Black and white is the term that comes to mind when one considers the collaborative robots of today and the collaborative robots of roughly a decade ago—when the first robotic arm installations occurred. Cobots have undergone a dramatic evolution in appearance, technology, efficiency, and even the make.
Back then, cobots were less secure; they could only automate a handful of tasks; their efficiency was suspect and programming them was not as easy as it is now.
Fast forward to 2019, and the robotics industry has leveraged today’s cutting edge technology to create smarter, more flexible and more productive robots capable of providing solutions to any industry. Below are some of the most important technological innovations in collaborative robots.
1. Advanced grippers
Grippers are such an essential part of the robot arm because they determine how well a robot will perform its task—in a similar manner to how vital hands are to the human body.
The progression to advanced grippers started with the original parallel, claw, and rotary grippers, followed by bellows, vacuum, magnetic grippers among the others. For the most part, grippers have evolved to meet the standards of industries such as automotive, food processing and electronics manufacturing.
According to, Esben Østergaard, the CTO at Universal Robots, everything is now going electric in contrast to five or ten years ago when grippers were largely pneumatic.
Some of the innovations when it comes to grippers include soft grippers. Soft grippers are made of soft materials in conjunction with air or fluid pressure, and they allow cobots to handle delicate parts such as vegetables or fruits in the food industry.
Another notable innovation is the use of numerous sensors to facilitate accuracy and automated gripper guidance.
In terms of dexterity, grippers now have more dexterity than ever before. So much so that most experts in the industry believe a robot’s fingers might one day surpass the nimbleness of human fingers. When this happens, then the world might see the advent of cobots that can handle any material.
2. Embedded vision
Embedded vision is a revolutionary concept in the vision industry that integrates the camera and the processing board. Before embedded vision, vision systems were made up of distinct PCs and cameras.
However, as both PCs and cameras have shrunk in size thanks to advancing technology, it has become possible to merge the two. In turn, the embedded vision technology has opened up the world to new applications such as self-driving cars, autonomous vehicles in agriculture and collaborative robots that can see.
With regards to robots, the presence of embedded systems allows cobots to meet the required safety standards. A robot with an embedded vision system can detect when a human worker is near, and it reacts by avoiding unsafe operations or slowing/shutting down to avoid dangerous collisions.
Another example to consider is a vision system that allows industrial robots by Universal Robots to identify the shape, orientation or location of a part quickly and more accurately. That avoids errors and makes the robots more efficient.
3. Artificial intelligence and machine learning
AI and machine learning are emerging technologies that the robotics industry has leveraged for the manufacture of more intelligent robots.
To start with; machine learning has significantly reduced collaborative robots programming requirements. Today, it is possible to program a robot via hand-guidance thanks to machine learning.
Second, both AI and machine learning have so improved the intelligence of cobots that a pick and place robot can now pick up objects, products or parts it has never seen before.
As if that is not already incredible enough, machine learning has improved the flexibility of collaborative robots by a wide margin thanks to better reaction times.
If in a span of just more than a decade collaborative robots have come this far, then it is impossible even to speculate what will happen in the next ten years.
One thing is for sure though, cobots will penetrate more industries, they will become even more efficient, the ROI will increase, and they will play a crucial role in increasing the profitability of various businesses.