An early but emerging business model and set of technologies that I have been following for the last few months is Robotics as a Service (RaaS). It is relatively under the radar from mainstream media publications but I expect that to change over the next few years as it grows. RaaS can be thought of as an intersection between Softwear as a Service and Internet of Things.
Fundamentally the idea behind RaaS is that robots are an expensive capital expenditure that has to be paid upfront. RaaS is a developing set of models that allow customers to lease robots or where the RaaS service provider visits the customer on demand with its robots to perform a specific task. These services would be enabled, programmed, and provisioned via the cloud. For example, a customer could deploy or remove services from a variety of robots at will. They could also develop and deploy their own applications into robots. The robot provider would handle maintenance and troubleshooting while giving the customer the same benefits as SaaS - chiefly on demand flexibility, cost savings, speed, and scalability.
Although early we are starting to see the first live trials of RaaS including:
- Nestle leasing Softbank's Pepper Robot for its Nescafe chain of stores to deliver customer service. The Pepper Robot was designed specifically to read human emotions and tailor its interactions. A demo of this is fun to watch.
- Harvest Automation, a Massachusetts startup, offering a robot rental program for its its agriculture robots. This is an especially good area to test a RaaS business model since farmers needs are seasonal and can be unpredictable depending on weather.
Some likely big opportunities for RaaS include package delivery via drone or ground robot, agriculture, manufacturing of products that are seasonal, etc. I expect Amazon's AWS division will begin offering a RaaS product line sometime in the next 5 years.