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Robot Subscription Services Let Companies Automate on the Cheap


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A burger-flipping robot at work.

Robots increasingly are popping up in smaller U.S. factories, warehouses, retail stores, farms, and even construction sites.

Credit: Cody Godwin

The robots-as-a-service model is gaining ground as companies increasingly automate amid the pandemic, worker shortages, and surging demand, accelerated by innovations in vision, mobility, machine learning, and dexterity.

Customers pay monthly or annual use fees rather than buying products, which creates opportunities for small companies.

Georgia-based Thomson Plastics, for example, pays an hourly fee to employ robots on its molding machines, which CEO Steve Dyer said costs less than hiring a human employee.

Robotics providers like Formic, Robex, and Rios Intelligent Machines are designing and installing equipment, performing maintenance, and charging clients flat fees that compete with, and typically beat, hourly worker salaries.

Instead of customizing designs for each client, Rios' robots are designed to perform common, repetitive tasks; the company assembles its hardware and software from Fanuc's robotic arms, Nvidia's graphic cards, and Intel's cameras.

From Bloomberg Businessweek
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