If you work in the robotics world, hardly a day goes by that you don’t hear something about “Cobots”. It’s one of the hot topics in the field right now…
So What’s a Cobot?
“Cobot” is short for “Collaborative Robot” which, according to Wikipedia:
“…are robots intended to interact with humans in a shared space or to work safely in close proximity. Cobots stand in contrast to traditional industrial robots which are designed to work autonomously with safety assured by isolation from human contact.”
Basically, as we utilize robots to assist with jobs that are not as attractive to us humans (lifting, repetitive motion, etc.) it becomes necessary to work more closely together. In these instances, the robot, being the stronger and structurally more robust of the two, must be capable of avoiding injury to their human counterparts. This requires some sophisticated engineering of sensing and control systems.
The Early Drivers
The picture shows an early application where this is obvious – painting! While not a lot of heavy lifting here, there is a ton of repetitive motion – and the quality of the outcome is directly related to the accuracy of that motion and the ability to repeat it identically over-and-over again. Never has there been a more picture-perfect application for a robot! This is why painting is one of the original robotic applications…
No Replacement for “The Human Touch”
The problem is many painting applications involve complex geometries with areas that require a great deal of eye-hand coordination to properly cover the surface. Deep draws and openings are just a few examples. Unfortunately, for all the advances in machine vision, so far there remains no substitute for human coordination in these situations.
It has long been common practice to have an operator directly adjacent to the robot – either before or after – performing the touch-up operation that will assure that these areas are properly executed and do not result in quality rejects and rework or scrap.
Distance is the Enemy
When it comes to efficiency in manufacturing, distance is the enemy. Separating the robot and operator adds time to the overall operation – and time is money! Thus, improving the prowess of the robot to enable the distance between it and its human co-worker is a natural objective.
Who knew the painting industry was involved at all?