It’s been a few days since we announced the Free Edition of the InOrbit platform, and the reaction has been amazing. We’ve already seen a big jump in signups, and we have even more announcements coming up.
In case you haven’t heard, people can now use InOrbit to manage an unlimited number of robots for free. Unlike other solutions, there are no limited trial periods, no hidden fees. Free. For real.
However, many people have asked us, with a clear note of concern: “Why would you do that? Didn’t you just give your business away?”
So here I wanted to address all those questions and share the 5 reasons why we chose to go free.
The real world is messy and chaotic. Everyone at InOrbit is driven by a shared mission, and it’s not about making money. Don’t get me wrong, we think that making money is great. In fact, we expect to make a lot of money for our investors, employees and partners. But our driver, the reason we show up every day, is about something else.
Our mission is to be a catalyst for the adoption of smart robots at global scale. We do this through what we call RobOps. And I love sharing our BHAG (big hairy audacious goal), which is helping 1 million robots positively impact the lives of 1 billion people.
Going free advances our mission, sharing our product with a broader set of people.
We’ve talked to hundreds of roboticists, entrepreneurs and operators and are in awe of their creativity, skills and resilience. VCs like to say that “hardware is hard”. Well, robots are a lot harder.
In recent years, it’s become a bit easier. AI-optimized mobile computing from NVIDIA and Qualcomm, depth-perception cameras and LiDAR from several vendors, and software like the Robot Operating System have made it easier, cheaper and faster than ever to build a robot.
But we still see a tremendous amount of waste: wasted time, money and creativity trying to reinvent the wheel. Many of those brilliant minds are creating the same infrastructure as everyone else, not because it’s what they *really* want to work on, but because they can.
As a recovering engineer myself, I understand the allure of solving yet another technical problem. Collecting logs and aggregating them? Give me an unlimited stock of Red Bull and I can have a first version working by Monday. Video streaming? I have 4K Netflix on my phone, how hard could that be?
But often, that’s where it stops: at v0.3.2 -- and that’s just because you burned too quickly through version numbers 0.1 and 0.2 before you realized this was harder than it looked. So many companies end up with duplicated, undifferentiated solutions that only partially meet the most basic needs.
Closely related to the previous point is awareness. This hits in two ways: you don’t know what you don’t know and I wish I knew then what I know now.
The first problem we see all the time. A company goes from the lab to initial customer deployments. This is exciting, so everyone wants to see the robot succeed on its first 10 missions; everyone shows up with a laptop and a sleeping bag. Then you get a few more deployments, build a few more robots, and keep throwing engineers at the problem. But maybe they want to be at the office, so they just SSH into the robot. Except that’s really hard, and VPN is a pain in the neck.
Then you get your first large customer commitment: you need to scale from 5 to 500 robots. You think you can keep doing what you’re doing and the robot will just be that good and won’t have any issues. News flash: it won’t.
The second problem is the flip side: now you’ve been at it for a few years. You somehow survived the valley of death from 5 to 500, got a bit of scale, maybe you’re eyeing 5,000 robots now. Now customers are getting more demanding: it needs to work with their enterprise systems, there are strict SLAs to meet, deployments are happening in multiple continents. But you’re saddled with a bunch of ad hoc code you wrote over the years, code that was never meant to scale. If only you had known a few years ago...
With Free Edition, we hope to drive greater awareness that there is a better way. Which brings me to my next point.
There’s something almost magical about $0. You’d think that $0 is about the same as $1, especially for robotics companies that have raised insane amounts of VC money, right? But even at $1, you’d have to pull out your credit card, or maybe you need to go ask your boss, or your VP or whatever.
All of this adds to friction. I call it the shopping cart effect. You spend time on your favorite e-commerce site, find some great products, add them to the cart. Then you hit Checkout and the system prompts you for your credit card information. At that point, you ask yourself, "Do I really need this?" (One of the key KPIs for many e-commerce vendors is reducing shopping cart abandonment.)
By going free, we hope to remove this friction so many more people will give InOrbit a shot. You may be a student at a university in India. Or a developer at a robotics company in Denmark stumped on a Friday night because you can’t access your robot from home.
Who doesn’t like free beer? (OK, so this doesn’t apply to all the people who, for religious, personal or health reasons don’t drink alcohol, but it’s a trope so please bear with me; you may substitute for your favorite non-alcoholic drink or meal.)
You may be familiar with the old “free as in beer or free as in speech” discussion. In the open source community, an important distinction is made between “gratis” and “libre”. We are on the beer side of that.
InOrbit isn’t just “software”. We run a distributed, multi-cloud, scalable and secure infrastructure so you don’t have to. We’re not just telling you how to make beer, we are harvesting the grains, growing the hops, feeding the yeast and filtering the water. Then we are brewing it, bottling it and delivering it icy cold directly to your hand. For free. All the beer you can drink. Forever.
OK, not really -- full disclosure, we don’t make beer. But if we could give you a cold one, we would. Come to think of it: we will be sponsoring FREE BEER 🍻 at the Robot Operations Group meeting in Memphis on October 13th during the A3 AMR and Logistics Conference.
Back to robotics: if you factor in your AWS costs, your sleepless nights, the hours spent on Stack Overflow upvoting, and everything that goes into building your own solution, InOrbit may just be better than free beer.
But the money, Florian...
It’s not a secret or even that original: we’re not giving away the whole farm. We’re not trying to trick anyone -- we even publish our price. For companies with more advanced needs, like tools for root cause analysis, advanced teleoperation, video storage, more out-of-box integrations, we offer our Standard Edition and some optional Add-ons. For large enterprises that need super-duper security, support for more flexible deployment or data capture, we offer an Enterprise Edition.
Think of how most companies adopt Slack: they start with the free version, and they may never move beyond that, which is fine; but a few eventually decide to unlock the next level. Now think of InOrbit as the Slack of robotics. (👋 Salesforce.)
OK, last pun. Feel “free” to give it a try.