By Kim Boram
SEOUL, Oct. 21 (Yonhap) -- Until recently, the robot market has been largely comprised of large, expensive industrial robots with fixed arms and manipulators used primarily for production and distribution of goods.
Major customers for those industrial or factory robots are carmakers, electronics producers and metal and machinery manufacturing companies.
However, the yearslong COVID-19 pandemic and rapid aging in South Korea, which intensified a labor shortage in the service sector, have been creating new demand for smaller and cheaper robots used in restaurants and coffee shops.
Kim Min-kyo, CEO of Bigwave Robotics Inc., said his online robot-as-a-service (RaaS) platform, Marosol, focuses on the changing industrial landscape.
"Robotics automation has been long used by large manufacturing companies or mid-sized firms, but the market is now expanding," he said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency last week. "But its entry barrier is still very high and Marosol can lower it."
Marosol, an AI-powered robotics automation matching service, efficiently matches supply and demand companies for robots. It helps clients implement optimal robotic solutions to become more cost-competitive, while robot producing firms are encouraged to be more consumer-centric.
He said his clients are small merchants or mom-and-pop owners who want to hire robot waiters, cooks and security guards to adapt to the non face-to-face service trend and tackle a labor shortage.
Without Marosol, it takes a long time for the small-sized businesses to decide on the best robotics solutions after meeting people from several supplying companies, he added. Some give up due to the time-consuming preparation.
"The robot market involves information asymmetries," he said. "Some business people want to buy a set of robots but they have to do it on their own from a market survey to price bargaining. It takes a long time. At the same time, suppliers don't know how many new clients are out there waiting to buy the system."
He said more than 50 percent of Marosol's clients are small- and mid-sized enterprises and another 24 percent are business people from the service sector.
Along with the list of 500 robotic products and the supply-demand matching service, Marosol also offers financing programs such as lease, loan, and installment for the funds required for the introduction of cooperative robots, along with post-treatment service.
In particular, its archive of videos of robots successfully operating in stores, restaurants and logistics firms is the most trusted corner for potential robot buyers.
"CEOs of small service and logistics firms want to see videos of precedent cases," said Kim. "Our video database is appealing to them."
Since launching the service in early 2021, Marosol now showcases 2,500 real-life successful examples of robotic solutions in video footage.
Recently, Marosol launched a new platform for trading second-hand robots, the first used-robot market in the country.
"Demand for used robots is larger than expected," said Kim. "We opened the second-hand market in August, and 10 transactions have been made since then."
Kim said he hopes Marosol plays a role in popularizing the robot market where all customers, even a small restaurant owner, can easily purchase robotic arms to fry fast food, like French fries and chicken wings.
"For popularization of a product, all related processes ranging from manufacturing, logistics and service should be vendible and accessible," he said. "I want to create the new eco-system for robotic goods."