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RaaS (Robots as a Service)

As more public-area mobile robots (PMRs) are being designed and pilot tested around the globe, a variety of business models are also being developed. It is likely that RaaS (Robots as a Service) is the model that will be dominant - at least in the early stages of the industry.

Selecting a Use Case

PMRs are currently limited in their scope for fully independent action. They may be tele-operated or programmed for an exact maintenance activity such as salting or sweeping pre-mapped sidewalks, mowing a park area in a pre-determined pattern, or mopping a specific airport or hospital walkway. They might be set up for a well-defined surveillance patrol; or they might be operated by a delivery service via some combination of maps, software and tele-operation.

In all of these cases, PMRs require a degree of set up and expert oversight that is not likely to be found in most municipal government offices or public works departments without extensive training and experience. If you are just pilot testing one type of PMR or you are implementing several PMRs in very highly automated circumstances with highly controlled pathways, it may be possible for a single human to oversee several such PMRs. However, for the foreseeable future, it is likely that you would want to use a Robots-as-a-Service (RaaS) subscription from a vendor specialized in the task you seek to automate.

Contract Negotiations

It may go without saying, but with RaaS, you subscribe to a service (OPEX) rather than purchase or lease a fleet (CAPEX). You pay only for what you consume. All of the integration, support and equipment maintenance costs are included in a level-of-service (LoS) contract.

The care with which you define a RaaS agreement will determine the quality of equipment and service you will receive, as the vendor works to reduce contract penalties and maximize revenue. As well, a RaaS vendor is incentivized to improve the software functionality over time. The more efficiently it operates, the smaller the number of machines are required for your needs.

Under such a RaaS arrangement, seek to understand and document:

· Upfront integration or setup charges

· Real-time monitoring (remote or otherwise)

· IT security guarantees and certifications

· Detailed KPI or ROI understanding

· Defined equipment quality (mechatronics, batteries, blades, brushes)

· Defined levels of vendor support (LoS definition, repair agreement)

· Agreement to follow your rules for sharing pathways with other users

· Contracted costs compared to manual labor for the same KPIs

· Scaling for your requirement (e.g. mowing & salting are seasonal)

· Robot customization capability (can the robot do more than one task?)

· Software upgrades, including coverage against errors

If you are involved in a pilot study, say with a local university or start up vendor, you may seek the same kind of relationship in which the robots being trialed would be owned and operated by the university or commercial start up, while being deployed under the local regulations or bylaws for your jurisdiction.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

When developing a contract, you will want to have one or more key performance indicators (KPIs) to be measured for a RaaS solution to be viable. This might be kilometres of pavement salted or patrolled or hectares of lawns mowed. In the case of hosting a last-mile delivery operator the KPI might be minimization of complaints per kilometer or the number of seniors served. To be fair, your chosen KPI(s) may have peaks and valleys, so you need to negotiate reporting periods and minimum/maximum charges during such periods—e.g., weekly, monthly or quarterly).

Traffic Control/Orchestration

As cities, public facilities and pedestrians/bystanders become more comfortable with the use of PMRs for an initial use case, the ecosystem will develop the capacity to incorporate this technology for multiple use cases at the same time.

For example, while it is possible to oversee multiple lawnmowers, sidewalk sweepers or surveillance robots in a given area, to have one person monitor both lawnmowers and sidewalk sweepers concurrently would require that these two types of robots were managed by the same vendor using a universal “Multiagent Orchestration” system. At the moment they are not. In the case of surveillance robots, oversight implies recognition, understanding, and reporting / managing human misbehaviour. This is not the same type of oversight required for robots that are doing sidewalk maintenance or mopping hallways.

Orchestration systems and other enabling technologies are being developed as the industry matures. What this means is that economies of scale in terms of fleet management will accrue only after it is possible to manage multiple robots doing multiple tasks from a single "traffic control" or orchestration system. More information on PMR multiagent orchestration can be found in URF's soon to be published Municipal Guide to PMRs and in the draft ISO-4448-5 (URF members have access through our Member portal).

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