Labrador Systems' Practical Home Robots Know How to “Retrieve”

By Mark Ogilbee posted 02-23-2023 10:06 PM


Labrador Systems makes personal robots that empower people to live more independently by providing practical, physical assistance with everyday activities in the home. The robots support both individuals and their caregivers and provide a new platform for transforming home health.  

To learn more about these cutting-edge robots and the company, we spoke with Labrador Systems’ co-founder and CEO, Mike Dooley. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Robots in the home sounds like a futuristic new frontier. 

We’re creating an entirely new category of robots. They’re more functional than what’s been available in the past for a home environment: Their key function is to bring items to people who have a health issue that impacts their physical ability to carry things. 

Our Labrador robot can move 20–25 pounds around the house for someone to help them with the activities of daily living. For example, Labrador could hold and carry cleaning supplies for someone with multiple sclerosis. Our robots are meant to be a very pragmatic product that is actually useful for people. 


How do you control the robot? 

Our system starts with what we call “bus routes” and “bus stops.” We train the robot on a set of locations around the house. It can automatically drive up and park itself at a bus stop, then change its height and orientation as needed. It can retrieve things such as a meal, drinks or medication with a tray system. For example, it can go to the kitchen counter bus stop and raise up to bring you a glass of water. 

Our primary audience is people who have the onset of something that disrupts their physical activities in the home. They can control the robot with their voice with Alexa, and we’ll be using additional voice interfaces in the future. Or they can use a smartphone to control the robot. 

Labrador’s usefulness extends to caregivers, who can set things up before they go to work or during the hours when caregiving isn’t available.  


How does Labrador represent a step forward in home robotics? 

I started in robotics back in the ’90s, and I’ve seen the progression in the industry. The pinnacle of home robots right now is the Roomba. It’s small, it systematically navigates as it cleans, and it has the ability to detect and avoid obstacles. Those are relatively affordable because they use consumer electronics. 

On the commercial side, such as in factories, you have very large, heavy robots. What Labrador Systems is doing taking these very large robots that can carry 20–25 pounds and making them the size of a laundry basket, and enabling them to navigate like a self-driving car through the narrow spaces of a home. That's why it's a new category: It's built on the evolution of the technologies that go into consumer products to make it affordable, but it's actually more sophisticated than a lot of the solutions you see in the commercial space. 


What’s the company’s origin story? 

When my mom was in her 80s, she started using a walker and a cane to move around, and I realized she was using her hands as her extra pair of legs. Carrying the laundry basket, bringing in groceries, or setting the table became much more difficult for her; either she couldn't do it, or she'd have to break the task up into a bunch of little steps. 

Sometimes I explain it like this: As you get older, gravity just gets heavier. But younger people might have had an accident, or have the onset of multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s. So we’re filling the gap for anyone who needs another pair of hands, and we’re doing it in a way that gives power back to the person, so they have more control. 


What obstacles have you faced as you’ve built Labrador Systems? 

When we first started, dealing with the health system was a rude awakening. We had to learn all about things like private, long-term health insurance, and the Medicare PACE system. What do they cover? How are they doing it? So we’ve been learning a lot about where we can get initial traction, because in the insurance world, there’s no reimbursement code for “robot.”  

All this takes time. You have to get into production and make thousands of units to demonstrate that you can have a health benefit so it will get reimbursed, and it’s hard to get funding to do that. It took us a while to navigate that and figure out our path to market. It's helped that part of what we’re doing is educating the public about the next steps in practical robotic technology — not just a concept robot, but what’s actually practical. 


What kind of partnerships is Labrador Systems looking for? 

This is a massive, underserved market, and we believe we’ve cracked the code for how to enter it. We’re in this magical transition between having the demand for our product and moving into production, so we’re raising our Series A and looking for investors, particularly from the healthcare insurance and long-term care segments. 

We have a strong case for labor savings, and we’re working with PACE organizations to help them deliver care into homes. We’d love to talk with more insurance plans that have a little freedom in how they deliver their system. If you’re a PACE organization or a Medicaid-funded health community plan, or you’re with the Veterans Affairs in certain areas, we’d like to talk to you and show you what we're doing in organizations similar to yours. 


Check out their website to learn more about Labrador Systems.