Collaborative Robotics and the Rise of the Cobots

Otto Berkes explains the potential of cobots, collaborative robots intended to physically interact with humans in a shared workplace.

This Q&A was originally published by eWeek.

There is increasing concern over the apparent threat automation poses to the human workforce. Many fear that technologies like AI and robotics will gradually make many people’s jobs obsolete. While it is hard to completely write off these fears, the truth may be rather more nuanced. The growing interest in collaborative robotics is indicative of this.

Collaborative robots—also known as “co-robots” or “cobots”—are intended to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace. This represents a break from conventional robotics, which focuses on machines designed to operate autonomously or with limited guidance. Many believe that the concept of collaborative robotics has enormous potential across a range of sectors.

To research this potential in detail, CA Technologies has teamed up with Finland’s Tampere University of Technology and Finnish IT software and services company Tieto. The resulting project will attempt to solve the challenges of building safe, secure and effective human-to-robot workflows.

Ensuring proper control and execution of these workflows and understanding their information requirements is central to maximizing the potential of robot-human collaboration, said CA Chief Technology Officer Otto Berkes. The project was discussed by Berkes in a Q&A recently published by eWeek.

Q: Why is CA investing in collaborative robotics research?

A: Robotics has reached a stage where the value that robots provide can be significantly amplified by enabling them to truly collaborate with humans. Developing the right models and algorithms for that collaboration, while paying careful attention to safety and cybersecurity will define the next phase in the robotics field. We believe that collaborative robotics is the fastest-growing area in the domain of robotics, and we believe that our expertise in communications, policy management, security and visualization will enhance the project.

Q: What exactly are human-to-robot workflows? Are these cobots being trained to anticipate a human’s direction?

A: This is more about human-to-robot interaction. The robot understands both its role, its position spatially and its position in relationship to other robots and humans. They all collaborate, working on a task or tasks. For example, two robots can hold half a component each while the human connects the two halves. The workflow is to build the component, the robot task is hold the component and the human task is connect the component. They are complementary.

Q: What do you see as some of the early use cases?

A: Simple ones are already in use—think about a robot arm that extends the human reach—but we will be seeing more sophisticated ones soon. One of the use cases we are investigating is where a robot is passing screws to a human to assemble a complex machine. The robot senses the screw is the wrong weight and will cause the machine to fail. The robot discards the screw, passes a good screw on and makes sure there are enough screws to finish the job, all without human intervention.