In 2017, Estonia was introduced as a robotically transformative nation, and the level has only risen since then.
The world’s cutest delivery robots
Starship Technologies, an Estonian startup founded in 2014, has become the global leader in autonomous last-mile delivery. Their adorable parcel robots can carry small to medium-sized packages and deliver them to their intended destination. Unsurprisingly, they have raised millions of dollars worth of investments. A Japanese investor Shinichi Nikkuni believes a part of Startship’s success comes from the capability of always being one step ahead. “Starship has proven itself to be years ahead of others,” Nikkuni said to Invest Estonia a year ago.
Like with any other new technology, there has been some resistance to the use of robots. People around the globe are a little alienated by autonomous machines that can sometimes navigate much faster than humanly possible. Seeing something that was possible only in futuristic movies makes it easy to forget that robots are only developed to make our lives easier. Fascinatingly, people don’t feel threatened by the Starship robots but instead stop and smile as they watch them travel city sidewalks and cross highways. It is something about their design and size that makes them easy to accept.
Smart parcel lockers and mighty delivery robots
Other successful delivery examples are Clevon and Cleveron. Started as a startup called Cleveron, both these products have now expanded globally. Cleveron is currently operating over 7,000 terminals in 50 different countries and serving major clients such as Walmart, Zara (Inditex), The Warehouse, and Falabella. Cleveron’s most recent innovation is a smart public parcel locker named Cleveron 503 that is capable of securely storing both parcels and groceries. In 2022, Clevon separated from Cleveron and shifted its focus towards developing self-driving delivery robots instead of parcel lockers. Their CLEVON 1 is now successfully navigating the streets of Viljandi, serving private users and transporting patient analysis for the Hospital of Viljandi. Today, Clevon has revealed its collaboration with the Curiosity Lab demo centre located in Peachtree Corners, US, an integral component of the smart city framework. The company’s upcoming endeavours will concentrate on exploring and experimenting with the integration of 5G technology in partnership with T-Mobile.
Delivering packages is not the only thing that needs to be done; people need to be transported as well. Self-driving cars are the future solution for that, and Auve Tech is leading the way in developing vehicles that feel like time machines. The eco-friendly hydrogen vehicles are designed for last-mile public transportation on open roads without imposing any threat to passengers or other drivers.
“Our mission is to offer comfort that urges people to favour public transport and also provide last-mile transport in areas where the use of personal cars or larger public transport means is complicated or inefficient,” Their last-generation vehicle MiCa even made it to the Japanese market, establishing Estonian R&D and engineering sectors in important competitive markets.
Estonian startup Yanu has launched robot bartenders. The Star Trek inspired Yanu operates fully on its own – Yanu takes your order, serves a drink, and handles the payment. “Our goal is to swiftly develop Yanu and become the Mercedes of this market,” Alan Adojaan, the company’s founder and CEO, said.
Milrem Robotics started as a bus repair company and has now become the top defence robotics provider in Europe. Their main focus is on creating unmanned defence robots, one of which is the Multiscope. This mini-tank is designed to save lives and even has proven to be useful in other areas such as planting trees and firefighting. Additionally, Marduk is working on automating defence technology in the air with the Marduk Shark, which can detect suspicious flying objects independently and, if needed, eliminate unwanted drones.
The Centre of Biorobotics, led by Maarja Kruusmaa, is delving even deeper into underwater robotics. However, it is an expensive endeavour due to the fact that robotic motors are not traditionally designed to function in water, particularly with waves and currents on the way. There is always a risk that the robot may not return after being deployed in the water. Nevertheless, Estonia stands out as one of the top 15 European centres focused on this niche field. Naturally, the combination of water and robots could also help combat climate change.
Robots in the mission of saving nature
All of these mobility solutions will reduce tons of CO2 emissions. “If Cleveron 503 is located on the way home for a customer and an average drive to a supermarket and back is about 10 kilometres, then the yearly saving of CO2 is 67 kg. And this is for one family only. Also, the couriers don’t have to drive to each person individually; extra CO2 saving comes from there as well.” In addition, we would need less area for car parks, and we would produce fewer cars if the shareable transport is that comfortable and easy to use.
Spacedrip startup is currently working on water treatment robots that can recycle up to 95% of wastewater. Depending on the type of treatment robot, the purified water can be used for irrigation, toilet flushing, among other non-potable applications, or even for drinking!
An emission-reducing solution in robotics is also introduced by 5.0 Robotics. The manufacturing robots they provide are super easy to use, need the same amount of power as your hairdryer, and are able to cut anything from textile to metal. 5.0 Robotics’ mission is to make manufacturing technology available to everyone, globally speaking. That is why they keep their prices low and system handling as easy as possible. They already have a machine working for one of the world’s biggest e-commerce enterprises.
Robotics in Estonia has been taught since kindergarten
The advancements in robotics that we see today are also affecting education. Robotics classes are now commonly offered in schools and even in kindergarten. For example, ProgeTiger is teaching students programming through play, using Blue-Bot, LEGO, Dash and Dot or other robots. The objective of the program is to provide digital competence and technological savviness to all pupils, no matter what their future career paths are. Kirke Kasari, Program Manager of ProgeTiger, said that she would often get questioned from the United States of America, South Korea and elsewhere whether it is true what they hear about Estonia in the media. “The ProgeTiger program is a fantastic example of how to promote tech education at the national level,” Kasari said to Invest Estonia, and she encourages anyone interested in the topic to contact her since she happily shares the Estonian experience.
Naturally, it is also possible to gain higher education in robotics at any prominent Estonian university. In addition, Robotex – titled the biggest robotics festival on the planet a few years ago – still proudly holds its place as one of the world’s most important robotics festivals. People around the world gather together to discuss the latest robotics breakthroughs, invent new ones and compete with each other every year since 2001. All of that and more ensures that robots won’t take away jobs from people in Estonia, but rather provide new and exciting opportunities for working smarter and living a more comfortable life here.