IFR Secretariat Blog - Oct 30, 2019

The market value for professional service robots increased by 32% to US$ 9.2 billion in 2018 (over 2017), driven by a 60% increase in unit sales of logistics systems. A 59% increase in the number of personal / domestic service robots sold was dominated by sales of robot vacuum cleaners. The market for personal /domestic service robots reached US$ 3.66 billion in 2018.

The market for both professional and personal / domestic service robots boomed in 2018 with an increase of 61% in professional robot unit sales, generating US$ 9.2 billion, an increase of 32% over 2017. Sales of personal / domestic service robot units increased by 59% though falling unit prices meant this resulted in an increase in sales volume of only 15% over 2017, to US$ 3.66 billion.

Sales value of logistics robots increases by 53% over 2017 to US $3.7 billion

The increase in sales of professional service robot units was driven primarily by a 60% increase in the number of logistics systems sold in 2018 over the previous year. Almost 111,000 logistics systems accounted for 41% of the total number of professional service robots sold. Most of these robots are used in non-manufacturing environments, such as warehouses and hospitals, but some are also used in factories to transport parts. The rapid increase in sales of logistics systems is in part due to a boom in e-commerce. Retail e-commerce sales reached almost US $3 trillion in 2018 , almost double the amount in 2015. At the same time, technology advances have expanded the range of tasks logistics robots can perform across a variety of sectors. For example, logistics robots no longer have to follow pre-defined paths but can be programmed with the help of data from sensors, a map of their environment, and algorithms enabling the robot to re-route itself if it encounters an obstacle. Sensors and vision-technologies including machine learning mean robots can be trained to identify and select objects. These technologies are also applied in fixed industrial robots, but the ability to combine them with autonomous guided vehicles means robots can now be programmed to autonomously navigate to, and select, an object – for example to fulfil an order. Robot arms and grippers have also advanced significantly, so that logistics robots can now successfully handle an increasing variety of products including fragile materials.

Continued strong growth forecast in medical, public relations and inspection / maintenance robots

Inspection and maintenance robots form the second largest category of professional service robots by unit sales, accounting for 39% of new unit sales in 2018. The same technologies that are driving advancements in logistics robots – particularly vision systems and machine-learning, as well as structural improvements that enable robots to enter and move around in very confined spaces, are spurring the adoption of inspection robots in a wide range of sectors and physical environments from factories to oilfields, to underwater inspection on ships.

By sales value, however, medical robots take second place after logistics robots, accounting for 30% of the value of total new sales of professional robots in 2018. Most of the US$ 2.8 billion in sales of medical robots were for surgery robots. However, robot rehabilitation systems, used to help people recover motor skills after accidents or medical conditions such as strokes, were the fastest-growing category of medical robots, with 83% sales growth (in both units and sales volume) in 2018 over the previous year. Given ageing populations in developed economies, strong sales growth of 47% in units sold and 45% in sales value annually on average between 2019 and 2022 is forecast for this category of robot.

Another fast-growing category of professional service robots with a promising future is public relations robots which are used to provide information in shops and public spaces. Though some of these robots are currently used principally for branding purposes, others are functionally efficient – for example guiding visitors in a store to products they have identified through a touch screen located on the robot. Some of these robots allow the shopper to connect via the screen to a remote support agent if the information provided through the touch screen is not sufficient. The sales value of public relations robots increased by 28% in 2018 to just over US$ 158 million, with 40% growth forecast for 2019.

Growth in sales of robots for personal and domestic use dominated by cleaning robots but strong growth forecast in assistance robots

The category personal / domestic robots covers robots used in the home for domestic tasks, entertainment and assistance. Floor- and window-cleaning robots and robotic lawnmowers, together with robotic toys and games, dominate sales. Sales of cleaning robots reached over US$ 2.4 billion, accounting for 67% of personal / domestic service robot sales value – a growth of 24% over 2017. It is projected that sales of robots for domestic tasks (vacuum cleaning, lawn-mowing, window cleaning and other types) could exceed 17.6 million units (valued at US$ 3.3 billion) in 2019 and 55 million units with an estimated value of US$ 9.7 billion in 2022.

The sales value of robot toys – the other primary type of personal / domestic robot – declined by 1%, though unit sales increased by 8%. This market value of this sector is expected to increase by an average of 10% per year from 2019 to just under US$ 1.7 billion in 2022.

The market for robots for elderly and handicap assistance is currently small, accounting for only 1.3% of sales value of personal / domestic service robots in 2018. However, this market is expected to increase by an average of 29% per year from 2019 to a value of around US$ 126 million in 2022. As in the professional service robot sectors, technology advancements in robot mobility, end effectors (grippers) and vision technologies are driving adoption of robots in this sector.

Service robot development driven by manufacturers in US and Europe

Unlike the industrial robot sector, which is dominated by Japanese, Korean and German manufacturers, the US and Europe drive service robot development. In 2018, 44% of all service robot manufacturers are European companies, 35% are American firms, and 21% are Asian manufacturers. Around half of all logistic system manufacturers are European companies, while US manufacturers have a strong presence in medical and defence robots. Asian manufacturers are the dominant producers of robots for domestic tasks and entertainment.

Start-up companies play an important role in the development of the sector, accounting for 25% of service robot companies. Larger companies are entering the service robot market through acquisitions – the most well-known example being Amazon’s acquisition of Kiva Systems in 2012. Production clusters are located quite differently to those for industrial robots, often near to centres of expertise in advanced software development, for example Silicon Valley.

Bright future for service robot manufacturers

The dynamism of the service robot sector, illustrated by strong growth in 2018, is set to continue. The sales value of professional service robots is estimated to increase by 45% on average per year between 2019 and 2022, reaching a total of about US$ 38 billion in 2022. Meanwhile, the sales value of personal /domestic robots will increase by an annual average of 35% in the same period to just over US$ 11.5 billion in 2022.

About the author

Dr. Christopher Mueller

Director IFR Statistical Department

Author of the annual World Robotics - Industrial Robots edition

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Dr. Christopher Müller

Director IFR Statistical Department

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Nina Kutzbach

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