Historically, humans have seen robots as tools. For decades robots have performed tasks on command and have been limited in their freedom of action, showed low performance whenever they were not designed for the task and relied on humans whenever a problem or an unforeseen scenario occurred.
However, with recent technological advancements we have begun to imagine the world where humans and robots work together as partners. In this world, the robot has more freedom of action, performs diverse set of tasks, adapts to different scenarios and is capable to actively drive interaction with a human.
What is driving this tighter human/robot collaboration?
By enhancing our human inborn capabilities with capabilities of a robot we are able to solve problems, we were not able to solve before. We are able to create considerable economic advantages, while moving humans away from potentially hazardous environments and limiting injuries and diseases on the work floor.
As we move towards tighter human/robot collaboration, the creation of a safe workplace shared by the human operator and the robot becomes the first milestone. Initially, the robot operated in a separate cell with a fixed physical or virtual barrier. Later humans occupied part of the workplace where robot’s exclusive movement occurred. And most recently, the simultaneous motion of a robot and a human became a possibility. In such an arrangement, the robot must be able to generate own trajectory without colliding with dynamic obstacles like humans and assembly components moving inside the workspace. It is essential that the collaborative robot is aware of what is happening around and can monitor the actions of a human operator in order to adjust its speed and trajectory in accordance with the separation distance.
You see, generally robots have been better at Structured Planning. Unstructured Decision Making has been an inherently human capability relying on perception and cognition. However, with developments in sensor technology (infrared, ultrasound and high-precision sensors) the robot is able to interact with the human and the environment more effectively (e.g. stop whenever a human gets close to the operation). This development wipes out the boundaries separating the robot and the human on the work floor, presents new opportunities for increased productivity and paves the way for even closer human/robot collaboration and partnering in the future. This level of safety makes it possible for manufacturers to redesign the production system to achieve new levels of productivity by simultaneously leveraging the strengths of both the human operator and the robot.
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