MVP for Dummies: Robotic Enhanced Training Here to Stay

Visit to the toy department. We visited the robotics toy department in the form of a high school football field to test the Mobile Virtual Player (MVP) Drive, an $8,000 robotic tackling dummy that has been adopted this year by 15 NFL, 33 college, and 50 high school football teams. Today, the goal of Drive is to reduce practice injuries and improve or modify drills. In the future, MVP will enter new markets, including law enforcement and military training (think dynamic target practice).

Robotic enhanced training is the future. While there’s no substitution for replicating game contact and real life situations, there are many uses where robotics can improve readiness. After spending an hour with the product, we left as believers that robotic enhanced training is here to stay.

MVP for dummies. If you’re new to the robotic enhanced training field, like we are, this note will get you up to speed. First, the facts about the MVP-Drive (Football) and MVP-Tactical (Military and Law Enforcement) products:

  • Height: 5’8″
  • Weight: 190lbs
  • Speed: 20mph
  • Battery Life: 6hrs
  • Charging Time: 6hrs
  • Price: ~$8,000

Safety. Traditional football and military training dummies are stationary or require physical direction by a human to move. The MVP-Drive dummy is the first mobile, remote-controlled, self-righting (when it falls down it gets back up) training dummy. Anyone can operate the dummy using an RC remote control. As you know, for the past 10 years there has been ongoing research on concussions and the impact of conditions such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) on former NFL players. Concussions are typically associated with huge, one-off hits; however, concussions more often occur from repeated impacts such as the continuous head-to-head contact that occurs during practice. According to MVP, more than 50% of both injuries and concussions occur during practice at the high school and collegiate level. MVP Training dummies eliminate the need for player-on-player contact, while still allowing players to practice proper fundamentals with full-speed reps.

Improve or modify drills. Drive gives coaches an added element to drills to create different scenarios. For example, Drive could act as pass rushers, moving tackling dummies, or even help players practice pursuit angles.

Passed Loup Ventures ease of use test. Drive’s speed and ease of control surprised us. Below, Loup Ventures put Drive to the test. With Alex Schwappach at the controls, Mark Grangaard attempted his best Jadeveon Clowney impression using MVP-Drive.

Top: Jadeveon Clowney, Bottom: Mark Grangaard

What coaches say. As mentioned, MVP-Drive is used today by 15 NFL teams, 33 NCAA programs, and 50 high schools. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the first NFL team to use the MVP-Drive in practice, and Head Coach Mike Tomlin said Drive has had a material impact on player safety and performance. At the NCAA, level Rich Rodriguez of Arizona and Chip Kelly (recently) of UCLA have also made comments about safety and performance improvements from using Drive. We believe as long as coaches see a direct correlation between dummy usage in practice and regular season games won, adoption will increase.

Additional markets of law enforcement and military. Similar to the MVP-Drive, the MVP-Tactical dummy allows military and law enforcement units to practice real-life scenarios with a mobile target. The current military training options are either fixed or reactive and only allow static, two-dimensional short-range training. Current options are predictable, do not provide instant feedback, and most of all fail to replicate the stress of a true operating environment. Mobile solutions do exist, however almost all of them have restricted motion and are inviable for training in close-quarters combat, a critical function of military and law enforcement. The MVP-Tactical dummy has 3 armored layers and is designed to withstand a .50 caliber bullet, yet will still protect against shrapnel and ricochet. It’s a great improvement from existing options.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

Why You Should Buy a Roomba Vacuum in the Next 5 Days

With consumers appetite for robotic technology continuing to grow, we anticipate domestic robots, which include robotic vacuums, mops and lawnmowers, to be one of the hottest gifts this coming holiday season. While there are many kinds of domestic robot brands, we believe iRobot’s Roomba vacuums and Braava wet floor products are two of the best domestic robots in their respective categories.

