"Robot venture factory" acquires telepresence robot portfolio

Is diversification the secret to success in the shifting robotics market?

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A Danish company that's cultivated a strategy of acquiring proofed technology in order to strategically diversify across the service robotics industry has acquired all assets and rights to Beam, a telepresence robot created by Suitable Technologies. The acquisition of the Beam product adds to Blue Ocean Robotics' growing technology portfolio, which includes robots used in healthcare, hospitality, construction, agriculture, and other markets.

"Through our multi-year partnership, I am confident that Blue Ocean Robotics has the commitment, knowhow, and passion to support current Beam customers, acquire new customers, and build the business into new areas," says Scott Hassan, CEO of Suitable Technologies, Inc.

Suitable Technologies, based in Silicon Valley, was founded in 2011 and develops telepresence robots that physically embody remote workers using easy-to-use robots equipped with two-way audio-video feeds. The company was started by Scott Hassan, who also founded Willow Garage, a robotics incubator whose alumni have helped shape the current robotics industry.

The technology behind Beam is impressive, but the acquisition by Blue Robotics, which previously partnered with Suitable to offer Beam to its customers, suggests how tough the robotics market can be for companies built around one or a handful of flagship products. Beam Presence technology offers a low-latency solution for distributed workers to physically interact with colleagues in a home office. The technology also serves as a crucial link for many living with disabilities. Beam famously visited the White House to enable President Obama to meet Alice Wong, founder and project coordinator of the Disability and Visibility Project for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

But technology developers often have a hard time achieving maximum penetration when they take their products to market, in large part because the market for many robots is still being created. Though the technology acquisition by Blue Ocean hasn't been officially linked to any difficulties faced by Suitable Technology, the wider robotics market is rife with examples of excellent technology whose developers couldn't find a sustainable base of customers.

Blue Ocean, on the other hand, has a pre-built sales network and relationships with buyers in spaces like hospitals, a huge potential market for telepresence. The acquisition of Beam points to Blue Ocean's confidence that it can sell telepresence even harder to existing customers, either as standalone technology or packaged with other Blue Ocean Robotics products in technology bundles.

"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," says Blue Ocean Robotics CEO Claus Risager. "This has resulted in numerous customers coming back time and again to have more robots installed as Beam can be used in such a wide range of scenarios; from security clearances, to touring art museums and trade shows, to medical consultations, allowing sick children to interact with their school and friends."

Risager believes the addition of Beam will also mark a course change from technology acquisition to global sales, which are still elusive in the service robotics market.

"We are setting up a worldwide distributor network, the production is maturing, and the customer support and service functions are being expanded upon in collaboration with our distributors," says Risager, explaining how the purchase also marks a change in direction for Blue Ocean Robotics, which until now has mainly been focused on developing its portfolio of robots in collaboration with strategic user clients. "Now the time has come to generate solid global sales. Both employees, management and the owners are looking forward to this exciting journey."

I would expect to see more technology consolidation like this. Robotics startups are pioneering some truly incredible machines, but finding a market often requires scale.