RobotLAB service robot franchise and use cases grow across the U.S.

RobotLab CEO Elad Inbar accepts Innovation Award
RobotLAB CEO Elad Inbar accepted the Innovation Award at the Daytime Beauty Awards. Source: Business Wire

RobotLAB had a busy 2023. The Southlake, Texas-based systems integrator of educational and service robots expanded its franchise agreements and partnerships.

In May, RobotLAB launched its robotics integration franchise program, which it claimed was the first of its kind. The company also leased a 26,000-sq.-ft. (2,400-sq.-m) Class A multi-tenant workspace at VariSpace Southlake.

In October, RobotLAB received the Innovation Award at the fifth annual Daytime Beauty Awards for deploying more than 10,000 robots since its founding in 2007. RobotLAB provides service robots to the assisted-living, education and training, hospitality, restaurant, and retail markets.

Elad Inbar, founder and CEO of RobotLAB, spoke with Mobile Robot Guide about the company’s partnerships, business model, and market outlook.

RobotLAB expands support across U.S. territories

How is RobotLAB growing its franchise?

Elad Inbar, CEO, RobotLab
Elad Inbar, CEO, RobotLAB

Inbar: We now have five different groups in around 24 territories. RobotLAB has franchisees in Dallas-Fort Worth; Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C.; Southern New Jersey; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

We look forward to expanding to Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York; Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.; and in Houston, Austin, and San Antonio in Texas. We just got approval in California for our franchise registration.

You also signed distribution agreements with some well-known service robot providers.

Inbar: Yes, we signed a master distributorship agreement with LG in North America. If anyone wants robots from LG, we can deploy, service, and repair them.

We also signed a new agreement with United Robotics Group [URG], which acquired the former Aldebaran from SoftBank Robotics. We have an extension for the Pepper humanoid robot.

Why was the LG deal significant?

Inbar: LG has started producing cleaning, customer-guidance, delivery, and warehouse robots. It wanted to utilize its network of partners to bring them to market. It had tried for a couple of years, but robots are not TVs or dishwashers — they need specialized deployment and services.

For instance, mobile robots need to map their environments, and integration is more involved than with with other products.

We met LG at one of its partner deployments at DFW [Dallas Fort Worth International] Airport, where it demonstrated its CLOi GuideBot helping people get to their gates. Over the past few years, we’ve deployed tens of those robots and showed the value of our knowhow.

LG trusts us because of our years of experience. RobotLAB has rolled out over 100 of its robots by now in multiple scenarios. As we grow, we have local teams certified to service robots on site — that’s the glue that helped LG make the choice.

How is RobotLAB supporting schools?

Inbar: We signed with the Department of Education in American Samoa for its STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] curriculum. RobotLAB is supporting all of its schools in a nearly $3 million project.

We shipped everything in six to seven containers, and our team went there to deploy the robots.

Labor shortages drive service robot market

Service robots are popular in East Asia, but how is the U.S. market maturing? Does it depend on availability, support, or technology innovations?

Inbar: On the tech side, the robots integrate with elevators better, but the most important factor supporting the growth of adoption is the labor shortage following the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, it will be four years since many workers were sent home for what we thought would be two weeks. That’s huge timespan — people entering the workforce now were in ninth grade four years ago; they don’t know anything different.

People aren’t willing to do what they did before the pandemic — they’re less willing to bus tables, be runners, or push vacuum cleaners in hotels. Also, the gig economy has grown, with Uber and DoorDash. Some people don’t know 9-to-5 jobs or want them, and others are moving up or out of the workforce.

In the other side, business owners still need to serve their guests, clean their floors, and compensate for school janitors retiring. Robots are the ultimate solution for filling this gap, working with minimal supervision. One person can control multiple robots to get the job done.

Robots to benefit from smarter AI

What are your expectations for 2024?

Inbar: We’ll be deploying more robots for cleaning, delivery, hospitality, and warehouse uses.

We also want to get more of URG’s Pepper out into the world. We’re looking at changing its tablet interface and operating system and making the robot more fluent in its responses.

With all the attention lately on humanoid robots, are you planning on updating Pepper’s hardware?

Inbar: There’s no need to change the hardware. The cameras and vision work fine. But thanks to ChatGPT, Cortana, and Facebook Chatbots, we can now have better control and conversations.

Each of those can work out of the box, but service robots are now dealing with lag. We’ll enable smoother integration, but I’m not sure how widely it will be deployed.

ChatGPT has no restrictions on what can be asked, and we don’t want someone asking in a hotel lobby, “Who killed JFK?” I’m sure conversational and generative AI will evolve for more specific uses such as customer service or dealing with children.

Written by

Eugene Demaitre

Eugene Demaitre is editorial director of the robotics group at WTWH Media. He was senior editor of The Robot Report from 2019 to 2020 and editorial director of Robotics 24/7 from 2020 to 2023. Prior to working at WTWH Media, Demaitre was an editor at BNA (now part of Bloomberg), Computerworld, TechTarget, and Robotics Business Review.

Demaitre has participated in robotics webcasts, podcasts, and conferences worldwide. He has a master's from the George Washington University and lives in the Boston area.