How Collaborative Robots Powering the Next-Generation of Robotics

November 17, 2019


Today, robotics is being used in a wide range of applications and in this way, collaborative robots (cobots) is taking it a step further. Large companies are adopting these types of robots because of their benefits such as lower costs, enhanced safety, flexibility, and personnel efficiencies. Not only big companies, but small to medium businesses are also becoming aware of the growing importance of and uses for cobots as the implementation of smart factories continues to rise.

Cobots are more precise and increasingly flexible thanks to advanced sensor technology, artificial intelligence, Lidar/Radar, GPS, and connectivity. Thus, by integrating domain-specific go-to-market with robust software management platforms, the next-generation of robotics firms have the chance to dodge long integrator-led sales cycles and become highly adherent over time.


Shift to Collaborative Robots

Technological advancements and lower cost components have paved the way for the growth of collaborative robots. Owing to its smaller scale, affordability, and flexibility, cobots offer the benefits of industrial automation to new markets. Moreover, cobot arms, along with compliant grippers and mobile platforms equipped with collision-avoidance capabilities take robots from inside fenced work cells to production lines and other venues.

Beyond manufacturing and pick-and-place operations, cobots can serve a wide array of areas in the domain of agriculture, healthcare, airlines, restaurants, among others. For instance, King’s College London is working on a project where a cobot arm can help greenhouse workers to pick plants. The project, called GROWBOT (Grower-Reprogrammable Robot for Ornamental Plant Production Tasks), designed to enable non-expert users to work with robots for tedious and repetitive tasks. It is also intended to assist by relieving scarcities of seasonal labor.

In one another example, Miso Robotics developed the world’s first autonomous robotic kitchen assistant, Flippy, that uses a cobot arm with a variety of end-of-arm tools and cloud-based monitoring functions. The company claims its burger-flipping robot can work on a grill or fryer, comply with OSHA and food-safety standards, and operate for more than 100,000 hours of continuous uptime.

Robots have also become prevalent in healthcare, helping surgeons by performing complex surgeries. In this context, a team of researchers at Nottingham Trent University is developing collaborative robots, Scoliobot, for precise spinal surgery. Currently, they are working on 3D-printed models with two UR5 cobots from Universal Robots. To provide surgeons with live feedback, researchers are also using augmented reality. In this surgery process, one robot arm, named the Datum Robot, would follow a patient’s spine and glean data on how he/she moves. Conversely, the other one, called the Tooling Robot, would automatically adjust to drill holes itself for realignment rods to be placed in vertebrae.


More Experiments with Cobots 

Recently, an MIT project demonstrates a system of tiny collaborative robots, which could sooner or later work together to create high-performance structures, ranging from airplanes to houses and space settlements. The V-shaped robots, named Bipedal Isotropic Lattice Locomoting Explorers (BILL-E), resemble miniature arms.

Moving like inchworms, these robots can assemble small three-dimensional modular pieces, called voxels, into larger structures. They can pick up and place each voxel in position, then connect them using a special latching system that is part of each building unit.

So, as cobots that currently work alongside a human workforce, in years to come, the capabilities of it maybe turn into unrestricted movements. And instead of just performing pre-programmed tasks frequently, cobots could be intelligent enough to move away from programmed instructions to complete tasks precisely in unstructured milieus.