Collaborative Efforts, Universal Gains: The Future of Robots in the Industrial Space
Cobots. The word is a union of collaborate and robots, and the increasing popularity of these autonomous machines in the manufacturing space is a result of the benefits of that union. Like never before, robots are working with—often alongside—human counterparts. And they’re changing the modern industrial workplace. Historically, industrial robotic applications deployed at scale have been geared toward mass production. In these scenarios, the (historically expensive) robots are optimized for a specific task that can be carried out independently. These robots are normally physically isolated from people for safety, often by barriers or cages. Think of an assembly line that might have a robot that lifts and places material; another that can perform high-speed and precise welds; and another that can paint beautiful, blemish-free surfaces. These are traditional industrial robots. Steer clear!
Contrast this with cobots designed to assist or augment the capability of flesh-and-bone workers, whether guided by—or responding to—humans interacting with them to perform tasks jointly. These cobots share the same workspace as humans, interact with people (both deliberately and randomly), and move independently of their human coworkers. At the core of this newfound adaptiveness and responsiveness are increased levels of automation and a focus on enhanced safety considerations.
For the foreseeable future, these two distinct classes (robots, cobots) will likely remain, as there is additional cost and overhead in implementing the advanced capabilities of cobots. New skills come at a cost. As technologies mature and price points reduce, however, it is likely that the distinction will become more and more blurred.