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Kraken partnership with Avitas points to a cautious market for enterprise robotics

Hesitant to buy, commercial customers are more likely to bet on robots-as-a-service

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Kraken, a maker of unmanned submersibles for military and commercial applications, just announced a partnership with Avitas Systems, a GE Venture, which handles inspection services for oil and gas customers.

It's an interesting twist on the robot-as-a-service model. Instead of selling expensive and often difficult-to-operate hardware, technology companies are increasingly leasing customized robotic services solutions to enterprise customers.

That setup has worked for commercial drone inspection companies and for developers like Knightscope, which makes robotic security guards.

But as-a-service requires hardware companies to build significant customer-facing operations, often not a strong suit for legacy hardware developers. A partnership like the one Kraken is entering into with Avitas provides a workaround.

Kraken is a leading supplier of undersea inspection technology. It began as a sensor company and helped pioneer the use of synthetic aperture sonar (SAS), an underwater imaging technology that provides ultra-high resolution imagery at superior coverage rates, which is important for seabed inspection.

More recently, Kraken added models of tethered and autonomous underwater vehicles. The military is a big buyer, but convincing enterprise customers to invest in robotic submersibles is difficult right now.

That's because the enterprise robotics sector in general is maturing quickly, and AI development and improving sensor technology are leading to rapid iteration.

It's an exciting time to be watching robotics for exactly those reasons, but the rapid changes have left enterprise customers with a difficult choice: risk quick obsolescence after big hardware investments, or risk falling behind competitors by not investing in automation.

That's why as-a-service is becoming more common.

Avitas, which leverages GE's deep roots in global utilities markets, provides turnkey inspection services to companies in a variety of sectors, and especially oil and gas.

Robot, meet service provider.

The partnership between Kraken and Avitas signals how the winds are blowing in the commercial robotics markets. The hardware is there for a lot of novel applications, but for now, enterprise customers would rather sample than buy.