by Soumik Ghosh

Move over, robot. The co-bot is here

Mar 15, 2016
BusinessCar TechCIO

Robotics strangely conjures up apocalyptic images of bots going berserk or simply putting us out of jobs. The key lies not in ceding controls to robots, but collaborating with them. Enter: The co-bot.

Robots have intrigued mankind since Czech writer Karel Capek first coined the word for his play in 1921. Capek’s plot was simple: man creates a robot to replace him, and then robot kills the man. Man, understandably, has never been comfortable with the idea of “trust falling” into a robot’s arms. In addition to this, traditional robots are programmed to execute certain actions within fixed constraints.

In a human-machine study conducted by MIT researchers at a BMW factory, it was shown that teams made of humans and robots collaborating efficiently can be around 85 percent more productive than teams made of either humans or robots alone.

And this is the rationale that spurred the evolution of next-gen robotics – bots that work hand-in-hand with humans. Collaborative robots, or co-bots, as they are popularly known, have the ability to collaborate with humans in a task-oriented working environment.

Universal Robots, the Danish pioneer of collaborative robots, is spearheading this evolution in India. The man at the helm of this tech shift is Esben H Østergaard, Chief Technology Officer, Universal Robots, and he shares what the company has in store for the Indian enterprise:

Robots have served us just fine. What advantages do co-bots have over regular robots?

Assembly lines are highly labor-intensive. Universal Robots uses intuitive software to mechanize co-bots, thus allowing even the most inexperienced user to quickly grasp the basics of programming and set waypoints by simply moving the robot into position.

The third-generation 6-axis robots can operate in a reduced mode when a human enters the co-bot’s work area and then resume full speed when the operator leaves. In other set-ups, the 6-axis robot can run at full speed inside a CNC machine, and at a reduced speed outside. They are designed to be used without safety fences and the safety system is monitored based on: joint position and speed; orientation; as well as the momentum and force of the robot.

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In addition to this, easy programming and ability to be used as an advanced tool by the worker makes them a favored choice for assembly line over regular robots.

So, what are the growth opportunities in the Indian market? What is Universal’s strategy?

Universal Robots has opened its operations now in India as part of its larger global expansion plan. The company predicts that collaborative robots are becoming a requirement for organizations that are in task oriented industries like food and processing, manufacturing and automobile assembly.

In India, the market demand for robots have steadily increased over the years. According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the yearly shipment of industrial robots in India has increased by over 26 percent over a two-year timespan.

We now have distributors in cities like Pune, Bangalore, Gurgaon, and we are looking to expand the distributor network and community.

Read more: What to Expect from Robotics in 2016?

Universal Robots aims to contribute significantly to the ‘Make in India’ campaign and therefore, is targeting the SME sector.

What are the challenges that you might face in the Indian market, and how do you expect to overcome them?

The only challenge that we face in the Indian context is the lack of awareness regarding the value proposition of collaborative robots. There are endless possibilities with collaborative robots due to their ability to work alongside humans.

Manufacturers can use collaborative robots as an advanced tool available for any worker in the factory to use for stand-alone operations. We have started creating awareness on collaborative robots and will continue to do so in the coming years.

Sounds great, but what support infrastructure and service back-up do we need for installing and programming these co-bots?

There is absolutely no need for any service, once our collaborative robots have been purchased. There is no need for lubricants like other industrial robots. Patented technology lets operators with no programming experience quickly set up and operate the robots.

With our intuitive, 3D visualization, operators can simply move the robot arm to desired waypoints or touch the arrow keys on the easy-to-use touchscreen tablet. We have revolutionized robot set-up, reducing typical robotic deployment measured in weeks to a matter of hours. The average set-up time reported by our customers is only half a day. The out-of-box experience for an untrained operator to unpack, mount, and program the robot for its first simple task takes typically less than an hour.