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Social Innovation

Cobots: coming to a work place near you

“Cobots" are beginning to have an increased presence in factories. These easy-to-use, relatively inexpensive worker robots are working side-by-side with factory workers across Europe. Read more about the role of the cobot and its future in the workplace.

There's a new robot in town.

And this robot wants to be your friend.

Well, they want to be your co-worker.

“What is a cobot?” I hear you ask…

A cobot is a collaborative robot. They like to work with you, not replace you. They are easy-to-use, relatively inexpensive worker robots. They can be programmed to do repetitive tasks in factories – from welding and gluing, to lifting, moving and packing. Some cobots can learn how to repeat a task once they have been shown how to do it. Importantly, they are safe to be around and to interact with, so they make great workmates.

Capital goods analysts at Barclays estimate that the global cobot market is set to grow from $116 million last year to $11.5 billion by 2025.

Where are these cobots being used?

At the moment, mostly by automotive companies. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and General Motors have begun using cobots in their factories – or are at least experimenting with them. At Ford's Fiesta factory in Cologne in Germany, cobots are working side-by-side with 4,000 factory workers. They are assisting workers in fitting heavy shock absorbers to the wheel arches of cars. Cobots can also perform other simple and repetitive tasks such as applying paint and attaching doors.

Jay Baron, CEO of the Center for Automotive Research, has explained that “Without this automation, our factories would have been obsolete a long time ago. Automation is necessary for safety, quality and productivity.”

Author of "The Robot Report” Frank Tobe says that as well as the increased use of cobots, there is going to be a reduction of industrial robots; "The traditional caged robot at auto factories is becoming obsolete, because every car is different from every other car."

But it’s not just car manufacturers who are set to benefit. Although automotive is currently the largest market for cobots, in the near future the general manufacturing and industry market will also be a significant procurer.

It’s clear that Cobots have many practical applications, and are on the precipice of booming into the workplace. So perhaps someday in the not-so-distant future, you’ll have your very own robot colleague.