Like many people of my generation, I am a keen Star Wars fan starting from very first the one … Everything about it was mind blowing at that time. Most of all I was amused by the wobbly and clumsy robots, R2D2 and my favourite C-3P0. It was exceedingly impressive how they interacted with humans. They were precise, a lightning fast information source on demand, even during times of dire stress. They were complementing people in every possible way. Shoulder to shoulder, next to each other, making humans more resourceful and capable of saving the universe. I remember the pilots were not going anywhere without their R2D2 type robots when they were going to attack the imperial forces.
Together the robots and humans were invincible, stronger than they could be on their own.
Over the years my fascination with robots has continued. During my working years as an industrial automation engineer, I have developed many industrial robotic systems for different manufacturing environments (machine equipment manufacturing, domestic appliances, electronic assembly, food, packaging, printing, storage facilities, etc.).
However, the robotic systems that I designed and developed were not like my friends R2D2 or C-3PO. They were cumbersome and sombre fighters and needed a lot of attention, specialist programming skills and massive safety detailing around their working areas. They were robust, strong and tireless workers like Hercules or Perseus – but they had no awareness of the proximity of humans.
They were welding huge aggregate silos or heavy steel structures day or night with the patience of whirling dervishes. Sometimes they were dipping the steel pieces of domestic appliances into acid baths. But, standing in the way of a welding robot in an automobile plant would be like standing in front of a galloping samurai brigade.
It was and is too dangerous for a human to be that close to a robotic application.
Since they are built for a certain purpose, their locations and functions were not changeable. Whether their monotonous task was palletizing different size boxes, putting together the circuits or precision assemblies, storing and restoring the goods from large storage of warehouses, they were tireless, reliable and could work 24 hours. Although the initial investment cost might be high, the long term benefit and contribution to capacity and profit was significant.
Well, since my early days of designing automation robots things have changed quite a bit. Since approximately 2012 so called collaborative robots or “Cobots”, are emerging from R&D groups and universities.
The future where cobots can work safely together with humans shoulder to shoulder is here.
At Cambridge Consultants we’ve been working on some component technology for robots, for example, innovative visual sensing, process sensing devices, special end effectors, low cost robotic arms, control software and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Cobots are great!!!
They can be set up quickly without any programming skills – as easy as setting the washing machine, in fact may be easier than setting the washing machines (alas, I am still struggling to get that right). If anyone can use a smartphone, they can program cobots too. Just show them what to do and push the button. Another eye-opening feature is their mobility and rapid adaptation. In the morning they can transfer parts between two CNC machines, in the afternoon you can see them loading and unloading a hydraulic press.
I’m excited about the future for cobots and how I can combine my skills in automation equipment together with the skills of my colleagues around me in sensors, algorithms and machine vision to be part of creating the next generation of cobots! If you like to be part of this too then check our vacancies page as we’re recruiting!
May the Cobotic force and Cambridge Consultants be with you.