Universal Robots UR5 in action. (Image courtesy Universal Robots)
Let’s travel back in time to 2008 – Linatex, a Danish supplier of technical plastics and rubbers for industrial applications, buys the new UR5 robot to automate a CNC machine tending application.
Unlike a conventional robot arm, this 18.4 kg (40.6 lbs) arm didn’t need to be surrounded by a fence to protect facility workers. Linatex didn’t need to hire external programmers to set it up, and instead used workers to perform the setup in-house, on a touch pad, without any prior programming experience.
This event is what Universal Robots (UR) credits as the beginning of the age of collaborative robots, or “cobots” for short.
However, cobots were invented and patented in 1999 by Ed Colgate and Michael Peshkin, professor's of mechanical engineering at Northwestern University. The term "cobot" was listed as a new word by Wall Street Journal on Jan. 1, 2000.
Fast forward back to 2008, and like any new technology, cobots were initially met with skepticism from the manufacturing industry.
“The Danish startup’s bots were a bit of an oddity at the time,” said Travis Hessman, editor-in-chief at New Equipment Digest.
“They ran without the cages and barriers of traditional robots, in fact waving their arms through pre-programmed dances right over the heads of visitors,” Hessman continued. “The UR staff drew crowds and shocked gasps by letting the robots run right into them on purpose. No one quite knew what to think of them. There wasn’t even a name for this kind of robot yet... No one thought it would last… and absolutely everyone was sure that OSHA would shut them down before they got adopted. They were wrong.”
Today, UR has seen over 8,400 units of their UR3, UR5 and UR10 cobots installed in 55 countries, automating applications for small-to-medium sized manufacturers across the globe.
As more robot manufacturers and startups have joined the cobots market since 2008, Esben Østergaard, CTO and co-founder of UR, feels the term should expand upon its roots. Not only does the robot arm have to be capable of working alongside humans without requiring a fence, but it must also be user-friendly, re-deployable and affordable.
“While safety is imperative, that’s simply the cost of entry into the cobot market now,” Østergaard said. “We believe that being collaborative is about being accessible and lowering the automation barrier by placing robots within reach of manufacturers that never thought they would be able to deploy robots.”
UR recently published an infographic to celebrate and illustrate some of the history of cobots, which you can see below.
For more information about Universal Robots and cobots, visit www.universal-robots.com