ODENSE, Denmark — Blue Ocean Robotics ApS today said it has acquired all the assets and rights associated with the Beam telepresence robot from Suitable Technologies Inc. Blue Ocean has grown from a reseller and integrator to the provider of award-winning robots such as its UVD Robot for disinfecting hospital wards.
Blue Ocean’s acquisition of Beam is noteworthy because, unlike Teradyne Inc.‘s purchase of Universal Robots A/S in 2015 and Mobile Industrial Robots ApS in 2018, this is a case of a Danish company buying the assets of an American one.
“We initially financed everything ourselves, and we recently received investment from Nordic Eye, the most successful venture capital firm in Scandinavia,” said Claus Risager, CEO of Blue Ocean Robotics, referring to a €14.9 million ($16.63 million U.S.) round in October 2018. “Now, we are focusing on commercializing multiple robots on the international stage.”
Blue Ocean Robotics has been a partner of Suitable Technologies for more than five years.
“We’ve been its main reseller in France and India, and we have 20 affiliated resellers in the U.S., Risager told The Robot Report. “We believe that the telepresence market is much bigger than people think, based on what we’re seeing every day.”
The global market for mobile telepresence robots will grow from $163.5 million in 2018 to $237 million by 2023, according to ABI Research. Similarly, Inkwood Research forecasts a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.73% between 2018 and 2027, reaching $571.67 million, and Markets and Markets predicts a CAGR of 16.5% between 2018 to 2023, reaching $312 million in 2023. At the same time, there have been concerns about slow adoption to date and security vulnerabilities.
“Through our multi-year partnership, I am confident that Blue Ocean Robotics has the commitment, know-how, and passion to support current Beam customers, acquire new customers, and build the business into new areas,” stated Scott Hassan, CEO of Suitable Technologies.
“We are going to create a new setup for production and development, and our teams working with sales, support, and services will be enhanced as well,” Risager said. “It’s a large task for both our employees and management, and it also requires capital, as we expect the total investment from the parent company to end up amounting to several million dollars.”
The companies did not disclose the terms of the acquisition, which is subject to regulatory approvals in the U.S.
Beam use cases
Beam was the first telepresence robot to visit the White House, noted the companies. It enabled then-President Barack Obama to meet Alice Wong, founder and coordinator of the Disability and Visibility Project, during the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Many people’s first instinct when they hear about telepresence robots is to say, ‘Why do we need it when we have Skype?'” Risager acknowledged. “But then once they try it, they have all kinds of ideas of what they can do with it. We have more than 100 application ideas, half of which come from customers, but only 10 of them are fully developed so far.”
“Beam has turned out to add an incredible amount of value to our customers, delivering benefits such as reducing transport costs and CO2 emissions while also improving social relationships with better, faster, and more frequent communications between people,” Risager said. He cited examples of Beam being used for medical consultations, helping families stay in contact with nursing home residents, and enabling seriously ill children to be more active remote participants in school and social activities.
The robot has also helped Microsoft Research optimize day-to-day operations across its geographically dispersed engineering teams, enabled VMware employees to work from home two to three days a week while maintaining connections with the corporate office, and provided Michigan State University’s virtual students with an authentic on-campus presence.
“One company just signed a contract to buy 500 over two years,” Risager said. “Some customers have a return on investment of less than three months for the big Beam Pro.”
View to rapid development, growth
Blue Ocean Robotics was founded in 2013. Describing itself as “the world’s first robot venture factory,” the company has focused on developing its professional service robots with strategic client partners.
Each robot has its own subsidiary, which is responsible for sales, distribution, and customer service, while the parent company handles development and production of all robots. In June, Blue Ocean hired David Faconti, an internationally recognized robotics expert, as senior robot architect. Beam Robots ApS is the new telepresence unit.
“Last year, we phased out reselling of third-party robots,” Risager explained. “That’s a significant change in our business, and now we have entered the U.S. market.”
With the purchase of Beam, Blue Ocean Robotics now has majority ownership of all the robots in its portfolio, he said. In terms of consolidation, “OnRobot is doing something similar in the gripper space,” noted Risager.
“Our development of robots is based on our own in-house-created toolbox with reusable technology components,” said John Erland Østergaard, chief technology officer of Blue Ocean. “This means that we can build all of our robots fast, inexpensively, and better than others.”
“Because of our expertise in mobile and collaborative robots and some AI modules, it often takes us less than a year to go from development to feedback from customers to a product that can be deployed,” Risager added. “We didn’t go down the manufacturing industry path, since the services robot market has a huge market potential.”
“The UVD Robot comes in two models,” he said. “The Model B took two and a half years to build; the Model C took less than a year. We have some very good hospital partners that have been proactive in suggesting problems that we can solve.”
Other robots to be launched soon include the Multi Tower Robot for safe patient handling and rehabilitation, as well as robots for agriculture, construction, and hospitality, said Risager. Blue Ocean officials said they see opportunities for additional acquisitions and synergies.
The Robot Report has launched the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, which will be on Dec. 9-10 in Santa Clara, Calif. The conference and expo focuses on improving the design, development and manufacture of next-generation healthcare robots. Learn more about the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum.
Healthcare synergies between Beam, UVD
The autonomous mobile UV disinfection robot uses ultraviolet light to eliminate 99.99% of bacteria from surfaces in hospital rooms, claimed Blue Ocean.
In May, Blue Ocean’s UVD Robot won the IERA Award 2019 at the Joint Forum on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Robotics and Automation (IERA). The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE/RAS) and the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) hosted the event in Montreal.
“Some of our robots, for example the UVD robot, are already equipped with remote controls,” Østergaard said. “With the Beam technology being a big seller in the healthcare sector, we can continue to grow our business within this industry by having our distributors present both UVD and Beam when they visit customers.”
“Many of our customers use Beam before they buy the UVD robot,” Risager said. “In our showroom, we have both robots, and some prospective customers don’t want to travel for the first meeting. They can use Beam and virtually be in the room with the UVD robot while it’s disinfecting, which they couldn’t do in person. Many users then buy Beam in addition to the UVD.”
“One of the first sales of the UVD Robot was in China, but most of our first-year sales were in Europe. We plan to scale up sales, and we’ve already reached 40% to 50% growth,” said Risager. “Other priorities are to upgrade our production and supply chain, update products with new components, and then develop the next generation of robots.”
“We have about 50 people doing development and assembly, and we have about 60 people in spinouts,” he said. “In the next four months, we’ll be hiring 22 people on the Danish side alone.”