Although these and other domestic robots can seem expensive, early in the holiday season is the best time to save money on these high-tech gadgets. But how much can you save, and are you really getting the best deal? Over the last 2+ years, we have been tracking Roomba and Braava prices on iRobot’s website as well as at the company’s 4 larger North American retailers: Amazon, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond and Target. While historical results can not always predict future outcomes, our data suggests buying over the next 5 days maybe the best time to get a deal on a Roomba or Braava robot.

Roomba Vacuums. iRobot currently sells 5 different Roomba vacuum cleaners on the company’s website, which include the 980, 960, 890, 690 and 614. The Roomba 980 and 96o Series are the company’s premium vacuum cleaners, and normally retail for $900 and $800, respectively. These higher-end products have longer battery endurance, wifi connectivity, as well as stronger suction power than low-end models. Last Friday (Black Friday) and today (Cyber Monday), the 980 and 96o were selling for $800 and $700, respectively across all channels we tracked. This is in-line with last year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday discounts; however, if history repeats itself, this deal will only last through the end of week. Last year from Dec 2nd till the end of the month, both models returned to their original retail price. iRobot is also selling a low-end Roomba vacuum, 690 and 614, for $375 and $250, respectively across most channels, but given these are newer products, we do not have historical pricing on these product lines.

Braava Wet Floor. iRobot currently sells two kinds of wet floor products, Braava 380 and Braava Jet, which each normally retail for $300 and $200, respectively. Last Friday and today, the 380 and Jet were selling for $250 and $170 across most retail channels we checked, respectively. (Note the 380 and Jet were selling for $240 and $144, respectively on Amazon.) While both these product lines did not return to normal pricing after Dec 2nd last year, on average both the 380 and Jet Series saw prices steadily increase for the remainder of the year. Over the final 3 weeks in December, the Braava sold on average for $267 across the channels we checked. Meanwhile, the Jet sold for $182 over that same channels and time period. Regardless, consumers were able to save $12 – $17 if they bought on Black Friday, Cyber Monday or the following week.

While iRobot could extend their seasonal discounts longer than they did last holiday season, our data suggests the time to buy your Roomba or Braava maybe now if you want to capture the best price.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

2017 Loup Ventures Holiday Gift Guide

Here are a few gift recommendations for the 2017 holiday season:

And here’s a look ahead to 2018 with some of the products we’re hoping for:

  • Apple HomePod | Apple’s foray into the smart speaker market.
  • Apple iPhone X Plus | We’d love a larger screen for our iPhone Xs.
  • Oculus Go | Oculus’ $199 standalone VR headset.
  • Magic Leap | Augmented Reality glasses.
  • Tesla Model 3 | Already on the market, we’re hoping to see shorter reservation times.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

Waymo Unleashes Autonomous Cars – Now Must Earn Public’s Trust

On November 7th, Waymo reached a new milestone by removing the safety net and testing fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without someone behind the wheel to take over in case of an emergency. Waymo has been testing in the Phoenix, AZ area for some time now, and other companies like Uber, Cruise, and NuTonomy have similar operations. But there has always been an employee in the driver’s seat. November 7th marked a new stage of testing self-driving cars. Along with last Tuesday’s test, which took place in Chandler, AZ, Waymo has recently made an exciting push to prepare the public for the cars that, as they just proved, are closer to full deployment than many people believe.

Largely considered the leader in autonomy, Waymo has driven a collective 3.5 million autonomous miles on public roads across 20 cities (that’s the equivalent of the average American driving for 291 years). They have also completed over 20,000 different scenario tests at their facility in California, and simulate 10 million miles per day. “In short: we’re building our vehicles to be the most experienced driver on the road,” they write in a blog post. Along with a growing crowd of other competitors, Waymo gets closer each day to deploying a fleet of self-driving cars available to summon at your convenience. Regardless of how advanced the tech may be, however, the reality remains that people simply aren’t ready to be driving down the road next to an empty car – perhaps the biggest hurdle facing autonomy is widespread acceptance of them.

Being realistic about autonomy. Waymo knows that in order for mass adoption to take place, the public must first trust autonomous vehicles. Successfully building a vehicle that can operate autonomously is a feat of engineering, but educating the public on its benefits is a different task entirely.

