At Farmer Insurance, technology is one of the biggest priorities for the company.
The Woodland Hills home and auto insurance carrier has invested in a virtual reality training program for claims representatives, as well as in drones and other aircraft to enhance claims operational efficiencies.
Now add a robot to that mix.
Named Rosie and built by Boston Dynamics, the robot will be used to help claims adjusters collect photos and data, especially after natural disasters.
“We believe this data will help to optimize our claims handling process to better assist our adjusters and to help our policy holders more efficiently, especially when they need us the most,” said Sam Santiago, head of claims strategy and automation at Farmers.
Currently at the San Fernando Valley headquarters, Rosie is training with two claims department employees. The robot will be deployed once the company is comfortable and confident with it in the field. Farmers took possession of the robot about a month ago.
“We are looking at the end of the year or early (in the new year) to get Rosie out into the field,” Santiago said.
When deployed, Rosie will help claim adjusters in such natural disaster scenarios as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados and wildfires, she added.
According to a spokesperson for Boston Dynamics in Waltham, Mass., the robot is a standard model that has been equipped with payloads that are specific for the tasks the Farmers team wants.
The payloads include a pan-tilt-zoom camera with a 360-degree field of view and 30x optical zoom for high-quality images that can be helpful with inspecting from a distance, the spokesperson wrote in an email to the Business Journal.
Also included are a thermal camera that can detect hot spots that may indicate an issue with a piece of equipment or an area that might be dangerous, the spokesperson wrote.
“The robot is also equipped with the Spot Arm attachment, which can be used to open doors and to grasp, lift, carry or drag objects,” the spokesperson said in the email.
Rosie does not work autonomously and needs to be controlled by a human operator. That’s why two claims department employees are currently being trained on the robot.
The advantages to having Rosie versus sending a person out to handle a claim is that following a natural disaster, the environment could be dangerous to human adjusters, Santiago said.
“We are looking at Rosie as the ability to enter these certain areas that may be unsafe for the adjusters and to give the ability on the ground to identify the area for damage or areas that may be unsuitable for an adjuster to go through,” she explained.
In the training, the operators learn how to remotely move Rosie. Boston Dynamics also provided Farmers with virtual training programs.
Additionally, the operators are learning how to use a tablet controller to maneuver Rosie in a controlled environment in different terrains and going up and down stairs, Santiago said, adding, “(Doing) different things that will allow us to better understand how Rosie moves and operates.”
The robot looks like a headless dog and comes in at a length of 43 inches, and a walking height of 24 inches. Its battery takes about 2 hours to charge and provides 90 minutes of runtime for Rosie, who can walk at a maximum speed of 1.6 meters per second.
The robot has what Boston Dynamics calls “athletic intelligence,” Santiago said.
“Each time it walks, goes up stairs or navigates a different type of terrain, it is learning to ensure that it does that efficiently and effectively (each time),” she noted.
Boston Dynamics originally named the robot Spot, but a contest held by Farmers for its employees renamed it Rosie. The company received more than 1,000 entries in the contest.
The employee that won the internal robot naming contest is based out of Lake Mary, Fla., a location the company maintains to serve customers on the East Coast. In addition to winning the naming contest, the employee also received internal recognition, Santiago said.
“The employees were excited to name it Rosie,” she added.
When Rosie gets deployed, the company is looking at the robot as a way to assure employee safety, Santiago said.
That same excitement could come from Farmers policyholders as well. For them, the advantage of Rosie will include efficiency, durability and getting photos into the file photo quickly, she said.
“It is about helping adjusters collect critical data, which is obviously important to our customers,” Santiago added.
Asked if a policy holder has to agree to allow the robot on his or her property, Santiago responded that every claim would be handled on a case-by-case basis.
“We will comply with industry standards and regulations if we were to bring Rosie on site and we are working through those (issues) right now,” she said.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown the strategy to invest in technology has been smart for Farmers.
But even before the pandemic hit and changed how the company conducted its business, technology was already in place.
In late 2017, the company began a virtual reality training program to help teach claims representatives to handle home damage assessments. Using the technology, the reps could navigate through an intuitive gamified learning course with more than 500 realistic damage combinations and scenarios, a Farmers release said.
“The VR program is still being used today and has continued to be a vital technological asset to continue training claims adjusters during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Santiago said.
Also in 2017, Farmers began using a fleet of drones to help assess roof damage following major weather events.
As with Rosie, Farmers claims representatives were trained in operating the unmanned aircraft.
“Unlike other carriers who may engage third-party drone pilots as part of the evaluation, Farmers will utilize its own, FAA-licensed drone operators, who are also Farmers-trained claim representatives, to provide customers with a Farmers experience throughout,” the company said in a release at the time.
The company’s aerial imaging program also uses manned aircraft and satellite technology, Santiago said.
Santiago foresees a day when the insurance industry as a whole will use more emerging technologies, such as robotics, in their daily operations.
“We believe we are pioneering in this endeavor,” Santiago said. “I do expect that other carriers will follow suit as we continue to learn more about how this technology can help the experience for our employees and our customers.”