RENT TO BUILD
The sharing economy has expanded far beyond
vacation rentals and car rides—it’s helping
U.S. construction project teams control costs.
Contractors and their project managers have
begun turning to services like Yard Club Inc., a
three-year-old U.S. startup that connects owners
of idle heavy machinery with short-term renters.
With tighter federal emission-control
standards raising equipment prices by as much
as 20 percent, renting equipment has become
an attractive alternative to buying. Renting
allows companies to pay only when they need
equipment, rather than shelling out a huge sum
to purchase it, and then watch it sit unused for
much of the time.
Industry analysts expect the share of U.S.
construction equipment owned by rental
companies to hit 60 percent within the next 10
years, up from 54 percent in 2014 and just 40
percent in 2005.
Machinery makers say the trend’s benefits
outweigh the drawbacks, even though increased
rentals hurt sales of new equipment.
Caterpillar Inc. executives say rentals extend
their overall customer base. Not only has the
U.S.-based manufacturer asked its own dealers
to expand rental services, but last year it also
invested an unspecified amount in Yard Club.
“You don’t know what the workload is going
to be,” Manuel de Freitas of Platinum Pipeline Inc.
told The Wall Street Journal, on why renting heavy
equipment works for his project teams.
traditional canes, says Mr. Rafiq, director of software engineering, BlindX3
Ltd., Birmingham, England.
Weight was only one of several issues the XploR team hadn’t thought
about prior to user testing. As with many other teams working in the assistive
technology space, no one on Mr. Rafiq’s project team is visually impaired. It’s
therefore crucial for teams to understand how visually impaired people prefer
to navigate the world as early in the design process as possible.
One way to do that is by teaming up with an organization full of potential
users. For Handisco’s smart cane project that launched
in November 2014, the company partnered early on
with a blind accessibility organization, Association Val-
entin Haüy. The company worked with 15 to 20 people
with visual impairments to create a high-tech accessory
that attaches to a traditional cane.
“It’s very difficult to imagine what these people are
living with all day,” says Florian Esteves, founder and
CEO, Handisco, Nancy, France. “So we have to talk
with them so they can explain to us exactly what they
Mr. Esteves found that these stakeholders didn’t just
want to safely get to their destination; they wanted
contextual information about their environment.
So his team equipped its device with a sensor that
could someday identify nearby Internet-connected
devices to provide information on what stores the user
approaches, when local buses arrive and when traf-
fic lights change from green to red. This information
would then be communicated to the user via a Blue-
tooth headset. Handisco’s device also features a GPS
Early input from stakeholders helped the Handisco team stay on target for
its mid-2016 release date. Still, both Mr. Esteves and Mr. Rafiq will need to
overcome a major problem facing many assistive technologies—cost. In many
countries, disabled populations are far less likely to have full-time employ-
ment and far more likely to live under the poverty line than others. One low-
cost solution already on the market is SmartCane, a device developed in India
that uses ultrasound to detect hanging obtrusions or obstacles located above
the knee. For Indian citizens, the device is currently available at a subsidized
price of INR3,000. That’s about 20 times less expensive than the UltraCane, a
similar product developed in the U.K.
Mr. Esteves says that despite challenges, he’s excited about the work ahead.
“We live in a world full of technology, full of new things,” he says. “For us, it’s
important to bring those technologies to those people who don’t have access.”
with all day.
a really big
part of our
Handisco, Nancy, France