We all know what “robots” are. From the menacing cyborgs of the Terminator franchise to the loveable rogue Bender from Futurama, the robot has been a cornerstone of popular culture for decades now. But what about cobots? What are they? What advantages do they bring to the table? And what applications have we seen them being used in so far?
What are cobots?
The term “Robot” was first popularised in the 1920s by the writer Karel Capek, whose human-like “Roboti” overthrew their human masters to overtake the Earth. It’s a cliche that had been repeated thousands of times in science fiction over the last hundred years but in reality, robots are little more than tools. Cobots, meanwhile, are designed to work in collaboration with humans and could represent the next step forward in human and robot relationships. Think of them as the hardware version of AI and you’re almost there.
What are the benefits of cobots?
As these are intelligent machines engineered to work side-by-side with human operatives, cobots offer several advantages over their more autonomous forebears.
Quick programming – A cobot worker can typically be programmed much faster and more easily than a traditional machine, which means it can be implemented reliably in a workplace setup in under an hour in many cases.
Flexibility – They are often designed to be flexible enough to carry out more than one task. This means you could potentially hire a cobot as a ‘temp’ employee and then when that task has been fulfilled, move it onto another area of your business.
Accuracy and consistency – A typical cobot will not only perform its given action to an accuracy impossible with human hands but still do so consistently time and time again.
Productivity – The whole point of robotic assistance of any kind is to take on the jobs that are tedious, leaving human workers free to do more skill-based and thought-based work. Also, because these are machines made to help people and not replace them, it should have a positive impact on employee wellbeing, which will in turn lead to even greater productivity.
Where are they used?
Most famously, cobots are used in the automotive sectors. Indeed, the very first examples of the technology were seen at General Motors in the 1990s. These machines saw humans controlling the power and the cobots controlling the movement via a system of complex DC motors.
Today, however, they are used in just about any major industrial warehouse where humans and machines are working together. In the coming years, it’s something we’re going to be seeing more and more of too. And it’s something we should almost certainly be welcoming with open arms.