Stäubli’s vision of the collaborative future

Sebastien Schmitt, robotics division manager for Stäubli North America, explains what the company envisions as the five stages of human-robot collaboration.

By Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor

Spotlight on: Automate 2017

The efficient “vrrrrr” of assorted pick-and-place, sorting, spraying, and inspecting robotic arms again provided a fitting industrial soundtrack to the Association for Advancing Automation’s biennial Automate trade show in Chicago in April. But some robotics systems purveyors this year were keen to show off not just the speed and accuracy of their robots but also new features designed to let robots operate safely in closer proximity to humans than has been the norm up to this point.

Swiss vendor Stäubli, for example, used Automate to introduce its TX2 line of “cobots,” a collection of six, six-axis models (not commercially available until next year) that use a sensing exoskin, not unlike that on FANUC’s CR series of collaborative robots, rather than a sensor at the base of the machine to detect motion while the robot is operating. This exoskin, dubbed the TX2 Touch system, can slow or stop the robot’s operation when a human gets too close. Sebastien Schmitt, robotics division manager for Stäubli North America, explained what the company envisions as the five stages of human-robot collaboration:

  • Stage 1, defined by hard guards such as fences separating robots from human operators;
  • Stage 2, where laser guarding separates the two and the operator periodically enters the robot’s operating area;
  • Stage 3, which also relies on laser guarding but where both humans and the robot are involved in a manufacturing process;
  • Stage 4, where the human and robot operate alongside each other as part of a manufacturing process and where the robot stops when it comes into contact with the human, and
  • Stage 5, defined by safe, collaborative, interactive human-robot operation.

Stages 4 and 5 are beyond where most companies are currently with their robotics applications, but it’s where the industry is moving, according to Schmitt.

To learn more, read the June cover story, "Hand in hand: What collaborative robots mean for worker safety," and "Lowe's tests robotic exosuit for retail employees"

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