September 2017

The robots are coming… to play chess with your granddad

Collaborative robots won’t steal your job, but they will help you do it more efficiently

Industrial robots get lots done, but they’re expensive, dangerous and hard to program. That’s why roboticists are turning to cobots – collaborative robots made to work alongside us and, perhaps one day, in our homes. “We are trying to make a support-service robot for people who can’t support themselves or leave home,” explains Simon Haddadin, co-founder of Munich-based Franka Emika.

The lightweight, three-kilogram frames of Franka Emika’s cobots mean they can safely work in the same building as humans, and will stop automatically if they come into close contact with one. “It basically means it has a sense of touch along the entire structure,” Haddadin says. Programming is handled through an app, so even non-engineers can ask the cobots to do complex actions, which can be replicated through the cloud to another of the firm’s cobots.

With such a wide range of skills at their disposal, will this speed up the robot-worker evolution? Haddadin thinks not: “Franka’s bots were designed to be used alongside humans. We call this human-centred robotics.”

Founded in 2016, Franka Emika sold 200 research versions of its cobot in the first four weeks of 2017, for €16,500 (£14,000) each. “Recently, we showed it how to open and close plastic bags and use cable ties,” he says, “This was previously considered to be impossible for robotic systems.” WIRED will place an immediate order for any model that can take the bins out…

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