The literal definition of collaboration is: The action of working with someone to produce or create something. Here, the collaborative robots or cobots do the same. The robots are never gigantic hydraulic machines that worked in factories years ago. Instead, Cobots operate in conjunction with humans to perform given tasks. They are built to interact physically with humans in a shared workspace. In other words, cobots or collaborative robots can be defined as the hardware version of Augmented Intelligence. Rather than replacing humans with their autonomous counterparts, collaborative robots augment artificial intelligence technologies to physical bots. Cobots can revolutionize production. This is effective, especially for smaller companies, that account for 70% of the manufacturing industries, globally.
Cobots have been around since the 1990s. They help in improving human capabilities in performing tasks with greater strength, accuracy, and data capabilities. The first collaborative robot was a device used to directly interact physically with a manipulator that was computer-controlled’. It was invented by J Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin in 1996. Later, Kuka Robotics launched its first collaborative robot in the year 2004, named LBR 3.
Since Cobots are capable of performing tasks alongside humans instead of replacing them, there are a multitude of ways in which “Cobots” are used in different industries for varying purposes. The major ones are,
1. Hand–guiding: This cobot has an additional hand – a pressure-sensitive device at the end of its arm. With this arm, the human operator can teach the collaborative robot how to hold an object or how to move, or how fast to move, and so on. It also ensures that nothing gets damaged.
2. Speed and Separation Monitoring Cobots: This particular cobot operates in safety zones. Instead of stopping to perform its task when it senses an outsider’s presence in the safety zone, this cobot slows down and then tracks the location of the human. It stops as the human gets too close.
3. Power And Force Limiting Cobots: These collaborative robots are designed to frequently interact with humans. This specific cobot stops or reverses its movement on encountering any abnormality.
4. Safety Monitored Stop Cobots: These cobots are designed to work independently, but stop whenever a human needs to intervene. This cobot senses human presence and stops all movement until the human has left the safety zone.
In general, robots have replaced human labor from the industrial workforce since the industrial revolution. Robots, but operated within safe environments. Cobots, on the other hand, help in putting away some of the major spatial and environmental dangers that robots may cause, whilst working alongside humans!
Cobots can also be easily reprogrammed. Many businesses and industries are skeptical about falling behind their competitors, especially in situations where irrecoverable disasters are likely to take place. Here is when cobots can be an effective solution.
Cobots will almost certainly lead to a revolution in manufacturing over the next few years. How we handle this revolution is up for debate. There are obvious fears that large sections of the workforce will be made redundant by the increased automation, but these fears may be unfounded. Maybe science fiction books and movies have made us all a bit paranoid when it comes to ‘the rise of the machines.’ The reality seems to be that when humans work hand-in-hand with robots, the results can be beneficial for both managers and workers alike.