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Working With Robots In Manufacturing

In the future, manufacturing workers might not only be working side by side with robots, but shoulder to shoulder. Many industrial robots are coming out of protective cages that kept human workers away from accidental harm because of advanced algorithms and new sensing technology.

Henrik Christensen, director of the robotics program at the Georgia Institute of Technology told the New York Times, “Researchers in labs worldwide are building robots that can predict what you’ll do next and be ready to give you the best possible assistance.”

Teaching robots and humans

Julie A. Shah is an assistant professor in the department of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Recently in a study she had human-robot teams perform tasks that might occur on an assembly line. Humans placed screws and robots drilled. The roles were then switched.

By observing how the humans performed the tasks the robots were able to add information to their algorithms and learn a cooperative method of drilling that complimented the human workers methods.

The study found that when these cross-trained teams assumed their original roles, both the robots and humans performed their tasks more efficiently. Take for example that the period that humans were idle while waiting for robots to finish a task dropped 41 percent and the time that human and robot pairs worked simultaneously increased 71 percent to teams and robots working the old way.

Rethink Robotics

A company called Rethink Robotics is already putting robots that can play well with others into the marketplace. The founder of the company said that shipments of the robots go out every day and that they have a backlog of about three months.  The robot, known as Baxter, can be trained by common workers and requires no additional programming to “learn” tasks. Baxter currently costs $22,000.

Baxter is yet another example of high-tech manufacturing solutions in the U.S. that are allowing U.S. manufacturers to compete with offshoring.

Baxter at work:

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