When industrial robots first entered factories people weren’t as intentional about worker safety as they are today. Workers started getting hurt, so we put up safety barriers to keep humans out of harm’s way. As industrial robots became more capable — bigger, stronger, faster, and more dangerous — roboticists and factory owners made more of a point to keep workers and industrial machines separated to prevent injuries. We’re starting to reach the tipping point with industrial robot technology, however. The most advanced and cutting edge robots are going to be safer rather than more dangerous. This could one day mean bringing down the safety barriers and putting human workers and robots side by side.
Building safer robots
Matt Simon recently wrote an article for Wired about an exciting robot named Blue.
Blue is essentially a pair of 3D-printed robotic arms controlled by a human operator. The robots is safe enough that the pilot can stand next to Blue while controlling it. You can even call a buddy over to push the robot arms around while it’s being used if you feel so inclined.
One of Blue’s biggest advantages over other cobots is its price; it’s the working man’s robot. The cost is $3,000 an arm, but the goal is to bring that price tag down to $5,000 total. This is a fraction of the going rate for comparable robotic arms. What’s the secret to an inexpensive robot? Inexpensive motors.
The cheap motors are “backdrivable”, which help give Blue another big advantage: flexibility. It’s this flexibility that allows you to bump and nudge Blue, and it helps the robot avoid damage or shutdowns.
Blue’s not ready for blue collar work just yet
Currently, Blue is intended for research purposes rather than factory work. The team behind Blue actually envisions the robot as a housekeeper rather than an industrial worker. We have robots that can safely operate near humans, and then we have robots that do the actual work. Safe cobots simply can’t perform the tasks that industrial robots do with ease, and we rely heavily on the capabilities of industrial robots for modern manufacturing.
However, Blue could provide a good launching point for future industrial robots that are affordable and safe enough to deploy alongside human workers without the need for a safety barrier.
Until the day when safe industrial robots roam free, we need to keep workers safe and our industrial robots behind the barriers. Another way to help keep workers safe is making sure that your industrial machinery is in good condition and working the way that it’s supposed to work. We can help with that.
Call 479-422-0390 for maintenance, inspection, and repair for Indramat industrial motion control systems.