From all indicators, robots as a service (RaaS) is growing rapidly. ABI Research predicts there will be 1.3 million installations of RaaS by 2026 generating $34 billion in revenue. Let’s look at what robots as a service entails, the reasons for its growth and some companies that offer RaaS solutions and the tasks it can support.
What is Robots-as-a-Service (RaaS)?
Many are now familiar with the concept of software as a service (SaaS) or big data as a service (BDaaS), the pay-as-you-go or subscription-based service model. In a similar set-up, those who sign up for robots as a service get the benefits of robotic process automation by leasing robotic devices and accessing a cloud-based subscription service rather than purchasing the equipment outright. The headaches of ownership, such as paying off an expensive piece of equipment plus handling maintenance issues that spring up, are avoided with RaaS.
What has caused RaaS to gain in popularity?
Businesses are increasingly intrigued with RaaS because of its flexibility, scalability, and lower cost of entry than traditional robotics programmes. These attributes allow small- and medium-sized businesses to benefit from robotics without the often cost-prohibitive initial investment.
Typically, robots are used to replace lower-paying jobs done by humans at companies. But, since robots are quite expensive, it can take years before companies do realise a return on their investment. This reality has kept many smaller organisations from investing in robots. That’s one of the reasons RaaS is quite appealing today. RaaS also gives organisations the ability to scale up and down rapidly and easily in response to changing market conditions and client needs. It offers more predictable costs and less upfront capital to get started.
Globalisation has also reduced the cost of hardware. It's also easy to sign up and find powerful and cheap cloud computing solutions that allow robots to be offered as a variable cost service with subscription packages. Additionally, companies are already comfortable with the business model, thanks to many of them already using the software as a service model.
There are many companies in several industries that are benefitting from RaaS from warehouses and fulfilment centres to healthcare and security. As other sectors realise uses for robots, RaaS lowers the barrier to entry for them to test them out and experiment with robotic solutions.
Examples of RaaS Platforms
Robots had already made an impact in the automotive and manufacturing sectors, but thanks to RaaS, the advantages of robotic automation can also be leveraged by small- and medium-sized companies.
Here are just a few of the companies developing tools to enable RaaS on a large scale and the ways it can be used:
Amazon’s contribution is the AWS RoboMaker, and it includes machine learning, monitoring, and analytics services.
Google is developing the Google Cloud Robotics Platform that combines artificial intelligence (AI), the cloud and robotics to enable “an open ecosystem of automation solutions that use cloud-connected collaborative robots.”
And, of course, Microsoft is in the arena, too. They want to bring the power of Windows 10 to robots with ROS for Windows that gives developers tools they need to programme even more skilled robots.
The Honda RaaS platform aims to provide a diverse range of robots and cloud-based data services to a variety of companies to support communication, robotic cooperation, and sharing data.
RaaS for a Variety of Uses
Cobalt Robotics offers robots to patrol buildings for a solution that the company says is 65 percent cheaper than having human security guards to guard premises. The data the robots collect is funnelled back to artificial intelligence algorithms that can find insights to make security operations better.
Fetch Robotics promises on-demand automation for "any payload, any facility, any workflow." They were also named by the World Economic Forum as one of the technology pioneers that have the power to "shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution." Among other tasks, Fetch robots help to automate warehouse operations for online retailers who must deal with seasonal spikes. RaaS is very appealing in these circumstances because it allows companies to quickly scale up to meet a high demand without investing in equipment that won't be used in slower periods.
Warehouse picker robots are the area of expertise for InVia Robotics. The company offers a subscription-based model for goods-to-person-fulfilment service. InVia claims they can boost order fulfilment by 500%.
Industrial robotics firm Kuka isn’t satisfied with offering just robots for lease; they are launching a SmartFactory as a Service initiative to give their customers an option to rent out an entire robot-staffed automated plant.
Things to Overcome
As many technology providers make the shift away from selling products to selling services such as RaaS, there are still things to overcome such as the amount of customization of the hardware to make the robots useful for individual organisations with specific needs. So, although a base platform might be consistent across many entities, adaptations will be required for the robots leading to longer implementation windows that cost more. Regardless of the growing pains, RaaS will be the solution many organisations seek.
Bernard Marr is an internationally bestselling author, futurist, keynote speaker, and strategic advisor to companies and governments. He advises and coaches many of the world’s best-known organisations on strategy, digital transformation and business performance. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 5 business influencers in the world and the No 1 influencer in the UK. He has authored 16 best-selling books, is a frequent contributor to the World Economic Forum and writes a regular column for Forbes. Every day Bernard actively engages his almost 2 million social media followers and shares content that reaches millions of readers.