The suffix “as-a-Service” is very familiar at this point—it's been tacked onto an increasing number of concepts. Rather than just purchasing "software", for example, you may be more likely to come across "Software-as-a-Service"—the concept of giving access to software on a subscription level in exchange for better update responsiveness, etc.
In recent years, however, "as-a-Service" can also be described as a sort of timeshare for hardware—a company offering a service allows a customer to use resources in exchange for a fee. In the past, the services in question have largely been provided through the internet, but, increasingly, novel possibilities are popping up.
Not everyone can afford to have their own drone or robot, especially those innovators who are just getting their startup going or still working on their prototypes in their garage. So the as-a-service business model makes sense to access otherwise unaffordable resources.
This model can also make things a little faster for developers, removing the need to secure, obtain, and set up complex systems (and then learn how to use them). As-a-service products are already set up, ready to go, and have knowledgeable operators on standby. It can be an ideal solution for taking advantage of tools that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Here’s a look at a few as-a-service offerings available today.
Many of the top tech industry companies offer AIaaS already, including Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft.
All four companies use AI and machine learning in their own business practices—for example, Amazon uses its Deep Scalable Sparse tensor Network Engine to make product recommendations on its website—and so the technology and capabilities of their AI systems are constantly being invested in and improved.
AIaaS also allows those with no ability to develop AI on their own to utilize its benefits and to analyze large amounts of data faster. The idea of providing tools for non-experts to take advantage of AI with is already an existing concept that Google has been working on, with its self-replicating machine learning tools.
Drones have proven to be incredibly diverse tools that can achieve everything from surveillance and security to mapping and monitoring. For example, Sharper Shape is using drones for utility line inspection, a very valuable service since it removes the danger of human inspection and speeds up the process.
To be able to coordinate and set up the necessary equipment for effective drone use requires a fair bit of technical know-how, in addition to all the safety and operational knowledge needed. Experienced operators and already existing equipment would make this service fairly straightforward to deliver.
Image courtesy of Sharper Shape.
Imagine developing a new LiDAR sensor designed for exploring mines, for example. If your goal is to load it onto a drone and send it into areas that are dangerous to humans, you may not have the infrastructure in place to create your own drone system for prototyping. Drones-as-a-Service presents an opportunity to borrow expertise from drone-focused companies that can help with the testing phase.
Sometimes the "as-a-Service" model can clearly be seen as a boon for the company offering the service. For example, quantum computing remains a highly novel area of computation and certainly is not a tool that most people will have access to. IBM has been trying to promote the eventual adoption of quantum computing by companies that could require its unique processing power and its QCaaS program is certainly one way of doing so.
IBM began offering Quantum-Computing-as-a-Service in 2016, starting with 5-qubit computing. Since then, the company has expanded to offering 20-qubit QCaaS. The company has also been working on Q#, a quantum computing programming language, and released a tutorial and software in the hopes developers will begin to use it and start thinking in quantum-computing terms.
This program shows businesses the possible applications associated with quantum computing, allowing them to determine if and how to invest in its use in the future. IBM also gets copious market research out of the deal on how to tailor their products—and probably no small amount of troubleshooting, as well.
Robotics and automation are becoming more commonplace and essential for efficiency. Unlike many other web-based services, RaaS involves physical robotic systems completing a task. Whether the robot itself is leased and used onsite or if the robot completes the task remotely depends on the service being provided.
Where initially robots were first considered for industrial applications, they've shown potential to spread into various other settings, such as airports, hospitality, and even hospitals.
Image courtesy of Business Wire.
InTouch Health, for example, offers telemedicine services, in which a robotic “tele-doctor” is connected to a cloud network where a doctor on the other end is available to provide healthcare. In this case, the robot has already been developed and designed, can already carry out specific functions (in this case, provide health care), and can pair with an actual doctor that is remotely situated. For healthcare environments that are lacking specialists, this can be a valuable service.
When it comes to keeping up with emerging technologies, it makes a great deal of sense to outsource specific tasks and technologies to those who specialize in them, from AI to robotics. Moving towards the "as-a-Service" model represents some very real risks to the innovation process, as does any outsourcing (for example, potentially sharing sensitive proprietary information with an outside party requires a level of trust in their security measures). But that must be weighed against the potential for speeding up anything from data processing to prototyping, offloading expensive devices or technologies to specialists.
What would you want to see available as-a-service in the future? Let us know in the comments!
Featured image courtesy of DroneImagineNation.