Thursday, February 9, 2023
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New robots in Europe might be staff’ finest buddies


Researchers are ushering in a brand new mind-set about robots within the office primarily based on the thought of robots and staff as teammates somewhat than opponents. © BigBlueStudio, Shutterstock

For many years, the arrival of robots within the office has been a supply of public nervousness over fears that they are going to exchange staff and create unemployment.

Now that extra refined and humanoid robots are literally rising, the image is altering, with some seeing robots as promising teammates somewhat than unwelcome opponents.

‘Cobot’ colleagues

Take Italian industrial-automation firm Comau. It has developed a robotic that may collaborate with – and improve the protection of – staff in strict cleanroom settings within the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, electronics, meals and beverage industries. The innovation is named a “collaborative robotic”, or “cobot”.

Comau’s arm-like cobot, which is designed for dealing with and meeting duties, can mechanically change from an industrial to a slower pace when an individual enters the work space. This new characteristic permits one robotic for use as a substitute of two, maximising productiveness and defending staff.

‘It has superior issues by permitting a twin mode of operation,’ mentioned Dr Sotiris Makris, a roboticist on the College of Patras in Greece. ‘You possibly can both use it as a traditional robotic or, when it’s in collaborative mode, the employee can seize it and transfer it round as an helping machine.’

Makris was coordinator of the just-completed EU-funded SHERLOCK mission, which explored new strategies for safely combining human and robotic capabilities from what it thought to be an usually missed analysis angle: psychological and social well-being.

Inventive and inclusive

Robotics may help society by finishing up repetitive, tedious duties, liberating up staff to interact in additional artistic actions. And robotic applied sciences that may collaborate successfully with staff may make workplaces extra inclusive, resembling by aiding folks with disabilities.

“There’s rising competitors across the globe, with new advances in robotics.”

– Dr Sotiris Makris, SHERLOCK

These alternatives are vital to grab because the construction and the age profile of the European workforce adjustments. For instance, the proportion of 55-to-64-year-olds elevated from 12.5% of the EU’s staff in 2009 to 19% in 2021.

Alongside the social dimension, there may be additionally financial profit from higher industrial effectivity, displaying that neither essentially wants to return on the expense of the opposite.

‘There’s rising competitors across the globe, with new advances in robotics,’ mentioned Makris. ‘That’s calling for actions and steady enchancment in Europe.’

Makris cites the humanoid robots being developed by Elon Musk-led automotive producer Tesla. Wearable robotics, bionic limbs and exoskeleton fits are additionally being developed that promise to boost folks’s capabilities within the office.

Nonetheless, the quickly advancing wave of robotics poses large challenges in terms of making certain they’re successfully built-in into the office and that folks’s particular person wants are met when working with them. 

Case for SHERLOCK

SHERLOCK additionally examined the potential for good exoskeletons to assist staff in carrying and dealing with heavy elements at locations resembling workshops, warehouses or meeting websites. Wearable sensors and AI have been used to observe and monitor human actions.

With this suggestions, the thought is that the exoskeleton can then adapt to the wants of the particular activity whereas serving to staff retain an ergonomic posture to keep away from harm.

‘Utilizing sensors to gather knowledge from how the exoskeleton performs allowed us to see and higher perceive the human situation,’ mentioned Dr Makris. ‘This allowed us to have prototypes on how exoskeletons have to be additional redesigned and developed sooner or later, relying on completely different person profiles and completely different international locations.’

SHERLOCK, which has simply ended after 4 years, introduced collectively 18 European organisations in a number of international locations from Greece to Italy and the UK engaged on completely different areas of robotics.

The vary of individuals enabled the mission to harness all kinds of views, which Dr Makris mentioned was additionally helpful within the gentle of differing nationwide guidelines on integrating robotics expertise.

Because of the interplay of those robotic techniques with folks, the software program is superior sufficient to provide route to ‘future developments on the forms of options to have and the way the office needs to be designed,’ mentioned Dr Makris.

Outdated arms, new instruments

One other EU-funded mission that ended this 12 months, CO-ADAPT, used cobots to assist older folks navigate the digitalised office.

“You discover fascinating variations in how a lot the machine and the way a lot the particular person ought to do.”

– Prof Giulio Jacucci, CO-ADAPT

The mission group developed a cobot-equipped adaptive workstation to assist folks in meeting duties, resembling making a telephone, automotive or toy – or, certainly, combining any set of particular person parts right into a completed product throughout manufacturing. The station can adapt workbench top and lighting to an individual’s bodily traits and visible skills. It additionally consists of options like eye-tracking glasses to collect data on psychological workload.

That brings extra perception into what every kind of individuals want, mentioned Professor Giulio Jacucci, coordinator of CO-ADAPT and a pc scientist on the College of Helsinki in Finland.

‘You discover fascinating variations in how a lot the machine and the way a lot the particular person ought to do, in addition to how a lot the machine ought to attempt to give steerage and the way,’ Jacucci mentioned. ‘That is vital work that goes all the way down to the nuts and bolts of constructing this work.’

Nonetheless, cobot-equipped workplaces that may totally faucet into and reply to folks’s psychological states in real-life settings may nonetheless be quite a few years away, he mentioned.

‘It’s so advanced as a result of there’s the entire mechanical half, plus making an attempt to know folks’s standing from their psychophysiological states,’ mentioned Prof Jacucci.

In the meantime, as a result of new applied sciences can be utilized in a lot less complicated methods to enhance the office, CO-ADAPT additionally explored digitalisation extra broadly.

Sensible shifts

One space was software program that permits ‘smart-shift scheduling’, which arranges responsibility durations for staff primarily based on their private circumstances. The strategy has been proven to scale back sick go away, stress and sleep issues amongst social welfare and well being care staff.

‘It’s a improbable instance of how workability improves as a result of we use evidence-based data of methods to have well-being-informed schedules,’ mentioned Prof Jacucci.

Specializing in the person is essential to the way forward for well-integrated digital instruments and robotics, he mentioned.

‘Let’s say you must collaborate with some robotic in an meeting activity,’ he mentioned. ‘The query is: ought to the robotic concentrate on my cognitive and different skills? And the way ought to we divide the duty between the 2?’

The fundamental message from the mission is that loads of room exists to enhance and broaden working environments.

‘It exhibits how a lot untapped potential there may be,’ mentioned Prof Jacucci.


This text was initially revealed in Horizon, the EU Analysis and Innovation journal.

Analysis on this article was funded by the EU. For those who preferred this text, please contemplate sharing it on social media.




Horizon Journal
brings you the most recent information and options about thought-provoking science and modern analysis tasks funded by the EU.

Horizon Journal
brings you the most recent information and options about thought-provoking science and modern analysis tasks funded by the EU.

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