For a while, it looked like Rethink Robotics would shake up the world with its collaborative robots: rather than having to write code, workers could teach bots to perform tasks by guiding them through the process. However, the market doesn't appear to have shared its vision. Rethink has suddenly shut down after a potential buyer backed out of a deal. Sales of Baxter and Sawyer robots weren't meeting expectations, Rethink chief Scott Eckert said, leaving the company low on cash. It really needed this acquisition to go through, in other words.
A collaborative robot, also known as a cobot, is a robot that is capable of learning multiple tasks so it can assist human beings. In contrast, autonomous robots are hard-coded to repeatedly perform one task, work independently and remain stationary. Today, advances in mobile technology, machine vision, cognitive computing and touch technology (including collision avoidance) are making it possible for small, lower-power robots to be aware of their surroundings and perform multiple types of tasks safely in close proximity to human workers. A cobot, when working side by side a human, can quickly learn tasks through demonstration and reinforcement learning. As of this writing, the majority of industrial robots are still autonomous.
Helpful robots are typically shown as mechanical maids or humanoid teachers in sci-fi films. But now there's a new collaborative robot that can work alongside human factory workers to give them a helping hand. The Fanuc CR-35iA claims to be the first'heavy-lifting industrial collaborative robot' to work with humans without the need for safety fences. The Coventry-based company Fanuc's robot uses integrated vision technology called iRVision to keep an eye on humans and automatically stops if it touches an operator. This removes the need for safety fences - a previous requirement for all industrial robots - and is said to increase efficiency and enable a higher level of automation, the firm claims.