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For a few generations we have been bombarded with images of robots, these spurred our dreams to one day have robots take over those menial tasks we absolutely hate doing. This is likely a selfish waste of the technology that goes into the design and development, but dream we can. Despite our wishes to have a robot that can cook, clean, and do the dishes since the 1970s robots have increasingly become a part of our lives, particularly in heavy industry and manufacturing. These robots were typically apart from the human staff, primarily for safety reasons, and now form the basis of what we consider the traditional application of robots. Since those initial steps, things have evolved to now include what has been termed collaborative robots.
What are collaborative robots?
Simply put, collaborative robots, also referred to as cobots, are robots designed to work with humans, rather than being separated from them. Since to COVID-19 pandemic and the supply chain woes that resulted from it collaborative robots are seen as a way to improve productivity. It is important to remember that these are not autonomous and do require a human operator, so safety precautions need to be in place but nowhere the rigorous health and safety protocols of traditional robots.
Collaborative robots also have another important benefit in that they share workspaces with the human staff. This helps reduce space rental and allows for more efficient use of available space. Another benefit of the collaborative robot is that they are not solely dependent on human-coded routines and have been shown to be able to learn by example, greatly improving a design’s flexibility within the work environment.
Collaborative robots have already seen successful deployment in a variety of applications. In picking, packing, and palletizing which can be mind-numbingly boring to human staff but collaborative robots can go for extended periods and with a speed that far surpasses humans. Welding has seen massive adoption of robots with 29% of robots being active in welding and soldering. While this task can still be done by humans, across the globe there are massive shortages of skilled human welders. Cobots can step in to relieve human shortages while improving the cobots sensing capabilities to offset the cost of deploying them somewhat by preventing catastrophic work environments.
Collaborative robots have also seen successful adoption in the assembly and manufacture of goods. Given time, the influx of newer improved technologies and methods the roles cobots play can be further expanded.
In concluding, it is perhaps wise to discuss which is better, collaborative robots or the traditional variety? Well, it depends on how the robot will be used within the business’s workflow. As cobot technology improves and costs reduce more varied adoption across economic vectors will be seen but for the most part, the future of cobots is in manufacturing. To say that cobots will replace their traditional cousins would be short-sighted but cobots offer unique solutions to today’s problems and they are likely better equipped for to address future problems.