For more than two decades, robotics market commentaries have predicted a shift, particularly in manufacturing, from traditional industrial manipulators to a new generation of mobile, sensing robots, called “cobots.” Cobots are agile assistants that use internal sensors and AI processing to operate tools or manipulate components in a shared workspace, while maintaining safety.
According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), cobots sold in 2019 made up just 3% of the total industrial robots installed. A report published by Statista projects that in 2022, cobots’ market share will advance to 8.5%. This is a fraction of a February 2018 study cited by the Robotic Industries Association that forecasted by 2025, 34% of the new robots being sold in the U.S. will be cobots.
To see a cobot in action, here’s the Kuka LBR iiwa. To ensure safe operation, cobots come with built-in constraints, like limited strength and speed. Those limitations have also limited their adoption.
As cobots’ market share languishes, standard industrial robots are being retrofitted with computer vision technology, allowing for collaborative work combining the speed and strength of industrial robots with the problem-solving skills and finesse of humans.
This article will document the declining interest in cobots, the reasons for it and the technology that is replacing it. We report on two firms developing computer vision technology for standard robots and describe how developments in 3D vision and so-called “robots as a service” (yes, RaaS) are defining this faster-growing second generation of robots that can work alongside humans.