Household Robotics Entering the Consumer Market Mainstream
Long heralded as the next phase of digital evolution, robotics is becoming less science fiction and more about routine consumer appliances, as developers begin to market price-conscious, artificial-intelligence goods to households. As ownership of household durables continues to rise globally, consumers are increasingly looking for more high-tech appliances, offering opportunities for robotic products. However, their higher price bracket and low marketing exposure pose barriers to uptake.
Global Possession of Selected Household Durables: 2008-2013
Source: Euromonitor International from trade sources/national statistics
- 2014 is likely to be a breakout year for consumer robotics, as more products are taken on by major appliances brands and consumers begin to purchase practical robotic devices for their home. Robotic vacuum cleaners, intelligent voice-activated operating systems and smart-home devices have already entered the mainstream, providing revenue opportunities for both tech start-ups and established majors. Global ownership of a vacuum cleaner rose from 45.9% in 2008 to 49.5% in 2013;
- Google, LG and Samsung are some of the major brands that have entered the robotics market, which is now being accepted as more than just a futuristic concept. However, with most robotic products on the market as of 2014 priced at the higher-end price bracket, or considered an added luxury, low-income homes and emerging market consumers are not likely to be major drivers of purchases. For example, among China’s poorest tenth of homes only 8.4% possessed a broadband enabled PC in 2013.
Population ageing and demand for healthcare are likely to be major factors driving advanced robotics, alongside more basic functions such as security and convenience:
- Robotic vacuum cleaners have been at the foremost of penetrating the global consumer market, and 2013 appeared to have been a key year in the segment’s development. Impressive sales globally and the willingness of consumers to pay a premium for self-mechanisation have encouraged brands such as LG, Samsung and Dyson to actively invest in developing a robotic cleaning product range. Greater consumer awareness in the medium term will drive demand for intelligent vacuum cleaners, acting as a launch pad for robotics in the home;
- The consumer appliances market is an especially welcoming area for the entry of robotic products as demand, driven especially by the growth of middle classes in emerging economies, for durables continues to rise. Home possession of appliances such as air conditioners and TVs, which can easily be roboticised, will grow through to 2030, while consumer appliances is forecast to be the fastest growing e-commerce segment globally over 2014-2018;
Global Healthcare Expenditure and Consumer Appliances E-Commerce: 2008-2018
Source: Euromonitor International from trade sources/national statistics/Eurostat/UN/OECD
Note: All figures in constant 2013 terms; 2014-2018 data is forecast
- Most consumers already have access to a robotic device: the mobile phone. Google, Apple and Microsoft have inbuilt intelligent personal assistants running on iOS and Android operating systems for smartphones based on voice-recognition technology. Opportunities in intelligent operating systems are significant, ranging from accessing e-commerce offers to restaurant listings hands-free. Mobile Internet is key, however, with 63.9% of mobile subscribers in the developed world having access to it in 2013;
- Global population expansion and population ageing are major factors in the growth of healthcare robotics. Sensors and smart apps are rapidly being developed to process data on home-ridden elderly people and hospital inpatients, which would lighten the workload on medical staff and meet growing demand for healthcare services. The world’s median age is expected to rise from 29.9 in 2013 to 33.9 by 2030;
- However, at present, robotics is largely a segment that is affordable to developed market consumers and a high-income minority in developing countries. Low levels of IT literacy, weak accessibility to broadband Internet and financial limitations prevent robotic products from entering the mainstream in emerging markets, although growing competition between brands could drive greater access.
- The entry of robotics into the everyday lives of consumers is nearing, and figuring out which segments are most practical and least intrusive is the primary challenge facing companies. Google is certainly placing a big bet on the industry, following a major acquisitions spree in 2013 of numerous robotics specialists;
- Smartphones are set to become the bridge between consumers and machines, offering a common controls system to remotely direct robotics-based operating systems. The ability to build individual apps for intelligent products will offer opportunities for developers and smartphone vendors. By 2030, some 92.5% of the world’s homes will possess a mobile handset;
- Educating consumers to the benefits of robotic products and encouraging them to pay a premium for advanced technologies will be an obstacle for the sector, especially in emerging countries where home spending on telecom equipment averaged only US$49.9 in 2013. Nonetheless, mobile phones that spoke to you were a novel idea not so long ago as well.