Robotics-As-A-Service: What Is It, and Should It Be Encouraged?

05-07-2022 | By Robin Mitchell

As more companies move towards subscription models to generate consistent revenue, engineers should carefully consider whether such a move is positive. What is robotics as a service, is there an example of this being done, and why should engineers be cautious?

What is Robotics-as-a-Service?

Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) is an economic model whereby robotic systems are leased out instead of sold outright. This model is virtually identical to human labour, whereby a wage is paid to each employee, but while employees are owned by themselves, robotic systems are owned by their respective manufacturers. Robotic systems that fail are replaced entirely at the cost of the manufacturer as well as costs for repairs and maintenance. This service can also include complimentary support from engineers and offer suggestions. Additionally, RaaS can also include the programming of systems, so that site operators do not need to invest in training and utilise the full expertise of the company providing the robotic platform.

But above all else, two of the most significant advantages of RaaS are the low entry cost and access to up-to-date hardware. As large robotic systems can cost millions of dollars, renting equipment as a service can help smaller manufacturing sites deploy state-of-the-art machinery that is on par with larger competitors. Additionally, the use of a subscription also allows manufacturing sites to access the latest tech; the robotic service provider can swap out equipment, lease the new equipment, and then lease out the older version at a reduced cost. 

Are there examples of RaaS in the wild?

While the areas of RaaS are still in their infancy, robotic companies and service providers are starting to look at RaaS. One such example is Guardforce AI which recently announced the expansion of its RaaS business. Guardforce AI provides numerous robotic systems in Japan, including food delivery robots, disinfection systems, and reception service robots, all of which are becoming increasingly important with a rapidly ageing population and increased labour costs.

As such platforms can have high upfront costs while being challenging to maintain (with expertise outside of the company), providing these platforms as a service is beneficial not only to Guardforce AI but also to customers. The company also has plans to expand its services to San Francisco and China in the coming years and fully expects the demand for such robots to double by 2026.

Why should engineers be cautious over the “as-a-service” business model?

The use of subscription services presents clear advantages with the low up-front fees, ongoing maintenance provided by the original manufacturer, and the access to the latest technology, but while this may be a good model for large robotic systems, engineers should remain cautious with the use of such models.

The past decade shows a strong trend in the use of subscription models thanks to the ability to generate constant revenue, whether it is video streaming, software, or news access. The apparent low cost of a subscription compared to purchasing outright can make consumers feel like they are saving money, and the ability to terminate a subscription at short notice (not all subscriptions offer this), allows for trialling services before committing to them.

But while offering some services on a subscription basis makes sense, engineers should be cautious about applying this model to other services. The same logic that drives RaaS can be applied to mobile phones and computers that can provide customers with the latest hardware and software features, but this may come at the cost of customer trust and reputation.

Last year, the World Economic Forum announced that in the future, citizens would own nothing and be happy, and while this was meant to send a positive message, it had the complete opposite response, with millions worried about dystopian futures. The idea of customers not having the option to own the physical devices they purchase can be considered highly controlling behaviour with severe restrictions on freedoms.

Devices lent out on subscription would likely be protected against tampering, upgrades, and repairs, and not only would this have potential consequences for the environment (through hyper-consumerism), but it would also erode personal freedoms with how data is stored on their device and how that data is used. Furthermore, the ability to control the entirety of a device could also lead to monopolies, whereby unfair contracts can force the user to front the cost of damage regardless of the cause (some policies already in use today do not cover true accidental damage).

Finally, subscription services can also cost consumers large amounts of money over long periods, creating a future where life is rented instead of acquired. Robotic systems operating on manufacturing lines make sense with RaaS models as manufacturing processes will be required to update every so often, but applying this model to low-cost electronics makes little sense and can see individuals tied to services for extended periods of time.

Overall, using RaaS can help manufacturers and social spaces acquire advanced systems and improve their respective environments without needing large amounts of capital. However, applying this model to everyday consumers comes with a multitude of risks threatening privacy, the environment, and personal freedoms.


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.