There is no standard definition of a collaborative robot but a collaborative robot is generally understood as one that is intended to work alongside and / or directly interact with humans in a shared space. The term cobot is an abbreviation of collaborative robot. It is generally used to refer to robots that have been designed to work alongside or with humans, and therefore have inherent safety features such as lightweight materials and rounded edges. However a robot that was not designed to work with humans can be equipped with sensors to enable collaborative operation in manufacturing environments.
The International Federation of Robotics (IFR), a global industry association of robot manufacturers and national robot associations, collects statistics on two types of robots – 1)industrial robots used in manufacturing and 2) service robots for domestic and professional use. Most service robots can be considered collaborative as they are intended to work alongside humans. Industrial robots have traditionally worked separately from humans, behind fences, but this is changing with a new class of collaborative industrial robot.
Cobots can have many roles. Collaborative service robots perform a variety of functions, from information robots in public spaces; logistics robots that transport materials within a building, to; inspection robots equipped with cameras and visual processing technologies that can serve in a variety of applications such as patrolling perimeters of secure facilities.
Collaborative industrial robots are used to automate repetitive, unergonomic tasks - such as fetching and carrying heavy parts, machine feeding and final assembly. Industrial robots have traditionally been used in industrial sectors for pre-assembly tasks such as cutting, welding, basic assembly of car bodies and painting. Collaborative industrial robots enable automotive and electronics manufacturers to extend automation to final product assembly, finishing tasks (for example polishing and applying coatings), and quality inspection.
The IFR defines four types of collaborative application in manufacturing applications :
- Co-existence: Human and robot work alongside each other, but with no shared workspace: Most frequent type of collaboration today (together with sequential collaboration)
- Sequential collaboration: Human and robot share all or part of a workspace but do not work on a part or machine at the same time: Most frequent type of collaboration today (together with co-existence)
- Co-operation: Robot and human work on the same part or machine at the same time, and both are in motion: Infrequent today. Typically, either the robot or the worker is immobile if in contact with the same part or machine – for example a robot positions a part and is then immobile while a human works on it. This scenario is sequential, not co-operative
- Responsive collaboration: The robot responds in real-time to the worker’s motion: This type of application is not yet commercially viable for most collaborative manufacturing applications today and is likely to be most applicable in service robots working in non-standard environments such as construction and agriculture.
In most industrial applications today, the robot and worker share the same space and complete tasks sequentially.
Cobots were invented in 1996 by J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin, professors at Northwestern University. A 1997 US patent filing describes cobots as "an apparatus and method for direct physical interaction between a person and a general purpose manipulator controlled by a computer."
Cobots resulted from a 1994 General Motors initiative led by Prasad Akella of the GM Robotics Center and a 1995 General Motors Foundation research grant intended to find a way to make robots or robot-like equipment safe enough to team with people. The first cobots assured human safety by having no internal source of motive power. Instead, motive power was provided by the human worker. The cobot's function was to allow computer control of motion, by redirecting or steering a payload, in a cooperative way with the human worker. Later cobots provided limited amounts of motive power as well.
The General Motors team used the term Intelligent Assist Device (IAD) as an alternative to cobot, especially in the context of industrial material handling and automotive assembly operations. A draft safety standard for Intelligent Assist Devices was published in 2002. An updated safety standard was published in 2016.
German based industrial robot pioneer KUKA released its first cobot, LBR 3, in 2004. This computer controlled lightweight robot was the result of a long collaboration with the German Aerospace Center institute. KUKA further refined the technology, releasing the KUKA LBR 4 in 2008 and the KUKA LBR iiwa in 2013.
Universal Robots released its first cobot, the UR5, in 2008. In 2012 the UR10 cobot was released, and later a table top cobot, UR3, in 2015. Rethink Robotics released an industrial cobot, Baxter, in 2012 and smaller, faster collaborative robot Sawyer in 2015, designed for high precision tasks.
FANUC released its first collaborative robot in 2015 - the FANUC CR-35iA with a heavy 35kg payload. Since that time FANUC has released a smaller line of collaborative robots including the FANUC CR-4iA, CR-7iA and the CR-7/L long arm version.
Standards and guidelinesEdit
During revision and restructuring of the standards relevant to industrial robots, the area of collaborative robots has been established. The revised EN ISO 10218 standard Parts 1 and 2 and the ISO/TS 15066 specification define the safety requirements for collaborative robot applications. In this context, the collaborative robot also comprises the tools adapted on the robot arm to perform tasks as well as the objects handled by it.
Since the safety of a collaborative robot is ultimately determined by the application (for example, a cobot wielding a cutting tool would be unsafe if humans could make contact, whereas the same robot sorting foam chips would not be) . Consequently, the risk assessment accomplished by the robot manufacturer must also cover the envisioned industrial workplace. EN ISO 10218 Parts 1 and 2 build the basis for the risk assessment, together with the Machinery Directive.
- Air-Cobot, a collaborative mobile robot to inspect aircraft
- Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the German Social Accident Insurance (IFA): Safe co-operation between human beings and robots (http://www.dguv.de/ifa%3B/fachinfos/kollaborierende-roboter/index-2.jsp)
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- ISO 10218-1:2011 Robots and robotic devices – Safety requirements for industrial robots – Part 1: Robots. International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
- ISO 10218-2:2011 Robots and robotic devices – Safety requirements for industrial robots – Part 2: Robot systems and integration. International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
- ISO/TS 15066:2016 Robots and robotic devices – Collaborative robots. International Organization for Standardization (ISO)