With his laughing eyes, Buddy has made a name for himself in schools. This small 56 centimeter companion robot allows hospitalized children to attend their lessons by telepresence. The tricolor start-up Blue Frog Robotics, founded in 2014, will soon have supplied nearly 2,000 Buddy for a value of 3.5 million euros – the total market was worth 10 million euros – as part of its collaboration with the Ministry of National Education.
Professor Albert-Claude Benhamou is behind this deployment. In 2018, this surgeon led a ministerial mission to identify and assess inclusion solutions for sick children. He launched a call for tenders and then met Rodolphe Hasselvander, the founder of Blue Frog Robotics, which develops companion robots.
The start-up wins the market. Thanks to his companion robot, “the isolated child can speak, hear and see from his bed. It can even remotely control the movement of the robot”, says Albert-Claude Benhamou with satisfaction.
Buddy presented to Brigitte Macron
For Blue Frog Robotics, it’s a boost. After years of research and development and artisanal production, the Paris-based company is finally moving on to the crucial stage of industrialization. “Without this contract, we might still be fundraising,” adds Rodolphe Hasselvander. Today, the start-up relies on its sales and turnover.
To win this first call for tenders with National Education, Blue Frog Robotics relied on the expertise of its main shareholder, Teamnet, which specializes in e-administration and is used to the education market. This company, led by Bertrand Fache, entered the capital of the start-up in 2019. It is responsible for the supply, delivery and maintenance of the robots. The Buddy are produced in Beauvais.
Betting on a start-up was also a bet for the Ministry of National Education. We had to jostle: “We broke the rules a bit, admits the engineer. With the help of Professor Benhamou, we went to show Buddy to the Elysée, in front of Brigitte Macron and Jean-Michel Blanquer. After an initial proposal deemed too expensive, Rodolphe Hasselvander agreed to make concessions.
Initially, the production cost of a robot was around 8,000 euros for a selling price of 10,000 euros. With mass production, industrialization and cost reduction, the selling price fell to 2,000 euros. “We now manufacture 200 to 300 robots per month,” says Rodolphe Hasselvander.
Next step: open a factory
Working for the State also requires a good understanding of the administrative workings. “You have to check, tick all the boxes, plan for developments and imagine all the scenarios that can occur,” says the start-upper. The ministry thus ensured that no medical information on sick children could leak.
The State and start-ups do not always speak the same language. For the entrepreneur, the bureaucracy, more rigid, remains preoccupied by a policy of reducing the state budget. “Teachers must be trained and made aware of the presence of robots, but for the ministry, this can be perceived as additional costs”, recognizes Rodolphe Hasselvander.
Communication was also slow. “The official launch was in January, when we have been delivering robots for a year. “A calendar disrupted by the pandemic. But these two years marked by the development of videoconferencing have familiarized public actors with technological tools.
This collaboration has strengthened Blue Frog Robotics internally. An after-sales service was created to improve the product. “We are now able to provide an answer within the hour”, rejoices the founder. The workforce has almost doubled since 2018 to reach around 20 employees today. Twenty recruitments are also planned in the coming months.
While the contract with the ministry is due to end this summer, “we are already talking about a second order and perhaps at European Union level”, slips the boss who aims to invest in his own factory. assembly. Valued at 6.5 million euros during a fundraiser in 2021, Blue Frog Robotics has set itself the objective of producing 20,000 robots per year.