Baxter is wider than a man, and almost as tall, with smooth red skin and long, powerful arms. Its face is a flat screen, with cartoon eyes staring blankly into the middle distance. But suddenly those eyes shoot a glance towards something in the room. Robots have been part of the production line for decades, but until recently they've been kept apart from humans for safety reasons – either inside physical cages or behind invisible fences that act as a kill-switch when crossed. There have still been accidents.
I have spent the last three years researching with Malay Upadhyay the positive and negative risks of artificial intelligence. One area in particular to be alert to is the evolution of robots to cobots. Cobots are smaller robots performing more service oriented and monotonous tasks freeing up more operator time to be able to handle more complex or creative tasks. Cobots are robots designed to function beside a human in a shared workspace, and given close working proximity to humans, cobots have particular strict security measures for co-habitation with humans. Recent MIT Research has also found that when humans work in tandem with robots, humans are 85 percent more productive than when either worked alone.
Robots in agriculture are becoming increasingly used by the industry today. An example would be the multiple analytics and machine learning tools used in smart farming to help with predicting harvests. One of these tools, agriculture robots, are normally used collaboratively (known as cobots). These robots possess mechanical arms and make harvesting much easier for farmers. Compared to traditional industrial robots and machinery, cobots are designed to work alongside human employees, giving manufacturers the benefits of both robots and humans combined.
This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE. Collaborative robots (also called co-bots) are designed to work alongside human workers, assisting them with a variety of tasks. Because co-bots are affordable, highly adaptable, and almost plug-and-play, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are eager to adopt this technology, and some analysts (myself included) expect this segment will see massive growth in the next few years. There are many reasons for the emergence of collaborative robots: companies are using them because they can be placed alongside humans in small-spaced electronics assembly lines, because they are affordable and easily trainable, and because they are flexible to handle short runs, repetitive and boring jobs, and ergonomically challenging tasks.
Robots in factories have historically been unwieldy, dangerous, and confined to large industrial settings. But now, smaller collaborative robots are overcoming traditional challenges in the robotics industry. They're paving the way for robot technology that gets us much closer to our Jetsons-like future. When George C. Devol, inventor of the automatic garage door opener, pitched his programmable Unimate arm, he was initially met with skepticism. However, "the robot had one advantage immediately," said Devol. "And that is that a robot can work three shifts, or 24 hours a day." Get the free data-driven report to see how robots are revolutionizing factories and manufacturing.