Robots Alongside Humans

The robots used in manufacturing are large and loud, and sometimes a little bit hazardous. That’s why there are safety equipment protocols, guard barriers, and emergency shut off switches in plants that implement industrial machinery. The industrial robots used in manufacturing are much different from the increasing number of humanoid robots that are being developed by robotics companies.

Take Zora for example. Zora is a tiny, carefree robotic fitness instructor that is leading physical therapy classes in a Dutch retirement community. The humanoid robot stands just under 2-feet tall, and speaks, dances, and interacts with senior citizens. Sure, Zora would be all but useless in a manufacturing plant, but unlike heavy industrial machinery, Zora is safe enough for direct human interaction.

Industrial robots are designed to be efficient, not fun. You won’t see a group of elderly retirees standing on a plant floor waving their arms over their heads, mimicking the movements of an industrial robot, anytime soon. Not only are the movements of manufacturing robots not conducive to human physical fitness, but most industrial machines are not safe enough to be used alongside human workers.

There have been efforts to incorporate safer robots in manufacturing. Baxter is an example of a manufacturing robot that is safe enough to be used without a guard or barrier, right alongside human workers. But while Baxter is safer than industrial robots, it is not nearly as capable in the manufacturing process. Baxter is designed to facilitate human tasks rather than replace industrial automation robots.

Manufacturers would not be able to stay in business with only robots like Zora and Baxter. With our current level of technology, manufacturers need the large, loud, dangerous industrial robots. However, the concept of safe human-robot integration is something that could benefit manufacturing. Baxter is the first step, but by no means a viable replacement for industrial machinery. But, as technology advances, and safe deployment of robots alongside humans is further explored, we could one day see industrial robots that are safe enough to be used next to human workers.