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26 July 2017

Rent-a-Robot – The Staffing Solution of the Future?

Until recently, the fear of losing one’s job to automation wasn’t something that played on most sensible people’s minds much. Considered the stuff of apocalyptic sci-fi thrillers rather than a plausible cause for concern, you’d have been laughed out of the office for expressing serious worries about automation ten years ago.

But fast-forward to 2017, and it seems that people discuss little else. Since Oxford University released its seminal 2013 research paper, The Future of Employment, you can scarcely check the headlines without catching sight of a new study, or devastating prediction. As the race to create viable robots and AI hots up, many of us humans are sitting rather nervously in our seats.

There’s been one thing comforting us, however. Robots and AI are so prohibitively expensive, that surely it couldn’t really be plausible for them to replace human staff. Could it?

Well, anyone who’s familiar with the concept of commercialism can see the problems with that argument, and indeed, many companies have been working tirelessly to ensure that one day, none of us will ever need to work again. Just last year, QZ announced that affordable agriculture robots are supplanting human workers at lettuce weeding, cow-milking and strawberry picking (to name but a few), and according to a study by British think tank Reform, most government employees have jobs so pointless that the UK government could save £6.1 billion a year by replacing them with robots.

Nevertheless, long term savings aside, purchasing robots still requires a significant initial investment, and one which is likely to remain unaffordable for most businesses for some time. But don’t rest easy in your seat. One company seems to have come up with a business plan which solves this problem, and which could become the blueprint for robots in all businesses – renting.

Ready Robotics has landed upon the entrepreneurial concept of simply renting its robots out for between $1,500 and $4000 a month. Their robots, which have been called ‘the Swiss army knife of robotics’ are designed to be used by a human workforce, not to replace it – but it’s the concept of renting robots, not the robot’s function itself, which is interesting here. Should ‘Robot Rentals’ become a mainstream industry, it would cut out a lot of the barriers businesses face in adapting to robots in the workplace, allowing small and large businesses to benefit from the advanced technology equally – as long as the robot rentals remained cheaper than the cost of a human equivalent, of course.

While other ‘robot rental’ companies do exist, they mainly rent robots for promotional or educative means, not for employment of the robots themselves. Should this business model catch on (and it will, because it’s genius), it could well be the deciding factor in whether AI and robotics in the workplace truly become mainstream or not. And here at Tej Kohli, we can’t help but hope that it does – because the innovation which robots and humans could generate working together could be infinite. At Tej Kohli blog, we’ve written about robots performing corneal transplants for the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute, discussed how driverless cars could eventually make taking a taxi home a thing of the past and we’ve seen how fear of the unknown can impede progress. So we say, embrace robots and the opportunities they can offer – and start saving the pennies for when robot rentals hit your area.