Realizing this fact, Waymo has recently made an impressive effort to prepare the public for what’s coming. They have partnered with organizations like the National Safety Council and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, trained law enforcement departments on how to deal with incidents involving self-driving vehicles, and attempted to be transparent by releasing a comprehensive Safety Report and inviting reporters to a test drive at their facility in Atwater, CA. According to a AAA survey this year, only 20% of Americans would trust an autonomous vehicle to drive itself with them in it. This leaves no doubt that we have a long way to go before this technology becomes mainstream. Waymo, more than any other player in the space, is attacking the problem head on, opening up a dialogue with the public and taking an inclusive approach to educating everyone on the risks and benefits of a new type of mobility.

Partnerships. By engaging the public and partnering with organizations outside of tech and auto, Waymo hopes not only to raise awareness and educate people on self-driving cars, but to demonstrate how they are, in fact, a much safer and smarter mode of transportation. Here are some of the groups that Waymo has teamed up with:

  • The National Safety Council – Focused on areas where the greatest number of preventable injuries or deaths occur, including workplace safety, prescription medicine abuse, teen driving, and cell phone use while driving. 40,000 Americans die on the road each year.
  • Foundation for Senior Living – Believes age shouldn’t slow anyone down. 80% of seniors live in vehicle-dependent suburbs, and there are 45M people in the U.S. over the age of 65.
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving – Intoxicated driving is the number one cause of death on roadways.
  • The Foundation for Blind Children – Focused on empowering the blind with independence. There are 1.3 million legally blind individuals in the U.S., growing to over 2 million by 2050.
  • East Valley Partnership – Concerned with improving quality of business and life in the East Valley region. Americans spend 50 minutes on average commuting to and from work each day

Waymo’s Safety Report. “Fully self-driving vehicles will succeed in their promise and gain public acceptance only if they are safe.” This thesis, stated in the early pages of a recently released Safety Report, resonates throughout the next 43 pages, as Waymo lays everything on the table. The report details safety procedures, how vehicles respond to numerous situations, how the autonomous systems function, and several other elements that must be understood before feeling comfortable riding in a self-driving car. It quickly becomes clear that safety is at the core of Waymo’s pitch. As the first voluntary safety assessment of its kind, much of its contents will likely be mandated by regulatory bodies going forward.

Law Enforcement Training. Yes, there will still be accidents on the road when cars drive themselves. While we believe there will be radically fewer of them, law enforcement must still understand how to respond to an incident involving a driverless car. Waymo has designed their systems to interact with law enforcement and first responders with audio sensors to discern where sirens are coming from, and responses like safely yielding or pulling over to a complete stop. They have also briefed authorities in every city in which they test, and conducted on-site trainings to help police and emergency vehicles identify and access self-driving cars.

Test Drives. On October 31st, Waymo hosted a group of journalists at their usually secret testing compound in Atwater, CA. This act is not unprecedented; however, coupled with Waymo’s other recent actions, it represents a level of transparency unmatched by any of their competitors. The group was given a test drive in a mock town they have created, complete with an array of real-life scenarios like an unexpected cyclist cutting in front of the car, or a man standing beside a broken-down Hyundai. Find a detailed write-up of the test drive here or here.

The idea was to give riders a feel for what it’s like to use Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica minivans as on-demand vehicles. It will function a lot like current ride-hailing platforms – a rider summons a car on a smartphone app, the car locates the rider, and navigates to their destination. Press a friendly, blue “Start Ride” button to embark, and passenger-facing screens show a rider-friendly version of what the car is seeing.

