The Real Robotics Revolution Arrives as a Service

The real robotics revolution is not having robots take care of tasks but having them available to businesses as a service. And so another acronyms to represent the expanding world of as a service is added to today's business vocabulary.

The Real Robotics Revolution Arrives as a Service
Robot married with AI Andrey Suslov/iStock

The business world has introduced a number of different functions as a service, including software-as a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-service (Iaas) among others. 

But another as a service category has come on the scene in the past couple of years: robotics-as-a-service (RaaS).

RELATED: WHY ARE WE SO SCARED OF ROBOTS? 15 EXPERTS WEIGH IN ON WHAT THE REAL DANGERS ARE


The video above explains RaaS “is a cloud computing unit that facilitates the seamless integration of robot and embedded devices into Web and cloud computing environment.” It then goes into detail about various technical aspects of working out automation with cloud computing.

The rise of robots

As we saw in Toyota Showcases Sustainable Mobility for All With Solutions Designed for 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, the roles for robots and the interest in adapting them to various uses is growing. They are not just where they are seen but increasingly active behind the scenes in factories and warehouses that may be producing cars or other complicated products, including additional robots.

Robots building robots can be seen in the video below that explores what they are doing in our new age of manufacturing.

According to an article ABI Research published in March, robots will dominate warehouses by 2025 as a result of becoming more capable and accessible. The greater capabilities for today’s robots are due to the advances of other innovative technologies, including “computer vision, Artificial Intelligence (AI), deep learning, and robotic mechanics, “ which endow them with greater dexterity and precision of movement than was previously possible. 

Just like different types of robots were designed to carry out different types of tasks, for Toyota’s vision of the 2020 Olympics, warehouses can function better with differentiated robots. 

“By combining mobile robots, picking robots, and even autonomous forklifts, fulfillment centers can achieve greater levels of automation in an efficient and cost-effective way,” explains the ABI Research article.

But the real robotic revolution here is not just due to increased capability but also due to qualitatively different increased accessibility.

A new business model emerges

Earlier this year, Ronald Van Lon spoke with HPE's Chief Technologist, Manufacturing, Automotive & IoT, Matthias Roese about the new business model made possible by connecting the robotic capabilities through the cloud and making them available as a service, meaning the companies that use them don’t have to build or even buy the systems themselves. 

You can hear all about it in the video below:


 The ABI Research article explains: 

“Many robot technology vendors are providing additional value by offering flexible pricing options. Robotics-as-a-Service models mean that large CapEx costs can be replaced with more accessible OpEx costs that are directly proportional to the consumption of technologies or services, improving the affordability of robotics systems among the mid-market, further driving adoption.”
 

Is there a robot in the warehouse?

ABI Research predicts that within the next six years, millions of robots will be working in over 50,000 warehouses, which represents a huge increase over the less than 4,000 warehouses that utilized robots in 2018.

Among the companies supplying such robots is Fetch Robotics. The company describes itself as offering  “the market’s only cloud-driven Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) solution that addresses material handling and data collection for warehousing and intralogistics environments.” 

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It’s not just about collecting physical things but getting the right data to automate processes. In the video below, the CEO of Fetch Robotics, Melonee Weiss, describes the different size robots they build to “create a suite of options” for their customers.

Carl Showalter, Fetch’s chief operating officer, explained that while businesses with more resources at their disposal often purchase the robots they need outright (what’s known as capex), those without that kind of cash flow can opt to only pay the “monthly per-robot fee” with no upfront costs. Even those who do purchase, they still have the cost for the operational services through the cloud and maintenance.   

Another big name in that space is InVia Robotics. Its functionality is explained in Robotics Business Review: 

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“ InVia offers an automated storage and retrieval solution (AS/RS) in which mobile robots autonomously move throughout a warehouse to acquire storage containers of individual products off the shelves. They then deliver the containers to human picking stations in a process known as a goods-to-person workflow.”

The video above shows Via Robotics Picker robot at work at Hollar. “The simple, economical way to boost order fulfillment up to 500%,” InVIa boasts on its site.

Partners have reported impressive improvement according to the report in Robotics Business ReviewInVia had deployed 20 robots into a section of  Rakuten’s Las Vegas warehouse as part of a pilot deployment.

It took just a weekend to install, and it quickly showed output improved by 300% (not quite the 500%, but that was qualified as  "up to"). The article explains that Rakuten was sold on the robotic solution in part because of the RaaS offering.

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RaaS offers more upside and less risk for the customer. As the client only pays for what the business has to use, it doesn’t get overwhelmed by the expense of outfitting its warehouse with all the equipment that has to be acquired by buying it. 

Lior Elazary, founder and CEO of InViaRobotics explained that his company is the one that assumes the risk:  “selling the solution in a RaaS model puts pressure on us, as it seems every customer we talk to is ready to move forward right away, as there is little risk and a huge return on their end.” 

Future possibilities 

On the basis of what is already in place in warehouses now and what is on the horizon for the near future, Internet of Business offers a vision of an even more flexible and smarter manufacturing environment. It considers the possibility of warehouses growing “smaller, smarter, and more closely integrated with manufacturing, even as others follow the Alibaba model by becoming larger and more automated.”

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Of course, robots play an important role in that future, including a particular type of robot known as a “cobot,” which is designed specifically to “work alongside human beings.” Taking a cure from mobile devices, they believe in the possibility of setup that is flexible enough to perform  “a range of process- or industry-specific apps.”

The advantage that will offer manufacturers is that they will be to get away from purchasing “a massive, single-use machine: in favor of a “smart, upgradable platform that can be redeployed elsewhere.” That’s exactly the thinking behind robotics-as-a-service that are set up to meet the particular needs of the client.

In that way, robotics can become instrumental in advancing the innovative framework for manufacturing being adopted by advanced companies who contribute to the fourth industrial revolution. 

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Robots taking off as a service

When you consider the fact that drones are a kind of robotic variant with flying capabilities, it does make sense to look higher in anticipating a future for the as-a-service model for robotics. That is what brings us to a variant of an acronym named earlier, DaaS, only in this case the D would stand for drones rather than data.

The concept was explored back in 2016 in a book by Lars Dibben entitled Drones as a Service: DaaS: Strategy, technical concepts and legal aspects. Applying the same business model now in place for RaaS, the author envisions a setup in which the provider of the drone services is the one who makes them available for various business needs and who takes on the responsibility for maintenance.  

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More recently, Chris Forster, the Chief Operating Officer of Altitude Angel, a leading drone platform company that builds drone software services, delivered a TEDx presentation on the subject that you can see in the video below:

 

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