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Collaboration between robots and humans: utopia or reality?

Updated: Feb 8

Robots are increasingly present in our daily lives. In view of the 4th industrial revolution, they are set to become indispensable components of our future industries. Robots are also a response to the current shortage of skilled labor and the ever-tighter deadlines that have to be met. Can robots and people work together? What are the challenges involved? Will robots take the place of man in the factory?

Collaboration hommes robots
Robot collaboratif SHERPA

How can the interactions between humans and robots take place ?

Interaction between people and robots differs according to the type of robot used. There are exoskeletons, industrial robots and collaborative robots or cobots (find out more about the SHERPA range of robots).

Robots are nowadays used to carry out repetitive and arduous tasks. They are also used for transporting and handling heavy loads, and help to protect operators' health. Specialized robots are also available for picking, assembly and palletizing.

Robots are used in all sectors, from traditional industries such as automotive, aeronautics and food processing, to logistics, distribution, e-commerce and hospitality.

Depending on the robot, interaction with humans can be either co-presence or collaboration. Co-presence means that robots and humans work in the same environment, but on different tasks. Collaboration means that robots and humans work hand in hand. There's no question of robots replacing people. Today, cases of co-presence exist in many factories. However, it is the closer collaboration between people and robots that will revolutionize the world of industry. For this collaboration to work optimally, the robot needs to be aware of the human's tasks and movements.

The SHERPA AMR is a typical example of this collaboration between man and machine. Equipped with a follow-me function, the SHERPA robot can, for example, follow the operator on an order-picking mission, relieving him of the burden of carrying loads. It will then transfer the parcels to a shipping zone in total autonomy. Here, the robot takes care of low value-added movements. The operator concentrates on order picking, thus limiting the error rate. As a result, order-picking processes are optimized and productivity enhanced.

What are the benefits of this collaboration?

Collaboration between humans and robots enables both parties to combine their skills and competencies.

Robots have the advantage of being able to carry out continuous tasks quickly and accurately. They also have a high operational capacity, as they are not subject to fatigue or stress. This operational capacity enables them to repeat the same tasks autonomously and with a very low error rate.

Humans possess faculties that cannot be imitated by robots. A human being's capacity for analysis and reflection enables him to deal with unknown or unforeseen situations and make the best decisions. His critical mind also enables him to change position and choose another angle to solve a problem or carry out a task. Human beings remain flexible. These are the soft skills that greatly differentiate humans from robots. Men are creative. They also possess emotional intelligence, which enables them to communicate and make decisions.

Collaboration between humans and robots therefore has many advantages, with positive repercussions on a company's long-term viability. It increases productivity without compromising quality, thereby reducing costs and boosting revenues.

For operators, this collaboration is a way of preserving their health, by relieving them of tedious, repetitive tasks. Operators are then used for tasks in which their skills are put to good use. As the use of robots improves productivity and competitiveness, it preserves and creates jobs.

The most important thing in this collaboration between people and robots is to use people for their specific qualities, and the same goes for robots. So it's not a question of replacing people with robots, but of establishing processes that exploit the complementary nature of people and robots.

The limits of this collaboration

To date, no precise ethical framework exists for the use of robots. In particular, collaboration between humans and robots can lead to widespread anthropomorphism, i.e. humans can give robots human characteristics that they don't actually possess. Collaboration between humans and robots therefore raises numerous ethical and social questions.


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