California / Belarus

Co-founder Eugene Kovalenko is building cobots for use outside the factory.

Kovalenko has seen the company’s mission transformed from the design and manufacture of robots for industrial use to a more public use.

Kovalenko, the company’s chief marketing officer, says the initial focus of the company was on robotic arms like those used for automated welding and pick-and-place applications, as well as the servomotors that power and control them. Rozum created a number of industrial automation solutions, including the development of its Pulse robotic arm.

Photos courtesy Rozum Robotics

Rozum has become the leading robot manufacturer in the Commonwealth of Independent States, a collection of nine countries in Eastern Europe that includes Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.

The company’s leading product, the Pulse, has also pulled the company into a new public-facing invention, a robotic coffee barista called the Rozum Café. That also led Rozum, headquartered in Minsk, Belarus, to open an office in the United States for sales and support of the Rozum Café. The company currently has three employees in California.

Collaborative robots, or cobots, are designed to interact with humans. In the case of the Rozum Café, that means a customer can walk into a coffee shop, go to the robot, and order a specially brewed coffee. The robot grinds the beans, tamps, pours and serves the coffee in about two minutes. Rozum Café coffee is being poured in four countries — Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and Saudi Arabia. The company, through its California office, now is expanding sales in the U.S. and Canada.

“For our first five years, we were not focused on baristas but on collaborative robotic arms to automate manufacturing production,” says Anna Kidron, the company’s public relations manager. “A few years later, we were just hanging around in the kitchen at our office in Minsk and we thought it would be great to have a robot make our coffee for us. That quickly led to the prototype.”

It took about three months for the Rozum Café to go from a concept to its first installation in a bakery in Ukraine in 2019. That led to further sales, especially at special events, and the Rozum Café has become one of the company’s core products.

Kidron says Rozum (which means “mind” in the Belarus language) expects robots will become more widespread in the service industries in coming years. But these robots will need to collaborate with humans. The analyst firm Research and Markets said in a recent report that the service robotics market was valued at $14.4 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $63.8 billion by 2025.

Rozum has partnered with an Italian espresso machine manufacturer, Nuova Simonelli, which has offices in Ferndale, Washington, for its North American distributors.

Challenges: Kidron says the biggest challenge from the company’s beginning has been to overcome the distrust of robotic technology by the general public, including the fear that robots will take jobs away from humans. More recently, the political unrest in Belarus has made potential investors and clients leery.

Opportunities: The pandemic created opportunities because robots and their use can help businesses weather the COVID-19 crisis and can also help prevent infections.

Needs: The company needs to align with a few business partners that operate coffee shops. “Technically, we have the expertise and have really cool feedback from clients who have bought the baristas,” Kidron says.