Cobot or co-robot or collaborative robot is a robot intended to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace, designed to assist human beings as a guide or assistor in a specific task. Cobots are predominantly used for repetitive tasks whereby intelligent support systems using cobots assist the workers, rather than replacing them. This collaborative aspect obviously is the key for design, possibilities, characteristics and evolutions of cobots. A workstation including a robot and a human collaborating is called a cobotic system. Cobots support and relieve the human operator of his excess work. In contrast, a regular robot is designed to be programmed to work more or less autonomously. The use of cobots in manufacturing, warehousing, logistics and healthcare is now growing as part of an on-going industrial transformation.
International Data Corporation (IDC), the premier global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets, predicts that by 2018, 30% of all new robotic deployments will be smart collaborative robots that operate three times faster than today’s robots and are safe for work around humans.
Cobots were first developed commercially in Denmark by Universal Robots and first units were sold in 2008. Ford is boosting productivity by successfully using cobots to install shock absorbers on their vehicles with precision and accuracy right on the production line, saving valuable time and money.
The first cobot arrived in India in 2011 when Bajaj Auto decided to deploy one at its shop floor. It now has a total of 150 cobots and claims that the key benefits of cobots are compactness, low payback period, flexibility, lightweight nature, cost-effectiveness, accuracy and safety, with zero annual maintenance costs, reduced power consumption and retention of IP within the company.
In an auto factory, while the cobot tighten the bolts, the human worker places the tools in front of the cobot. In a biscuit factory, the cobot would package the biscuits while the worker segregates burnt ones not fit for consumption. In a small-scale industry, the cobot is placed on the drilling job while the worker performs a quality check.
Some operations and activities simply cannot be fully automated, however the process speed suffers if parts are being ferried backwards and forwards between workers on the assembly line from robots locked in cages. Robots have been widely used in the manufacturing industry for many years to replace a human labour, whereas cobots are designed for working alongside other employees and not as a replacement to them.
Cobots are the workforce of the future and could transform the way we work and manufacture. There are four types of cobots that are currently available:
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