For decades, the arrival of robots in the workplace has fueled fears that they will replace workers and create unemployment.
Things are changing now that more sophisticated humanoid robots have indeed arrived, and some robots are seen as promising teammates rather than unwelcome competitors.
Take Comau, an Italian industrial automation company. The company has developed robots that can work with workers in the rigorous cleanroom environments of the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, electronics, food and beverage industries to improve their safety. This innovation is known as “collaborative robots” or “cobots”.
Comau’s arm-like cobots are designed for handling and assembly tasks and can automatically switch from industrial to low speed when a person enters the work area. This new feature allows him to use one robot instead of two, maximizing productivity and protecting workers.
Dr. Sotiris Makris, a roboticist at the University of Patras in Greece, said, “We’ve taken things a step further by allowing for dual-mode operation.” , Workers can also grab the robot and move it as an auxiliary device.”
Makris was a newly completed coordinator EU funded SHERLOCK This project explored new ways to safely combine human and robot capabilities from an often overlooked angle of research. psychological and social well-being.
creative and inclusive
Robotics can help society by performing repetitive and tedious tasks, freeing workers to engage in more creative activities. Also, robotic technology that can work effectively with workers has the potential to make the workplace more inclusive, such as assisting people with disabilities.
As the structure and age structure of the European workforce changes, it is important to seize these opportunities. for example, Increase in the proportion of 55-64 year olds From 12.5% of EU employees in 2009 to 19% in 2021.
Alongside the social dimension, there are also economic gains from increased industrial efficiency, showing that neither necessarily has to come at the expense of the other.
“New advances in robotics are increasing competition around the world,” said Macris. “This calls for action and continuous improvement in Europe.”
Makris is A humanoid robot under development by an automaker led by Elon Musk Tesla. Wearable robotics, bionic limbs, exoskeletons There are also developments that promise to enhance people’s capabilities in the workplace.
Still, the rapidly advancing wave of robotics poses significant challenges in terms of ensuring that robots are effectively integrated into the workplace and that people’s individual needs are met when working with them.
case for sherlock
Sherlock also explored the potential of smart exoskeletons to support workers carrying and handling heavy parts in workshops, warehouses and assembly areas. We used wearable sensors and AI to monitor and track human movements.
The idea is that this feedback allows the exoskeleton to adapt to the needs of a specific task while helping workers maintain an ergonomic posture to prevent injury.
“By using sensors to collect data from exoskeleton movements, we can see and better understand the human condition,” Dr. Makris said. “This allowed us to prototype how the exoskeleton should be further redesigned and developed in the future, depending on different users his profile and different countries.”
Just finished four years later, SHERLOCK brought together 18 European organizations working in different fields of robotics in multiple countries from Greece to Italy to the UK.
The wide range of participants allowed the project to leverage a variety of perspectives. Dr. Makris said it would be beneficial in light of various national regulations regarding the integration of robotics technology.
As a result of these robotic systems interacting with humans, the software has advanced enough to provide direction for “future developments in terms of types of functions and how workplaces are designed,” Dr. Macris said. says.
old hands, new tools
Another EU-funded project that ended this year was mutual adaptationused cobots to help seniors navigate the digital workplace.
The project team Adaptive workstation with collaborative robot To assist in assembly tasks such as the manufacture of mobile phones, cars and toys, or to assist in the assembly of sets of individual components into finished products during manufacturing. The station can adapt worktable height and lighting to a person’s physical characteristics and visual abilities. It also includes features such as eye-tracking glasses for gathering information about mental load.
Professor Giulio Jacucci, CO-ADAPT coordinator and computer scientist at the University of Helsinki, Finland, says this will give us more insight into what all kinds of people need.
“You can find interesting differences in how much a machine should do to a person, how much guidance it tries to provide, and how it should do it,” Jacucci said. I’m here. “This is a critical piece of work that goes down to the basics of doing this work.”
Still, he said, a workplace with cobots that can fully access and respond to people’s mental states in real-world environments could still be years away.
Professor Jacucci says, “It’s very complicated from trying to understand people’s states from the psychophysiological state, in addition to the whole mechanical part.”
On the other hand, CO-ADAPT explored digitization more broadly because new technologies can be used in much simpler ways to improve the workplace.
One area was software that enables “smart shift scheduling.” It adjusts working hours based on the employee’s personal circumstances.approach is shown Reduce sick leave, stress and sleep disturbances for social workers and health care workers.
“It’s a great example of how you can work better because you’re using evidence-based knowledge of how to make an informed schedule,” says Professor Jacucci.
A focus on the individual is key to the future of well-integrated digital tools and robotics, he said.
“Let’s say you need to work with a robot on an assembly task,” he said. “The question is, should the robot be aware of my cognitive and other abilities, and how should this he divide the task between the two?”
A basic message from this project is that there is plenty of room to improve and expand your working environment.
“This shows how much untapped potential there is,” said Professor Jacucci.
The research in this article was funded by the EU.This document was first published horizonEU Research and Innovation Magazine.