DHL uses Sawyer – a cobot that picks and co-packs – to help fulfil large orders ©Rethink Robotics
DHL uses Sawyer – a cobot that picks and co-packs – to help fulfil large orders ©Rethink Robotics

Tech briefing: robotics

Cute and collaborative, the latest crop of machines have been developed with human traits to work alongside people, and they are transforming supply chains as they go

Industrial robots used to be limited, inflexible and mostly blind, tasked with manufacturing’s dull, dirty and more dangerous tasks. But as the cost of components, sensors and vision systems has dropped, more interactive, dexterous robots have become a reality. In the search for greater productivity through automation, robots are being deployed in new areas, particularly in logistics and manufacturing, but also in government, agriculture, surveying, construction and healthcare. Smarter, faster and cheaper, they are doing more – revolutionising supply chains as they go.

What robotics can do

Forget the huge industrial arms of metal that have been piecing together car parts for decades: the new generation of robots are more collaborative, lighter, smaller and more ‘perceptive’ than traditional machinery. These are collaborative robots – or cobots – designed to work safely alongside people in factories. They demonstrate human capabilities and traits such as sensing, dexterity, memory and trainability. As well as the engines, solenoids and onboard computers used for many years, cobots are also equipped with high-resolution cameras, pressure sensors and self-learning capabilities or artificial intelligence software.

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