Cobots were officially “invented” in 1996 by J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin, professors at North-Western University. They were granted patents US 5,923,139 and US 5,952,796. They called the Cobots initially “Programmable Constraint Machines” (PCM). In this patent definition, it was indicated that PCM is a robot for direct physical interaction with a human co-workers, in a shared workspace. But cobots remained unnamed until Brent Gillespie coined the phrase in 2000 in response to a competition to find a 'friendlier' name, and on January 1st 2000, the Wall Street Journal’s  listed cobots as a “Word of Tomorrow.”

The first Star Wars film was released in 1977, 19 years earlier. I am thinking that George Lucas should have claimed that patent. His vision put robots (R2D2 and C-3PO) and humans together; this collaboration made people more effective against the dark side many years ago.

It took just 35 years for science fiction become science fact, and in 2012 Cobots started to escape from R&D stages or research units at the universities. In 2014 they found opportunities in industrial automation and our daily life. ISO published technical specifications for safety ISO/TS 15066 very recently, in 2015. Looking back at the last Hannover Exhibition many robot manufacturers exhibited Cobot products with surprisingly low prices, which provide very realistic ROIs.

Lots of questions arise from this development. We can ask ourselves, should we be scared about all this? Are we going to lose our jobs, our livelihoods? One day in the future will they rule us or like in science fiction movies - will they hunt us down and force us to live underground as neighbors to Orpheus..?

I believe that will happen when the flying piglet battalion performs swan lake ballet in the sky! Even the most sophisticated Cobots or robots or any AI units will need our decision-making and guiding skills, they will be best equipped to take over menial tasks and free up humans to take on higher quality jobs.

There are different scenarios and discussions about the future of the labor market and the effect of Cobotic involvement.  In May 2016 a Joint Economic Committee of US Congress heard a group of experts ( Harry J. Holzer, Adam Keeper, Andrew McAfee ) and had a sitting about ”The Transformative Impact of Robots and Automation.”

It seems that there is no definitive consensus or conclusion about whether Robots or Cobots may harm the Job Market.

I am an optimist. After the previous three industrial revolutions short term disruption has lead to longer term gains. Humans have always found a way to constructively utilize newly emerged tools. Just like Prometheus’s gift of fire, we need to learn to avoid burning our curious hands.

Cobots work with humans shoulder to shoulder without any extra safety measures. They can see us, and when they touch us, they feel us and don’t cause any harm thanks to precision force and torque sensors. Maybe they won’t say sorry with a sweet smile for the time being, but they won’t hurt us and our jobs. On the contrary, our Cobotic friends could enhance and change the job market and our daily life dramatically in a good way. With collaboration with humans, quality and performance could be pushed up, cost and delivery time to market pushed down. Companies could compete better and provide better, secure, better paying and less hazardous working environment.

The trend in reshoring is accelerating. Even China, which was once the haven of cheap labour, is changing. They are looking to acquire some well-known European robotic companies to compete better with even lower labor cost countries like Vietnam and Myanmar, to catch this industrial revolution. Innovations and wisely applied Cobotics can help to bring the outsourced manufacturing jobs back home, and manufacturing sectors may be rejuvenated.

Nowadays manufacturers are looking to increase their productivity, quality and cut costs, while still being fast to response to market changes. They want to make sure their investment is future-proof.

I can see a big opportunity, especially for midsize manufacturers, to benefit from this Cobotic trend. They can automate, readjust and facelift their system with those tireless, accurate, predictable, low-cost assistants. The Cobots create a dynamic duo with the human. This added value could help to exceed their client's expectations predictably while the cost is decreased. Cambridge Consultants has the right skills and innovative initiatives to help the manufacturing companies to join the 4th Industrial Revolution. IIoT/ Industrie 4.0 is within touching distance. I am very happy to be at Cambridge Consultants during this exciting time and enjoying the fact that I'm working with such skilled partners in industrial automation, manufacturing assembly, agriculture, education and health and food industries.

Let the Cobotic force and Cambridge Consultants be with you.

Mehmet Kaya
Principal Mechanical Engineer

Based in our Boston office, Mehmet has a strong interest in developing products for industrial automation, electro-mechanical systems and R&D design projects, from concept creation to building prototypes and testing. His previous career includes working for major industrial companies as a product development engineer.