A collaborative robot (cobot) is a robot that allows humans to work alongside the robot through direct interaction without conventional safeguarding fences. The benefits of direct human interaction with cobots enable:
- Safe execution of complex tasks
- High production quality
- Intuitive and user-friendly teaching and programming of cobots
The concept of cobots, or ‘intelligent assist devices’ emerged in the mid-1990s from research projects and companies in the automotive industry, where cobots provided the power to move heavy objects under human control through direct interfaces. These systems ensured safe use of the cobots’ assistive capabilities. Over the years, cobots have been developed to perform tasks including:
In conventional industry automation, robots must be separated from physical human contact to ensure reliable functionality without causing physical harm to human operators. In these systems, robots operate in entirely human-free zones or within cages.
Constraining robots to cages limits their capabilities. Current markets demand reduced lead times and mass customization. These demands have stimulated interest in flexible and multi-purpose manufacturing systems through human and robot collaborations that do not endanger workers. In flexible and collaborative automation, cobots augment and enhance human capabilities with strength, precision, and data analytic capabilities that add value for the cobot end-users. Cobot development aims for:
- Coexistence - shared workspace with human workers to optimize a process
- Collaboration - flexible automation for various tasks with human engagement
Safety fences present a technological barrier to broader adoption of robots. Cobots are designed to satisfy safety requirements with intrinsic safety designs that allow safe interaction between the cobot and objects in its workspace (Standard ISO 10218-1). Cobots reduce the inertia exposed to potential collisions and contain compliant components such as joint torque sensors to absorb the energy of undesired impacts. Furthermore, cobot developers employ a large variety of external sensors (cameras, laser, depth, etc.), and fuse the acquired data to enable reliable recognition of human-robot proximity and gestures.
Advanced Algorithms for Autonomy
Advanced algorithms are needed for cobots to achieve their great potential for manufacturing in high-mix, low-volume production environments. Cobots must be able to perform in unfamiliar situations without explicit instructions. The cobot’s motion planner algorithm allows the cobot to achieve a target position in known environments, and collision avoidance algorithms achieve reactive behavior in dynamic environments, based on local knowledge provided by sensors as the cobot moves.
- Design and verify cobot systems using physics-based, multi-domain modeling tools
- Use sensor models, such as camera, lidar, and IMU, to prototype how your cobot senses an environment
- Design, iterate, and optimize motion planning and controllers for your cobots
- Model system logic and evaluate autonomous algorithms for your cobot applications
- Automatically generate production code to deploy to cobot controllers and onboard computers
- Validate your design requirements, automatically generate test cases for model coverage, and improve the quality of designs throughout the development process
- Produce reports and artifacts necessary to certify to industry standards such as IEC 61508, ISO 26262, and DO-178