In industry, it’s pretty common for robots to be sold as a service. That is, rather than buying the robot and managing it yourself, you instead rent the service that the robot provides. This service includes renting the robot itself, but it also includes stuff like installation, maintenance, repairs, tech support, software updates, and all of that good stuff that you’d otherwise have to worry about separately. This is a good model for companies that want a robot to do useful things for them without having to go through the agony of becoming a little bit of a robotics company themselves.
Typically this robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) model is not something that we see with domestic robots—the closest that we get is some kind of additional subscription for specific features. But a startup called Matician is bringing this idea to home floor-cleaning robots by launching Matic, a combination vacuuming and mopping robot that can be yours for an all-inclusive $125 a month.
Like some other robot vacuums we could mention, Matic uses vision to build a map of your home and navigate around looking for messes, but it does create an interesting 3D map as it does so, and provides a live rendering of where the robot is on that map. I’m not sure how necessary it is in day-to-day use, but it’s pretty cool. The cameras also mean that Matic is good at both detecting messes that need to be cleaned, as well as not running into or over anything important as it cleans those messes.
A small water reservoir allows Matic to wet mop or vacuum as it sees fit, and all waste (wet and dry) ends up in a removable bag inside of the robot. The bag is preloaded with an absorbent polymer so that anything wet that ends up in the bag turns into a gel rather than making things more gross than they would be otherwise. Matic can autonomously roam around your house looking for messes, or it can respond to voice commands and (cleverly) gestures for targeted cleaning on demand.
One unique-ish feature of Matic is that almost everything is done on-robot. This includes map building and image recognition, meaning that no video or audio ever leaves your home. In fact, you don’t even need to connect the robot to the Internet if you’re not intending to control it remotely—the app works locally, over your WiFi.
If this is something that you’re interested in, you’ll probably want to run the math on it before you commit to anything, because you can’t buy the robot straight up, it’s subscription only. $125 a month is $1,500 per year—that’s $600 more than the most expensive Roomba, which once you buy it, is yours forever. This is not to say that the Roomba is a better vacuum than the Matic, and we don’t know how much the Matic actually costs to produce: one of the benefits of a service model is that it can be used to support much more expensive hardware. But of course, no matter how expensive the hardware is or how many consumables are included, over time, a service model is almost certain to cost you more.
This additional cost is not just you throwing money into the void, though. Here’s how Matician justifies it:
Matic is designed as a service to keep your floors clean, all the time. The membership for this service ensures:
- You always have the best.
- As we build and release new versions of Matic hardware, we will upgrade yours at no additional cost. As a member, you will always have the latest and best version of hardware available.
- We will frequently update Matic’s software with new features and capabilities. Cleaning becomes even more effortless over time.
- Free repairs and maintenance are included, with no questions asked.
- You are in control.
- If Matic doesn’t provide continuous value to you, you may cancel and return the robot for refund of unused months.
- If you have feedback or suggestions on new features or capabilities, we will do our best to implement them.
- You don’t have to think about it.
- Refills on Matic’s consumables are automatic and included. We’ll send new HEPA bags, brush rolls, and mop rolls as you use them. You always have what you need but don’t have to worry about tracking inventory or placing frequent orders.
- We can continue to improve Matic.
- Your membership ensures that we will never stop iterating this product and delivering new value to you. Our goal is for you to love Matic more and more each month.
Of this, I feel like the first point is probably the most relevant one, but it depends entirely on how Matician operates in the future. If the company actually iterates on the hardware and software a couple of times a year or whatever and keeps sending you new and better robots for free, then a service model might be something that you can feel good about. And if worrying about maintaining a robot or fixing a robot or ordering consumables for a robot stresses you out, then maybe it’s worth paying a little extra for that peace of mind.
The first release of Matic will begin shipping in early fall of 2023, but you can reserve one now for a fully refundable deposit of $125.