To peer into the future of staffing, one need look no further than Knightscope, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup that builds and “places” security robots.

Founded in 2013, the firm deploys robots that, armed with myriad sensors, are primarily used to enhance, expand and automate on-site security services. They look like adolescent- sized iPods that patrol around, record their surroundings, and electronically notify security staff of unlawful or suspicious activity. They operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, returning periodically to a charging station.

Robots are nothing new — just ask car manufacturers — but the firm’s underlying business model is perhaps its most unique differentiator. The robots are not “sold.” Rather, they are billed out on an hourly rate (though on an annualized basis); what a staffing executive might consider a “robo-bill rate.”

The firm’s investor prospectus states, “Knightscope operates on a Machine-as-a-Service (MaaS) business model. We charge clients an average price of $7 per hour per machine, which we believe compares favorably to a human guard or mobile vehicle patrol unit.” The typical annual contract amounts to more than $61,000 per machine.

Based on the above description, it’s hard to argue that this model is not staffing, though the firm is “placing” robots instead of humans. Perhaps Knightscope’s most notable achievement to date is to take what on paper looks like a novel idea and turn it into an actual cash-generating enterprise, reporting that its robots have collectively worked for more than 125,000 hours and traveled more than 70,000 miles.

While these results may not be staggering compared to the hours worked by temporary workers (millions per day), what is impressive is the sheer fact that there are robot staffing hours at all. Furthermore, the firm notes that trends through the first half of 2017 are positive, and it has forged partnerships with two of the three largest security services companies in the US. From the perspective of staffing executives, the two big questions are whether solutions like Knightscope’s are just a fad or the beginning of a new trend, and to what extent are the jobs that staffing firms staff at risk of soon being outsourced to a robot?

The Buzz

Despite sounding like the theme of a Blade Runner sequel, robo-staffing has arrived, and Knightscope’s model may well be the one that is imitated across industries. While the implications for staffing firms are not as black and white as they might appear to be, Knightscope provides a glimpse into the future: a look at staffing in an era of robots.