The road to collaborative robotics finds its roots in the limitations resulting from the early rise of traditional robots successes. Think about red hot rods coming out from the foundry’s furnaces. You take a look to the employees of the facility and the first question popping up is could there be a safer way to manipulate those items? That question leads directly to robots as originally conceived. You create a machine that will be able to manipulate hot rods or the like in such a safe way that employees will no longer have to manipulate them directly. This is typically the type of device that came up in the 80’s, already a long time ago.
As illustrated above, the next step was to bring those programmable manipulators directly in the assembly lines of manufacturers. Instead of manipulating a motor with chains and various devices man operated, why not programming a manipulator able to grab a motor to bring it directly into the fitting place in a car, be it from atop, under, through the cabin, etc. That undertaking was successful and still is though limited by physical features of any manufacturing facility. As illustrated hereunder, a production floor is a crowded place!
One cannot simply add on robots after robots for they require place to avoid harmful contact from machine to machine and most importantly, ensuring employees’ safety. Automatization through robotics encounters physical limitations such as manufacturing space availability, in a very comparable way to adding more and more workers, there comes a point when people step on one another feet. The place gets saturated!
Two observations and questions arise.
Have robots replaced all workers?
Are robots flexible and adaptable?
No. And no.
Of course, robots are great and indeed are most useful and even necessary in many situations. But as much popular culture draws fictions with regard to the future of mankind in the hands of robots, reality strikes back in reminding us those devices as sophisticated as can be cannot do or make everything.
Also, traditional robots are not easily adaptable or flexible. Adaptability and flexibility would require easy reprogramming and the possibility to move around these automated devices easily on the production floor, both features lacking traditional robots.
Answering those questions, collaborative robotics goes that step beyond as depicted in the following illustration.
First, the robot is made mobile from the onset. Second, it is made so to switch from one task to the next not necessarily in a preselected order.
Notice. Human beings are everywhere. No cage!
What makes possible this next step in robotics is the ability to work directly in relationship with human beings. The idea is not to replace them, but to assist in whichever way possible.
The prerequisite concept: Do not touch anyone!
Do not underestimate designers’ creativity and the sophistication of their codes to make it happen. Sensors of all types, pressure, vision, electrical conductivity are involved in conjunction with predictive algorithms to prevent undesirable contacts. Collaborative robotics is not only technological coming of age, but the redeployment of coding to the next level.
Dynamic Machine Learning is that next level. Machine Learning might mean to update data required to sample test production effectively, but it might also mean that once a process is completed under the guidance of an employee, the collaborative robot will be able to integrate the new task without reprogramming and performing it anew upon human request through finger pointing for instance!
On top of that, once the collaborative robot has performed its integrated new task, it will share the news with all other similar devices across the plant.
Cobots are already present in many environments. Manufacturing facilities as we have referred so far, but also classrooms for teaching the fundamentals of robotics and hospitals where personnel has to manipulate hazardous contaminants in a human environment.
Cobots are not only about strictly fabricating products. They might help through bringing tools and supply to designated employees. It can even be a specialized robotic device in direct contact with operators.
Cobots feature built-in flexibility. They bend to human beings at all times. They are set to accompany an employee rather than replacing that person. One has not to minimize the mindset change it represents from the standpoint of programming. It goes way beyond the simple setting of philosophical principles. It has to do with making them work! Machine Learning is involved. Tangible and intangible measurements must be wisely chosen. Direct and indirect surveying has to be conducted in real time for safety must be ascertained at every step and not only at critical points. Since a human being is within reach of a device at every moment, so safety must be ascertained continuously.
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