor environments with public traffic, for example last-mile delivery. “Marketing and monetization options will depend on the availability of regulatory frameworks that currently still prevent the large-scale deployment of such robots in most countries.”

Demand for professional cleaning robots grew by 92% to 34,400 units sold in 2020. More than 50 service robot providers developed disinfection robots that either spray disinfectant fluids or use ultraviolet light. The IFR said often, existing mobile robots were modified to serve as disinfection robots. “There is a high ongoing potential for disinfection robots in hospitals and other public places,” the IFR said. Unit sales of professional floor cleaning robots are expected to grow by double-digit rates on average each year from 2021 to 2024, the group said.

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In terms of value, the sales of medical robots accounts for 55% of the total professional service robot revenue in 2020. This was mainly driven by robotic surgery devices, which are the most expensive type in the segment. Sales increased by 11% to $3.6 billion, the IFR said.

“A tremendously growing number of robots for rehabilitation and non-invasive therapy make this application the largest medical one in terms of units,” the IFR said. About 75% of medical robot suppliers are from North America and Europe.

The global pandemic also created demand for social robots, which can help residents of nursing homes to keep contact with friends and additional family members in times of social distancing, for example. Communication robots provide information in public environments to avoid personal human contact, connect people via video for a business conference, or help with maintenance tasks on the shop floor.

Hospitality robots are enjoying growing popularity, generating $249 million of revenue in 2020, the IFR said. Demand for robots for food and drink preparation grew tremendously – sales almost tripled to $32 million (up 196%) in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic created increased awareness to avoid contact with food products. The IFR said there is still a huge potential for hospitality robots with medium double-digit annual growth predicted.

On the consumer side, robots for domestic tasks are the largest group, with almost 18.5 million units (up 6%) worth $4.3 billion, sold in 2020. Robot vacuums and other robots for indoor domestic floor cleaning were up 5% to more than 17.2 million units, with a value of $2.4 billion. The IFR said many American, Asian, and European suppliers cater to this market.

Gardening robots usually comprise lawn mowing robots, and this market is expected to grow by low double-digit rates on average each year in the next few years, the IFR said.

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“The service robot industry is developing at a high pace,” said Guerry. “Lots of start-up companies appear every year, developing innovative service robot applications and improving existing concepts. Some of these young companies disappear as quickly as they emerged. The activity remained high in the service robotics space with acquisitions by incumbents and acquisitions by companies from industries with a desire to expand and work in this exciting area.”

Worldwide, 80% of the 1,050 service robot suppliers are considered incumbents that were established more than five years ago. About 47% of the service robot suppliers are from Europe, 27% are from North America, and 25% are from Asia.

More details on service robotics are available for purchase from the IFR, and are available here.

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