While robots are not new to the table and they have been used in many fields throughout time, a new term is now on the lips of everyone in the industry and that is “cobot”. “Cobots” is short for collaborative robots and since their development, they have found their way into various fields, from healthcare to agriculture and construction. But what is the difference between robots and cobots?
While robots have been designed to work in place of humans, cobots are designed to work with people, for tasks that are too dangerous, exhausting or simply repetitive and boring. Developed exclusively to work alongside people, cobots are equipped with various sensors, to ensure the safety of the humans around them. Compared to industrial robots which can take weeks to be operational, cobots are fast to set up, as they can be functional in a few hours and are easy to program, having the capacity to “learn on the job”.
Although they are believed to be the workforce of the future, the interest in collaborative robots has yet to increase, as they only represent a small fraction of the annual industrial robot sales. But as labor costs increase, companies are going to turn to technology even more and here are just a few fields where cobots can help humans perfect their work:
Cobots can be used in many different ways in the healthcare system, as they are extremely precise and can perform repetitive tasks. They can be programmed to assist in everything, the most mundane tasks, like setting up beds to help the nursing aides to therapy sessions, where patients can interact with the machines. But perhaps the best use for them is the operating room, where precision is key. If guided by an experienced doctor, they can execute extremely accurate procedures, without any risk of human error. The same precision is what makes cobots perfect laboratory work, as those environments need to be antiseptic and accidental contamination is just a moment of negligence away. To enter the cleanrooms, the areas where biomedical materials are usually handled, the personnel must go through a shower room prior, to prevent contamination. With cobots, the risk of contamination is considerably diminished.
While we have yet to reach the era where robot police officers will roam the streets to ensure our safety, cobots are already making their way to the law enforcement field. A simple example is bomb defusing, where a cobot is guided through the danger zone from a remote area, to find and safely remove the bomb. But the possibilities are plenty, as they can be used to collect video or photo evidence from dangerous locations that would otherwise put humans in danger and even hostage negotiations to facilitate communication. Basically, any situation that can be deemed too dangerous even for skilled personnel, this way avoiding the loss of valuable lives.
The use of cobots is not new to the manufacturing industry, as it was probably the first one to benefit from it. They can be used to perform simple and repetitive tasks on the production line but also in quality control, where the machines can check that the final product is meeting the required standards. Cobots can be used to help factories deal with temporary jobs, as it’s becoming more and more difficult to find workers that accept to work for a limited period of time. This way, the cobot can be programmed to do the task and simply reprogrammed to do a different job when the demand is met.
A large number of manufacturing companies have declared their productivity has increased since they started using cobots alongside human workers. Their workplace has also become safer, as cobots have a multitude of sensors that slows them down or stops them completely if a co-worker is getting too close to it.
Due to the physical work required on construction sites, it’s becoming harder and harder to find skilled employees that are willing to lift heavy material or simply put themselves in this type of danger. Cobots can be used to prepare materials used for construction, like beams, brick and mortar, making the employees’ job easier. They can also be programmed to pour cement or lay bricks. A cobot can lay around 2,000 bricks a day, which can double or triple the productivity on construction sites.
Two of the most common causes of injury or death on construction sites are getting hit by objects and becoming caught inside heavy machinery. These can all be avoided by having cobots perform the tasks that are too risky for human employees. Robots used in construction are built from durable materials, to prevent total damage in case of collision with other objects.
With agriculture being around since the early stages of humanity, it’s hard to think anyone can do this better than humans. But automatization has worked its way through the agricultural industry a for a while now, not only in big farms but also in family businesses, to save time and resources.
Due to the recent technology developed, cobots have the ability to handle delicate crops and harvest at a speed no human can compete with. This can increase productivity and reduce labor expenses. Cobots can also be used in environments that require a high level of hygiene, with food that needs to be carefully processed. Cobots are safe to be used around people and animals, they can be programmed to sanitize the cow’s udders before and after milking, making the process faster and cleaner.
What makes cobots a better option in agriculture than traditional industrial robots is the size they take up, being no bigger than a human worker. They can be moved around where they are needed and stored aside, taking up very little space. They are safe to use, being specially programmed to retract its arm if the power is out, so it won’t injure the animals or the human workers.
There is no way to say for sure what the future of cobots will bring to the table, but it’s certain that they will slowly work their way into more and more industries. They bring out plenty of methods to ease the work of human employees and should be viewed as a positive change rather than a threat.