Cobotics - The Man-Machine Future of Industrial Revolution

By Vijaya kumar Kabbin, General Manager & Practice Head- Embedded Products and IoT, Wipro Limited

Cobotics,the term used for‘Collaborative Robotics’ is an emerging technology trend where in human beings and robots come together to do tasks in synchronization to bring the best of both the worlds. Robots are good with consistency, accuracy and speed but lack adaptability to new tasks and ability to identify unanticipated errors or situations and correct them, hence lack the dexterity which human beings naturally have.Human beings often lack the speed and consistency robots have. Collaborative robotics amalgamates the two to work together seamlessly forbetter efficiencies through tasks.

‘Cobots’ act as smart assistants and human beings can delegate some of the repetitive tasks by way of training the robots so that together they achieve the required speed and efficiency.

Evolution of Cobots

In the past, robots were designed for a specific task and they were powerful and bulky and were often confined to a restricted space. They performed the task effectively and efficiently, however the definition of the task had to remain thesame. A small change in the product or task, to be performed on the product, made the robot partially or completely useless. 

Today, technologies are changing fast and so are the expectations of theend customer. This is resulting in the shortening of product life cycles and hence companies need to keep updating their product lines to stay relevant for consumers. With improvements in advanced robotics laws like ISO/TS 15066, integrating robots to assist humans is becoming a reality.

These robots have intelligent sensors and motors that allow humans to either hand-hold or work simultaneously in a shared space, which was not possible earlier. These Cobots are light-weight and can be taught to do more than one set of tasks. The new light-weight robots also consume less floor space and are typically cheaper and faster to setup and integrate into a system, thus making it a great proposition for automating assembly lines and floor spaces.

Planning for Advanced Automation

Building collaborative robots takes two simple steps.We must begin by choosing a basic robotic platform and then programming it to do multiple tasks in a shared space with humans. There are multiple options for the basic robotic platform. Vendors have varying capabilities starting from providing robot platform along with SDK (Software Development Kit) to trainandteach robots. Once we have a basic platform, we need to add intelligence, through multiple technology options as listed in the table below.

Table: Intelligence Capabilities and Enabling Technologies

Intelligence Capabilities

Enabling Technologies

Dexterity, Self-learning, Autonomous, Interaction with surroundings, machines and humans, Location awareness, Perceive and respond.                    

Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning , Object detection, Multi-Sensors/Actuators, Depth Sensing , Gesture recognition, Speech to Text  - Text to Speech, Computer Vision Technologies

In the Near Future

Collaborative robotics, stemming from IoT (Internet of Things), is a concept that will be a game changer for the manufacturing and pharmaceutical industry. Cobots can be programmed to do delicate and intricate work that is often difficult and time-consuming for either a robot or human beings to do in silo. In a human-machine study conducted by an MIT professor at a BMW factory, it was noted that a collaborative process reduced human idle time by around 85 percent.

Tractica, a Colorado-based research firm, projects that the global cobotics sector is expected to grow to 1 billion USD by 2020 from 95 million USD in 2014. Going forward, the growth will be significant and exponential.

As the robots move from heavy-duty industrial applications to provide assistance and augmenting skills, more and more companies would want to adaptto cobots, which could also be attributed to the fear of being left out.

Dealing with the Workforce Woes

Unlike the erstwhile robots, cobotsare state-of-the-art tools in the hands of workers to produce more efficiently, just the way today’s doctors have access to latest technical equipments to perform their jobs better. Cobots can be deployed to learn and do repetitive and intricate tasks, under supervision of human workers, with specific focus on simple tasks where error can be expensive from the point of view of recovery costs or high customer dissatisfaction.

Cobots are not here to steal our jobs but to help us become more efficient in what we do. Cobots can help us in accomplishing our tasks faster with less or zero errors. 

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