Going from nearby to together
Although people and machines have now been involved with one another in production processes for decades, there has not been cooperation in the literal sense to this point. Robots were programmed and focused on their assigned tasks, without particularly responding to external influences. That is expected to change with cobots. At the Hannover Messe 2016 and at CeBIT 2017, manufacturers attracted attention with robots that could learn and perform sensitive tasks. The machines are already executing almost delicate tasks. They could lift small objects and set them down, turn screws, and even carry out precise plug insertions. As the demonstration with the nail in the balloon shows, the new robots are even capable of reacting to resistance. This is important when the work involves people and machines actually working hand-in-hand in the future. For example, thanks to torque sensors in the joints of a robotic arm, the risk of injury to the robot’s human colleagues declines significantly. But the new cobots are supposed to be more than just aids. They are expected to learn new activities at the same time; the workers guide the robots’ hands so they can internalize an unfamiliar work step.
Affordable and Easy to Operate
One factor on particular could immediately expand the use of cobots: their low prices. There is already a company that plans to bring out its latest model for less than 10,000 euros. That price will even have fairly small companies paying attention. Multifaceted robots are also expected to be extremely easy to control. Programming knowledge is not required. Preprogrammed movements are handled with apps, and even laypersons would be able to operate them intuitively.
Lacking the capacity to move considerable loads by themselves, these highly sensitive robots are still lightweights. That disqualifies them for many production processes, but even this challenge is likely to be overcome at some point. Here robots could help people work longer in what had been physically demanding fields; thanks to cobots, experienced – and therefore valuable – employees would stay in their jobs longer than they do now. The sensitive robot would become a friend and helper in the workplace.