For years we have imagined life with robots without truly taking note of how omnipresent they are: in factories assembling automobiles and machines, in distribution centers sorting shipments, in war zones detecting and dismantling landmines and explosives.
The reason we gloss over these applications of robotics is because they are only minimally incorporated into our daily lives. Our image of robots has been shaped by movies and television programs like Star Wars, Terminator, RoboCop and even The Jetsons. Evil or benign, harmful or helpful, the Hollywood robot was working alongside us (well, sometimes trying to kill us, too…).
Up until now, this has not been the case. However, Cobots are about to change that. They are similar to robots in their abilities to tackle heavy labor, perform dangerous operations and operate around the clock. However, they were designed with one thing in mind: to create a robot that could team up with a person, making it possible for both robots and humans to concentrate on what they do best.
The majority of robots currently in commission are complex machines that require extensive programming to perform very specific and set tasks. Their size and speed necessitate a sizable distance between them and their human co-workers. They are often behind fencing, and even have motion sensors that alert them to shut down if someone gets too close. Once installed, it is difficult, if not impossible, to relocate them without dismantling and reconstructing them.
Cobots are basically exactly the opposite. They are compact, flexible and often plug and play. That means both setup and integrations costs are minimal to none and that you can easily relocate them to where they are most needed. They also do not require extensive programming. They learn quickly by repeating the movements their human co-workers teach them by manipulating their limbs, and can also be given tasks and commands through a tablet. Their flexibility, intelligence, and ability to work alongside us, makes them perfectly positioned to take on a more integrated role in our work places.
The advantages are clear. With cobots working alongside use we can
- increase productivity since they can help with time-consuming tasks
- make the workplace safer since they can assume responsibility for dangerous and risky tasks
- improve employee work life since they can perform dull, dirty or repetitive tasks
- improve turnaround time since they can be positioned where necessary and easily taught to perform new tasks
- The automotive industry has been the trailblazer in the implementation of cobots. They work alongside or are operated by employees to perform manufacturing and assembly tasks with greater agility and speed.
However, they are slowly starting to make their way into office spaces. And thanks to their mobility, there is no reason that they will not soon be showing up at your office during the next field service appointment. Not only can they help your field service technician reach hard to access spots or shift heavy equipment, they can also help get the job done more quickly. That means field service technicians would have more time to accomplish more field tasks, which benefits companies and customers.
The video from rethink robotics below shows how cobots can collaborate with humans in praxis.