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What is a Cobot? A Guide to Collaborative Robots

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

What exactly are cobots and what can they do for CNC machining and other manufacturing? Our guide answers all your questions.


OB7 cobot tending a CNC machine


Origin of Cobots


Robots trace their origins to the 1950s when George Devol patented the first known “industrial robot”, Unimate, that introduced automation into factories. By the 1960s, General Motors was adding robots to its facilities for welding, and soon other large manufacturers followed suit.


While these robots were powerful and fast, they were also massive, expensive, and unsafe around humans. They operated in cages, behind fences, or in separate rooms entirely. They were also “fixed” automation, meaning they were designed and built for a single task. If the task was no longer needed due to production or process changes, the robot became obsolete.


By the late 1990s, the first true collaborative robots, or cobots, were being developed by J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin. These were designed to be safe, work closely with humans, and take on repetitive tasks that would make people’s jobs easier.


Today, cobots are gaining popularity in manufacturing and other industries to package goods, tend machines, replenish products, or work in assembly lines. By working alongside humans, cobots provide safe collaboration as well as improved product quality through consistency and precision. In this blog, we’ll look at the many benefits of cobots and what sets cobots apart from traditional industrial robots.


What is the Difference Between Robots and Collaborative Robots?


There are several differences between traditional robots and collaborative robots, or cobots. Cobots are smaller, more affordable, and easier to operate. The main difference though, is that collaborative robots are designed to share workspaces with humans safely and don’t require caging or fencing. They are equipped with safety features that make them far less hazardous than traditional robots.


Cobots are also generally easier to program than traditional robots. However, cobots vary in their ease-of-use. The latest generation of cobots, like Productive Robotics’ OB7, offer no programming at all. They learn to perform their tasks through physical teaching: by showing and guiding it through the motions, instead of using traditional robot coding or programming.


Another key difference is the fact that cobots provide flexibility and agility. Instead of being designed, built, and programmed for a single task or application, cobots can perform a wide variety of tasks and can be redeployed to multiple workstations. For example, a cobot can assemble products at the beginning of the day and package those same products at the end of the day. Similarly, a cobot can tend multiple machines and easily roll between them.


Cobots are Designed for Human Interaction


Learn what impact cobots have on employees! Watch now.