The rise of robotics as a service
As e-commerce continues to expand, the demand for warehouse workers is growing faster than the labor supply and creating an increased need for automation.
Today, robotics are more affordable to a broader array of companies, thanks to lower cost components, and advancements in technology have paved the way for the rise of the collaborative robot or "cobot".
Cobots are more precise and increasingly flexible with advanced sensor technology, AI, Lidar/Radar, GPS, and connectivity. Machine learning has also made cobots more versatile-not just in their hardware, but in software that facilitates adaptation to a broad array of tasks. And because sensor-rich robots can adapt to a variety of new challenges on the fly, we see more use cases for real-world application.
Don't expect a severe shift to collaborative robots - we are still in the early innings. The global industrial robot market, dominated by the "Big 4" (Kuka, ABB, Fanuc, and Yaskawa) was valued at more than $15 billion in 2017, while the market for cobots reached only $287 million. However, the digital transformation of warehouses presents a tremendous market opportunity for new companies to create value.
We draw connections to the shift we saw from legacy software to SaaS, where traditional sales and business models switched to recurring revenue streams and cloud-based subscription services. Additionally, collaborative robotic technology allows robots to augment human labor, lowering the barriers to entry, while still providing clear payback arguments around efficiency.
We believe that co-bots will unlock market verticals traditionally underserved by robotics, such as logistics, food, and security. Companies that offer full-service solutions to these sectors provide attractive opportunities to build value. For example, 6 River Systems - whose cobots, known as Chucks, use cloud software to coordinate warehouse tasks and work side-by-side with human employees - are changing how we think about the human-robot dynamic.