VIDEO. Lot: Soben urban robots should be marketed in 2024

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Since the €1.2 million awarded under the France Relance plan, the company Soben has managed to expand the development of its urban robots with its start-up TwinswHeel. Commercialization is scheduled for 2024.

5 years ago, the Soben company, now based in Fontanes, near Cahors, has a new string on its bow. In addition to the production of shock absorbers, in which it specializes, it has been producing urban robots since 2017, with its start-up TwinswHeel. In the world market, it is a pioneer. In total, about sixty robots are being tested. And not just in France: if half of the robots are in France, the others are located abroad, as in Switzerland, Germany, but also across the Atlantic, in the United States.

Various robots for different uses

“We have several large families of robots. There are so-called “ciTHy”, which are designed for the city, and “facTHory”, which are tailor-made for factories, to provide line sets,” explains Benjamin Talon, co-founder of TwinswHeel. and president of Soben. There are three urban robot models, corresponding to different uses. The smaller size, which can carry a load of up to 50 kg, is mainly used to help the elderly or people with reduced mobility to do their shopping. “The robot will follow the person, circulate in the store. It works like a cart. Then it will accompany the person to their house. After the person collects their purchases, the robot returns to the supermarket independently”, says Benjamin Talon. This method is being tested in several villages in the Southeast. “The idea is to allow people to regain autonomy. We would also like to develop it here at Lote”, he continues.

The larger size can be used by technicians or artisans who carry out interventions in the city, with assistant robots. “These are types of mobile toolboxes. It is practical in large cities, with pedestrian centers. It allows people not to go to the city with their van and avoid problems with parking and circulation”, explains the businessman. Enedis and GRDF, for example, adopted it. Since last week, the Paul-Sabatier university campus in Toulouse has been equipped with three robots, which this time operate independently: they are responsible for distributing mail and small packages throughout the campus.

The large model, which can carry up to 300 kg, “is intended for replenishing stores in city centers”, adds Benjamin Talon. For this, TwinswHeel works in particular with the company STEF, which specializes in the transport of cold products. The company also collaborates with the Post Office: “Postmen have more and more parcels to transport, it’s not easy for them. Our robots sometimes join them during their rounds to restock them”.

New installations since the France Relance plan

Last year, the company was able to benefit from the France Relance plan, up to 1.2 million euros. After that, the company was able to move. “This allowed us to buy our own building. Our old facilities were very run down. Now we can develop robots in small series, which we couldn’t do before because we didn’t have the space to do it”, recalls Benjamin Talon. Proof of the company’s scope: at the moment it seeks to recruit, in the areas of artificial intelligence, web development and industrial vision. Soben hires a total of 32 people, half of whom work at TwinswHeel and the other half on shock absorbers.

And Benjamin Talon is hopeful for the future. The experiments are supported by the region of Occitania, Ademe, BPI and Europe. In 2024, TwinswHeel robots must leave their commercial use for commercialization, thanks to the evolution of legislation on the circulation of autonomous robots.

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