Trust building 101 – with transparency. As a cyclist rides by or a car passes, it appears on the monitor – it even shows trees, parked cars, and buildings in your surroundings. The level of detail that Waymo focuses on in terms of user experience leads one to believe they are months, not years, from deploying their much talked-about fleet. A video from Waymo exhibits how remarkably smooth the process is. Between a groundbreaking and successful test, and a new level of transparency focused on building trust and engaging the public, we believe Waymo has earned its pole position in the race for autonomy. Their next step will likely be the deployment of a small fleet to a limited group of participants in AZ – stay tuned.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

Robot Fear Index: 30.9

Like many in the tech space, we believe robotics is changing the nature of work; however, public perception of robots is still a question mark. We developed our Robot Fear Index to measure and track the average consumer’s perception of robots. We asked over 500 US consumers about topics ranging from their use of robots at home to their comfort level with self-driving cars. Then we distilled the data down to an index value that we will publish regularly. An index value of 100 suggests widespread and extreme fear of robots; an index value of 0 suggests minimal fear of robots.

Robot Fear Index: 30.9. Consumer adoption of artificial intelligence and robotics is already quite broad, and yet, fear of robots is also pervasive. We fear that they’ll replace our jobs or somehow overthrow us; and to be blunt, those fears are valid. That said, our 2017 survey indicates acceptance for these technologies continues to grow. Our most recent Robot Fear Index value of 30.9 (vs. 31.5 in late 2016) suggests that public perception of robots is essentially unchanged over the last year despite increased awareness of artificial intelligence, robotics, and the potential impact of these technologies. Notably, the related increase in media coverage of these issue does not seem be causing the rise in fear that we might expect. In fact, the slight year-over-year decline in our index value suggests slightly less fear of automation technologies.

Our most recent Robot Fear Index value of 30.9 (vs. 31.5 in late 2016) suggests that public perception of robots is essentially unchanged over the last year despite recent media coverage and increased awareness of automation technologies.

Survey Demographics. Of the 433 US consumers that responded to our 2017 Robot Fear Survey, 54% were male and 46% were female. Our survey population was also equally weighted across all age demographics, as shown in the exhibits below.

Use of Digital Assistants Growing Slowly. We continue to see digital assistants as an onramp to AI and robotics for many consumers. Our 2017 survey shows 69% of consumers have used a digital assistant (Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa) and roughly one-third use a digital assistant once a day or more, which is in-line to our results last year. When asked how many digital assistant consumers own, 21% said 1, while 14% indicated greater than 1.

Comfort with Robots is Up Slightly. We believe the comfort with AI is driving comfort with robotics. We asked consumers on a scale of 1 – 10 (1 being the most) how comfortable they are with using robots in many different settings including house cleaning (robot vacuums), healthcare (surgical procedures) and travel (self-driving cars). We were encouraged to see that 7 of the 8 categories we track saw a modest increase in comfort levels around robotics.

Domestic Robot Adoption Large Catalyst. We believe that consumer awareness of robotics is closely correlated to the rise of domestic robots within households. Domestic robots are classified as robot vacuum cleaners, mops and lawn mowers, and over the next 10 years we believe this category will be one of the fastest growing robot markets in the world. Our data shows that 75% of US consumers have yet to buy a household robot. Although we do not have the historical data to show y/y comparisons, last week, iRobot, a leading robotic vacuum and wet floor company, reported better than expected Q3 results and raised their FY17 revenue guidance for a third consecutive quarter (see note here). Given iRobot’s results, we believe the domestic robot market is seeing strong adoption domestically and internationally.

What Is Keeping Consumers From Using Robots? Many consumers have not yet adopted AI or robotic technology. When asked what has kept you from using robots, 41% (36% in 2016) of consumers said they are just not interested, while 29% (21% in 2016) believes robots are too expensive. That said, it was encouraging only 6% of consumers don’t use robots because it makes them nervous, which is down from 11% in 2016. We believe one of the the bigger fears when it comes to AI and robotics, is the risk of taking jobs. When asked when will AI and robotics cause significant job loss, 27% said within 5 years, 31% believe in 10 years and 24% anticipate significant job loss in 20 years. The remaining 17% of consumers did not believe robots would ever take our jobs.

Bottom Line. Following our 2017 Robot Fear Index survey, we believe consumer fear of robots is essentially unchanged, despite growing awareness of the potential risks of automation. We think our index value of 30.9 quantifies this cautious comfort with robots and we’re looking forward to updating the Robot Fear Index regularly as we track the progress of the robotics theme.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.