Rise of Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS)
In recent years, Robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) has soared in popularity largely due to its easy-to-use nature and the accessibility that it provides to small businesses looking to automate their processes.
What is Robotics-as-a-Service?
Similar to Software as a Service or Platform as a Service, Robotics-as-a-service is essentially a cloud based robotic rental system that aims to remove the upfront cost of digitalisation or automation. The model, similar to other “as-a-service models” aims to democratize the uptake of technology and making is available for small and medium businesses. The services sector is now similarly expanding into robotic services wherein robots can be leased on a need-based routine instead of becoming a large investment.
RaaS companies often have an hourly or daily rate at which they rent or lease out their robots to other companies for commercial use. This is a highly efficient way of automating almost every industry.
One of the major reasons why RaaS business models are growing exponentially is because they target small businesses that would not be able to automate otherwise. Most businesses refrain from automating due to the massive investment required for buying robotic systems. The RaaS business model eliminates the need to buy altogether by making the robots available on a need-to-use basis.
RaaS not only provides accessibility but also ease-of-maintenance, which makes it beneficial not only for small businesses but also for larger corporations. Particularly in the case of retail and manufacturing, where maintenance would cost more than its worth, a temporary robot is more profitable.
The manufacturing industry is fresh meat for the RaaS market to expand into, largely due to the maintenance issues highlighted above. The technology required in a factory setting is readily available, however, it is not always profitable for a manufacturing firm to invest in this technology due to its long returns.
Companies such as HireRobotics are creating one-size-fits-all automated manufacturing solutions that can be leased by manufacturing companies at an hourly rate with no long-term investments. This is extremely cost-effective for manufacturers since automated manufacturing is pricy to buy and even pricier to maintain.
The advent of drone technology and autonomous vehicles has rendered the delivery industry ripe for automation. However, most delivery companies that can be automated (for example restaurant delivery), do not have the investment required to automate.
RaaS start-up companies such as Udelv and Kiwibot are paving the way for affordable and ready to use autonomous vehicles that can be used for delivery by small businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, and other local vendors. This form of delivery is very cost-effective since these star-ups offer their robotic services for $4-6 per delivery.
This service can be extended so far to enable the users to buy from these grocery stores and restaurants right from the app itself. This can be invaluable to small local vendors particularly in the post-COVID era where every business strives to be as touchless as possible.
Automation in the agricultural industry, particularly Drone technology, has been around for quite some time, however, it has been inaccessible to most farmers due to its costs. Companies such as GreenSight are providing service robots to farms big and small to make the technology more accessible.
RaaS models are even more efficient in the agriculture industry because these robots are only required during the farming season and their maintenance during the off-season is entirely redundant. This is why companies like GreenSight work on a seasonal basis, providing seasonal contracts to farms based on their crop.
Security is an issue that cannot be dealt with lightly for most companies, which is why they prefer to hire professionals in the field instead of spending a hefty sum on the most professional robots. Companies such as Cobalt Robotics and Knightscope offer these robotic services for as low as 1.5K a month, which can be very cost-effective for small businesses.
Security companies aim to implement RaaS to replace human surveillance with robotic surveillance which can even prove to be superior at times. Most companies offer 2 types of security robots: indoor and outdoor. Both are equipped with 360-degree surveillance equipment and autonomous roaming. Indoor bots can have scanners for personal identification while outdoor bots can have larger wheels and license plate scanners.
In the post-COVID era, hygiene is the biggest concern for all shop owners and businesses. Grocery stores, restaurants, and other public places will need to be cleaned and sanitized regularly. This process can be greatly streamlined by cleaning robots.
There are many RaaS companies in this industry such as Avidbots and Skyline Robotics. These companies provide cleaning services for a minimal cost by renting cleaning bots to automate the process. Some companies, such as Wall Robotics, also provide a free trial period for their services.
The retail industry needs automation particularly when it comes to inventory management. Retail companies seek to replace workers with bots that can manage the inventory in a warehouse but often refrain from long-term commitment.
Companies such as InVia and Locus Robotics bring this technology to the retail warehouses in the form of indoor autonomous vehicles and picking machines. The indoor autonomous vehicles are charged based on the commitment period and specs. The picking machines are creatively charged 10-60 cents per pick depending on the cargo.
The future of Raas
Despite its exponential growth, RaaS models are still very much in their infancy stages. This is because companies willing to invest in the models would require a large capital fund to start with. Not only to buy the robots themselves but also for filling and insurance purposes which are not quite developed in the area. Another roadblock for RaaS companies is that the idea of sharing a robot may not appeal to many people if they see the robot as a part of their workforce. These challenges are predicted to get easier as clearer regulations are developed in the sector along with the maturing of the field of robotics itself.