Cobots are treated like people – at least at the "Robozän" temp agency, which leases robots to companies at minimum wage.7 Feb 2017
Cobots are meant to make our work easier. They can execute monotonous or particularly hazardous tasks reliably and without complaint. But it is fairly expensive to purchase a robot. What happens if the activity changes, or the production process? Matthias Krinke asked himself this question. His company, pi4_robotics, manufactures the Workerbot humanoid robots that can be used in a wide range of settings.
"The new generation of Workerbots can be quickly and flexibly programmed for new tasks, and equipped specifically for whatever their planned use," he says. "You can use these robots as security personnel or supermarket cashiers."
Temp workers made of steel
For companies who hesitate to spend the relatively high price of acquiring a robot, Krinke has an alternative solution up his sleeve: He is also the founder and owner of Robozän – by its own account the first recruitment and temporary employment agency for robots. Like at a regular temp agency, different workers are available for hire here – but none of them are flesh and blood. Instead, owners of pi4 robots can make their "workers" available for hire, and receive "wages" in return from the hiring company, in the amount of the current German minimum wage of €8.94.
Krinke wants to reach small and medium-sized companies in particular with this model, by making their path to automation more accessible. Using this temporary placement model, businesses can try out robots for an extended period at a fraction of the cost. These robots learn new tasks very quickly, via simple software updates and changing out the tools in their hands. Plug them into a conventional electrical outlet, and they are ready to work.
Employment contracts along the human model
While this approach might sound unusual, it is intended as a very serious project. Investors can acquire these multifunctional robots for around €100,000, and use them themselves or lease them out to work for other companies. The temp agency guarantees a yield of at least one percent annually, so owners have no need to fear unemployment. The company that leases the robot must sign an employment contract for at least six months and two shifts. After the six months are over, a notice period of four weeks applies. The Workerbot has years of proven performance in the market , which makes it attractive. "There is huge interest from both investors and customers," says Krinke.
Temping cobots create flexibility
In Germany he is in talks with suppliers and nurseries; the foreign customers who approach him are mainly from China and the U.S. Berlin-based endoscope manufacturer Xion also uses temporary robot workers. For eight hours a day, Yolandi – every Workerbot has a name – plugs and unplugs jacks or enters predefined keyboard sequences. Robozän itself has no workers except company head Matthias Krinke, because: "I don't need workers, I have robots."
How companies can interact with collaborative robots, or cobots, and make best use of the latest generation of robots, is on show at HANNOVER MESSE . For example with the ROBOTICS AWARD . This award singles out technological innovations that contribute to robot-assisted solutions in industrial automation or mobile robots and autonomous systems.
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