Originally published on February 6th, 2018.
A collaborative robot (or Cobot) is a robot that is made to work with or interact with human co-workers. For most of us normal folks, the most well-known example is Tony Stark’s robotic arm. (For those reading who are wondering why I don’t refer to the arm as JARVIS, it’s because JARVIS is the AI and controls other things but not the robotic arm.) Tony has bit of an unhealthy relationship with the robotic arm, he insults it, puts it in a dunce cap, puts it in time out, or threatens to dismantle it. At which point the robotic arm usually hangs his robotic limb downward into sadness. But, the robotic arm is there to do work for Tony in his basement. He may have a large house, but he doesn’t want a 10-foot-tall robot behind a fence. He wants an assistant, a co-worker of sorts that can help build his Iron Man suits.
Universal Robots is really the first major player in this market using an articulated robotic arm similar to Tony’s, but really any robot that can be operated without safety barriers can be a Cobot. Medical Cobots have been used in the medical fields steadily for the last few years. One of the most common you may have run across is a robot called a Da Vinci Robot. This robot is one that allows a surgeon to take their hand movements to smaller more precise tool movements. These robots are often in an operating room with people in the room as well. Nurses, aestheticians and of course other doctors. The fact that the robot can be in the room and actively working alongside humans makes it a collaborative robot.
To be a Cobot, the robot manufacturer or integrator needs to follow a set of newly defined rules (IEC15066) Cobots usually can only move certain speeds around people, they can’t be hot, and they must avoid human contact either by stopping or changing direction and certainly not dropping material. Many Cobots would not handle more than about 30 pounds (about 15 Kg) simply because we don’t want to crush toes. This doesn’t mean that they can’t, it means that to be a Cobot, the safety of the human in the working environment is paramount.
But, there are robots that work closely with humans that are not actually Cobots but look very similar. The title of cobot really does lie in the definition of how the robot will integrate with humans. You can have a very fast, heavier load baring robot in a small cage close to human that would not get the designation of Cobot.
So, what about Iron Man’s robot? Is he a Cobot or a Robot? In the real world, to be in an open working area with a person it would have to be a Cobot. But this is Tony Stark and he seems not to care much, so it might be safe to say that Tony’s is a Robot. What do you think, does Tony have a robotic arm or a cobotic arm?