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What is a Robotic Service Provider?
As the number of applications and the market for robotic solutions grows, robotic service providers (RSP) are emerging as an option for operating commercial robots.
So what is a robotic service provider? The answer starts by understanding the difference between the traditional capital equipment selling cycle and the concept of a subscription service selling model.
In the enterprise software market the subscription service business model is known as software as a service (SaaS). In the robotics world, a subscription-based service model is known as robots as a service (RaaS).
A company selling its solutions in a RaaS contract doesn’t sell the robot to the client, but rather the client pays for the service provided by the robot. This means that the client doesn’t need to be a robotics expert as all of the programming, maintenance and upgrades are included in the contract.
It also means that the client can easily flex the service up or down as needed, and the RaaS provider simply deploys additional robots as needed or removes robots that are no longer in service at that client.
The RaaS contract centers on a Service Level Agreement (SLA), that defines the necessary level of performance of the overall system.
Characteristics of RSPs
To deliver the expected SLA, a RaaS provider needs to first have the necessary technology in place to remotely monitor and tweak the performance of the system. Generally, this means that the robot manufacturer can “remote in” to the robot via the internet (or the “cloud”) to tweak parameters, update software or change the programming. This also allows the manufacturer to track performance and validate that the system is operating as expected.
Secondly, the RaaS provider needs to have the staff to provide 24/7 (or whatever level of service is in the contract) customer support. This staff needs to have the skills to operate the robot fleet, and troubleshoot and fix any problem that emerges.
Third, the RaaS provider needs to have a field service team who is ready and able to be deployed to a customer site at a moment’s notice to do any physical repairs on the deployed systems, in order to meet the customer SLA. Robotics are often deployed into time-critical workflows such as logistics or manufacturing, so every minute that the robot is down can cost hundreds or even millions of dollars of lost production.
Many of the current RaaS-based robotics manufacturers have built out the internal infrastructure and corporate organization necessary to support the contractual requirements listed above. However, for a young robotics startup, going down the RaaS business model path puts an additional burden on both fundraising requirements and organizational growth.
A Robotics Service Provider (RSP) is defined to be a third-party organization that provides most or all of the service-related capabilities of a subscription-based business model. This enables the robot manufacturer to operate in a classic original equipment manufacturer (OEM) business model.
The robot OEM continues to design and manufacture the robot but outsources the support and operation of the customer fleet to an RSP.
Examples of Robotics Service Providers
The concept of a robotic service provider is new, but there are a number of companies that are coming to market to deliver RSP services.
In the commercial lawn care market, My Goat is one of the first RSPs to come to market. My Goat is a startup developing automation for the commercial landscaping market. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, the company is primarily a software company and OEMs autonomous lawn mowing equipment. My Goat has deployed autonomous mowers into commercial environments such as city parks, sports complexes, school properties, as well as cemetery lawn care. The solution leverages a cellular connection to each mower to remotely track, manage and report on the mowing operation.
In the general services segment, ARO is providing a number of service-oriented capabilities to help any young robotics startup successfully offer RaaS-based contracts to their clients. The company has a history of service and support from markets such as copier/printer services and is bringing that experience to the robotics market. Global Robotics Services is another general services provider. GRS is a robotics arm of GLP, which is a new innovative platform for customers constantly seeking to improve the productivity of their logistics operations through robotics. GRS offers collaborative RaaS solutions that provide customers access to the benefits of robotics through a subscription model.
Here are some of the offerings that these general market RSPs are commercializing:
- Capital to purchase robots for the deployed fleet (the RSP owns the robots)
- 24/7 customer support
- Remote troubleshooting, updates, and repairs
- Contract commissioning and deployment services
- Field service agents
Tompkins Robotics has contracted with GRS to fulfill RaaS financing contracts for its customers, however, Tompkins is providing all of the service and support. Ottonomy has contracted with ARO to provide RaaS services for its customers.