For robots to work with people, they must understand people

TUTHILL PLASTICS GROUP, an injection-moulding company in Clearwater, Florida, recently welcomed a new team member to its factory floor. From his first day on the job he performed the repetitive tasks required of him with dexterity, working comfortably alongside longtime employees. Sawyer, the operative concerned, is one of the fleet of robots now labouring in the world’s factories. Instead of replacing people, however, as some earlier industrial robots have, Sawyer is built to work alongside them. For Sawyer is a collaborative robot, also known as a “cobot”.

Direct interaction between robots and humans at work is changing the face—or rather the arms—of manufacturing. Such interaction also means that roboticists need to design effective team mates as well as efficient workers. Cobots operate in a realm where human thoughts, human modes of communication and human safety are paramount. Rethink Robotics, a firm in Boston, had this in mind when it developed Sawyer, a one-armed cobot,…Continue reading

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