Robots and people can be expected to increasingly work together, according to Thomas Black at Bloomberg. He writes, “After years of walling off robots to ensure safety, some companies are finding ways to put them alongside people, with lightweight materials and new sensors enabling engineers to build machines that can be employees’ partners or even worn on the job.”
Black quotes Scott Whybrew, director for global manufacturing engineering vehicle systems at General Motors, as saying, “Typically we would put up these big gates to keep people and robotics separated. Human-safe robotics, though, gives us the ability for robots to work side-by-side with the operators.”
The need for the separation thus far has been clear. Black writes, “Robots have been linked to more than 20 fatal accidents in the U.S., the most recent in 2009, according to U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”
But people-friendly machines, Black writes, permit the establishment of human-robot teams that could “…combine machines' strength and employees' ability to see, feel, touch, and think—qualities impossible or too costly to replicate mechanically.”
The downside is that, according to Black's figures, mechanization has helped boost U.S. factory output 53% over the past two decades as manufacturing employment has fallen by 28%.
Nevertheless, “Robots and humans working together are the best of both worlds,” Black quotes Jose Saenz, research manager for Fraunhofer IFF, as saying. “How can you have a robot carrying the load while a person guides it? These are future scenarios that we’ll be seeing soon.”