Apple-And-Microsoft-Computers

Robots, Cobots & the American Dream

In just three years, an improbable new technological concept emerged from nowhere and completely took over the market. In the process, it has given manufacturers across the world new capabilities, powerful new tools, and new hope for the future.

In just three years, an improbable new technological concept emerged from nowhere and completely took over the market. In the process, it has given manufacturers across the world new capabilities, powerful new tools, and new hope for the future.
I met my first industrial robots three years ago at IMTS 2012. I had written about them for years, of course, and had read just about everything there was to read about them and their long, slow evolution.

But 2012 was my first real-life encounter; my first chance to really get in and see what they could do.

It wasnt exactly what Id imagined.

I was hoping to get up close and personal with these machines and get a good look at their mechanics, their bright paint jobs, and awesome designs.

What I got was a lot of fences, a lot of barriers, a lot of distant glimpses of the great machines in action. I wanted a wild safari, but I ended up with a tame zoo.

The one exception, tucked away in the back of a quiet hall, was Universal Robots brand new collaborative robot.

The Danish startups bots were a bit of an oddity at the time. They ran without the cages and barriers of traditional robots, in fact waving their arms through pre-programmed dances right over the heads of visitors. The UR staff drew crowds and shocked gasps by letting the robots run right into them on purpose.

No one quite knew what to think of them. There wasnt even a name for this kind of robot yet. Along with Rethink Robotics Baxter, these devices were forging a new direction for robotics, one that defied everything they had been doing for the previous 51 years.

Comau show's off its proximity sensors at EMO Milano 2015.
No one thought it would last. No one thought any real manufacturer would ever need such slow, clumsy devices. And absolutely everyone was sure that OSHA would shut them down before they ever got adopted.

They were wrong.

Fast forward three years to the machine tool show at EMO Milano 2015. The entire robotics industry has shifted; collaborative robots are everywhere now, and not just upstarts, but from the major traditional players like Kuka and ABB.

Even more exciting, now we can get up close and personal with giants, too. At Comaus booth, for example, there was a shiny Racer3 running at full speed in the middle of the pavilion with no barriers at all. Just spinning around shuffling mini basketballs in quick, lethal motion right there in the heart of the traffic.

The machine was equipped with sensors designed to detect any approaching body slowing its powerful arcs upon initial approach, and finally stopping before we got within striking distance, only to automatically restart upon retreat.

I find this to be the most encouraging development imaginable.

In just three years, an improbable new technological concept emerged from nowhere and completely took over the market.

For a supposedly conservative industry, one that is slammed for being overly-regulated and rigid, these innovations have erupted at an amazing pace. In the process, they have given manufacturers new capabilities, powerful new tools, and new hope to face the issues of the future.

Wherever you stand on the machine-vs.-man employment debate, this innovation cycle holds a lot of promise. It shows that the manufacturing industry is still capable of quick change, of adopting new technologies and putting them to real work.

Its proof that this is still a powerful, vibrant industry. One that is here to stay.

Travis Hessman
Editor-in-Chief
New Equipment Digest

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