Machines have been utilised within factories for years, to aid with moving heavy loads and perform monotonous mass production tasks. They can often be immense, dangerous structures, kept within cages to protect factory workers, who are cautioned with horror stories of former incidents. But what if we were able to work in harmony, safely cooperating alongside these machines...
What is a collaborative robot (Cobot)?
You will have most likely heard the word collaborative before. The oxford dictionary defines this ambiguously as ‘the action of working with someone to produce something’, however a more precise translation into android terms refers to human-machine interaction. As technology continues to develop, collaborative robotics are the newest solution created for industrially scaled manufacturing. Upon simple instruction they are even able to build each other!
Benefits of Collaborative Robots
Collaborative robots comprise of a plethora of features highly beneficial in comparison to conventional, heavy trade machinery. Different variations of collaboration within robotics include safety monitored stopping or speed adjustment, force limiting stopping and hand guided, ‘train by demonstration’ teaching. All of these abilities enable them to work safely in close proximity to, or in direct contact with, humans without requiring additional safety devices; as their motors are internal and unexposed. This also means that they do not require caging, saving money and floor space upon induction. They are easy to programme and can be factory trained by existing staff, as they do not require written code, allowing full focus to remain solely on production.
The Current Collaborative Market
Sawyer by Rethink Robotics
Weight: 42 pounds
Degrees of freedom: 7DOF
Protection rating: IP54
Sensitivity: Embedded high-resolution force sensors
Expected life-time: 35,000 hours (5 Years)
Other Functions: Cognex camera
Though Rethink Robotics’ Baxter premiered as the world’s first collaborative robot in 2012, the company have since created a far lighter solution named Sawyer, which is suitable for dextrous tasks such as circuit board testing and material handling, whilst continuing to undertake conventional operations like packaging, loading and moulding. Both Sawyer and its predecessor Baxter utilise the software platform Intera 5, enabling them to work seamlessly along-side humans whilst avoiding time-consuming customisation. Sawyer is equipped with high resolution force control, ClickSmart grippers and embedded with Cognex vision which enables a robot positioning system. Based on human anatomy, these robotic arms have 7 degrees of freedom and up to a 1.26 metre reach, meaning that they not only resemble a real human arm but can also move like one. Sawyer’s software is automatically updated to prolong the life of the robot, making it’s expected life-span approximately 5 years – that’s 35,000 hours!
Panda by Franka Emika
Weight: 39.6 pounds (arm alone)
Degrees of freedom: 7DOF
Protection rating: IP20
Sensitivity: Joint torque sensors in all 7 axes
Other functions: Connection to the Cloud
Based on human anatomy and featuring useful exchangeable fingers, Panda is lightweight, interconnectable and sensitive for precision based tasks. Panda utilises intuitive or dialogue app-based programming systems, meaning it is simple to learn and, along with connection to the cloud and other more personalised systems, allows tasks to be shared between robots as part of a community space. Whilst many collaborative robots are purpose built explicitly for use in factory environments, Panda can also be integrated into our everyday safety, connected to enabling devices for home security, with various sensors which react to opening doors and light detection.
Both robotic arms can be paired with compatible accessories and external sensors to increase versatility. They are safer, as well as more diverse and compact than older robotic systems; a step forward in production technology. They provide an ever advancing bridge between humans and machines like never before, through trust, security and guided learning.