|Neubility’s self-driving delivery robot Neubie is introduced during Samsung Electronics’ C-Lab Startup Demo Day at Samsung’s R&D Campus in Seoul, Nov. 24. Courtesy of Samsung Electronics
Robot startup CEO aims for global delivery market
By Baek Byung-yeul
Self-driving robots are a growing business fueled by rising consumer demand for convenient deliveries.
Lee Sang-min, CEO of local robot delivery startup Neubility, said he is confident that the robot delivery market will become a lucrative one as he believes robots as we have seen in the movies will make our daily lives more comfortable.
“I have a goal of placing robots, which we saw in sci-fi movies, deep into our daily lives. My vision is to make robots do various services in our real life,” Lee told The Korea Times during a recent email interview.
Neubility, a last-mile robot delivery platform startup, developed its own delivery robot Neubie and delivery platform service Neubiego. Last mile refers to the final stage of product delivery or movement of people. In line with the recent growth of e-commerce, the last mile has emerged as a lucrative sector.
Since 2017, Lee has been developing core technologies for its robots such as deep learning-based object recognition systems and hardware. The company began test operating its delivery service last year in Incheon’s Songdo and southeastern Seoul’s Songpa District.
The CEO introduced Neubility as a company that handles both hardware and software, putting its focus on developing software for intelligent robots.
“Neubility is a company that spans both software and hardware. But our focus is on software for intelligent robots. Allan Kay, an American computer science professor, once said, ‘People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware,’ which means that only people who are truly serious about software make their own hardware. And we are applying this philosophy to our robot products,” Lee said.
|Lee Sang-min, CEO of Neubility, introduces the company’s delivery robot and services during the C-Lab Startup Demo Day held by Samsung Electronics at Samsung’s R&D Campus in Seoul, Nov. 24. Courtesy of Samsung Electronics
Neubility is not a company with vague possibilities. Since Lee established the company in 2017, it has attracted a significant amount of investments. The company attracted 23 billion won ($17.4 million) from investors such as IMM Investment, Samsung Welstory, SK Telecom, Signite Partners, Lotte Ventures and KB Investment in a Series A funding round in April.
The company also won an opportunity from Samsung Electronics’ startup support program, C-Lab Outside, in 2021. With Samsung’s help, Neubility said it was able to build a stable business foundation including financial consulting and business cooperation.
“About 70 employees are currently working for the company and talented professionals are joining our company as the business is growing,” Lee said.
The CEO said the robot delivery service has tremendous growth potential, although it is still in its infant stage similar to the early 1980s when people began using personal computers.
“I really enjoy creating a new market. Above all, it is also very attractive to create services with robots, though robots had been viewed from a manufacturing perspective. When I look at the robot industry, I think of the 1980s when the concept of the personal computer was born. I strongly believe that the robot industry will be in line with the development of the computer industry in the future. It may take time, but I believe it’s a battle in which the company that leads first takes the lead,” Lee said.
Neubility is also expanding its footprint in global markets, agreeing recently with European autonomous mobility company Goggo Network to test operate its robot delivery service in Spain.
Under the agreement, the two companies will cooperate with logistics companies in Europe and offer robot delivery services.
“We are working with Goggo Network, which has various service experiences and excellent platforms in Europe. We will play a role in expanding the base of the autonomous robot ecosystem by launching reliable service not only in Korea, but also in global markets,” Lee said.
|Neubility’s self-driving delivery robot Neubie delivers books from the National Assembly Library to the main National Assembly building, while Rep. Chung Il-young, right, and other Assembly officials watch in Yeouido, Seoul, Aug. 25. Courtesy of Neubility
Creating acceptable service is key
Not only Neubility, but also many competitors such as LG Electronics and KT are advancing into robot delivery services in line with the social trend that tries to reduce reliance on human resources while maintaining service quality.
It is no longer unfamiliar to see robots deliver food or goods in places where many people gather such as restaurants and airports.
At a time when the startup is expected to compete against big companies, the Neubility CEO said it is more important to create a Robot-as-a-Service (RaaS) trend first than to lead the robot delivery industry, looking at this business beyond a manufacturing perspective.
Concerns that will arise when robots are subject to legal regulations to prevent accidents or other damage in the process of delivery are problems to be addressed later, he said.
“I think the first hurdle in this business is the social acceptance of robots. This means how users adapt and respond to robots in a friendly manner is important. But what is more important is how companies can move away from the conventional manufacturing perspective and create RaaS,” Lee said.
In case of accidents that may occur during delivery, Neubility signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) recently with local insurer, DB Insurance, to develop an insurance product that compensates for accidents that occur during robot delivery.
“On Oct. 31, we signed a MOU with DB Insurance to develop insurance products for indoor and outdoor self-driving robot services to provide safe and convenient self-driving robot delivery services for various corporate customers and citizens. The product is expected to include compensation for accidents incurred by pedestrians, cars and motorcycles during robot delivery,” Lee said.
For the safe operation of its robots, the CEO said the Neubie robots are equipped with the company’s self-developed sensing technologies and monitoring system that can react right away in case of accidents.
“Since 2021, we have been conducting demo services of our delivery robots in urban areas, university districts, apartment complexes and convenience stores. Fortunately, there has been no damage to delivery products or casualties and we are paying particular attention to this,” he said.
“We’ve tested our service in many different environments to ensure reliable self-driving performance. Our robots are designed to recognize and avoid unexpected people and obstacles and has a system that can monitor issues in real time.”