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What are collaborative robots - and why are they so different?

What makes a robot smart?

Traditionally robots have only been able to operate based on set parameters and have been very inflexible to alterations and changes in their working environment, such as an item not being presented correctly. Smart robots have the ability to adapt to these situations and are intelligent enough to respond to changing parameters which enables them to continue to operate as normal. This ‘smart’ ability differentiates this new type of robot from traditional robots and means that automation solutions no longer have to be an exact science which is making the overall process far cheaper.

How can a robot be collaborative?

Until recently the vast majority of robots in industrial environments have had to be caged for the safety of the people who work around them. This is not only for the protection of the worker but also to safeguard the robot for if it where to be moved even fractionally, they wouldn’t be able to compensate for these minor environmental changes and would cease to function as programmed. Collaborative robots represent a whole new breed of robots, where humans can work alongside them, to achieve a common goal. This synergistic relationship portrays collaborative robots as the modern power tool, not here to replace workers or to put people out of work but to enable them to perform their roles more efficiently, increase productivity and reduce the need for offshoring.

So how about a Smart, Collaborative Robot?

Smart, collaborative robots have the ability to interact and respond to human and robotic co-workers through a variety of communication methods. Robots like the Baxter robot can work alongside people, like humans do, resulting in a similar work process. By utilising low-cost collaborative robotic solutions within a manufacturing environment businesses can save money through an increase in productive, maximisation of efficiency and the re-deployment of staff across more important roles. Smart, collaborative robots can interact not only with co-workers but also with their working environment so that health and safety procedures are the same for human and robot workers alike.

One key attribute to smart, collaborative robots in manufacturing is their ability to change and be re-deployed, with the Baxter Manufacturing Robot this is done be the latest Intera 3 software which uses the unique Robot Positioning System featuring Landmarks™. The Baxter Research Robot uses the latest SDK 1.1 software to maximise its ability to be interchanged between teaching, research and outreach function as a smart, collaborative robot in education.

What makes Baxter different?

Both versions of the Baxter robot are exactly the same in their technical specification, what makes them different is their software, Intera 3 and SDK 1.1. Baxter has two seven degree of freedom arms (DOF) with cameras and range finders built into each wrist, end effectors which can easily be interchanged thanks to the open source mounting plate, 360 degree sonar array on its head and Series Elastic Actuators with force torque feedback sensors on each joint. Baxter communicates using the monitor located on its head with eyes displayed, the monitor and the eyes rotate to ‘look’ where it is going to move or operate like humans do. This gives physical signs for human co-workers to interact and work with so that each knows what the other will do. Baxter also features a colour bar on top of its head to show outputs based on working scenarios, such as green for good, amber for needs interaction and red for stopped working. Each of these features alone are impressive enough but built into one platform they create a revolutionary package for both manufacturing and education.

How affordable is the latest in manufacturing technology?

The key question to any business, how much? There are numerous so called ‘collaborative robots’ out there in the market at present but none of these robots are true collaborative robots, they are merely lighter, slower, cageless industrial robots whereas Baxter is a truly smart, collaborative robot. Typical ROI for Baxter in a manufacturing environment is in 12 months but there have been cases where this has been achieved in only 10 months! In education, Universities with Baxter have seen an uptake in student enrolment due to the lure of working with the Baxter robot. Baxter is available in the UK and Europe from £19,000/ 22,000€ and is supplied with a package suited to every users individual requirements.

Got a question about Baxter, see our FAQs section or contact us.

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