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The cobots are coming

Collaborative robots (cobots) are making cars, packing boxes, flipping burgers and are even on the International Space Station.

Their role in workplace is increasing with experts predicting a huge rise in the number of cobots over the next six years. Currently, cobots only make up about three per cent of all robot sales but this is expected to increase to 34 per cent in 2025. To put this into numbers, Statistica predicts global cobot sales of 735,000 by 2025 compared to 61,000 last year.

Enhanced technological developments including greater artificial intelligence, lower costs and the fact cobots are easier to programme, has seen cobots, designed to work with humans in a share space, become the fastest growing sector within the robotics industry.

The majority of cobots are used in automotive, electronics, aerospace, packaging and even catering sectors. Other sectors, such as healthcare, are waking up to the significant advantages of cobots. The heathcare sector has been much slower to adopt cobots, but this is likely to change.

Certain areas of the healthcare sector already use cobots – they have been around for more than 20 years – performing not only time-saving repetitive tasks, but also precision ones which are not only beyond the skills of a human but also minimise the risk of human error.

Within hospitals, cobots are being used in day-to-day surgery. The Da-Vinci robot, one of the best-known surgical robots, at least in the United States, has become more widespread. Controlled by a surgeon, it enables greater accuracy for non-evasive surgery.

For the extremes of neuro-surgery, a cobot has been developed providing powerful optics to surgeons enabling them to lower the risks and obtain a higher success rate from operations.

Advancements have also seen the development of a cobot that will cut bones. While the image of saw being used might be what springs to mind when cutting bones, the CARLO system (Cold Ablation Robot-guided Laser Osteotome) uses laser technology via a robot arm that enables bone surgery without the need for physical contact.

Outside of the operating theatre, cobots are also having an impact. Examples include:

  • Robotic medical assistants that monitor and record vital statistics on electronic records. If required, these cobots can alert nurses.
  • Robotic carts carrying supplies around a hospital
  • Medical device packaging, particularly sterilised devices. Using a cobot alleviates a risk of contamination.
  • Blood sample tests. The University of Copenhagen installed two cobots to meet the demand of testing 3,000 samples per day. With this additional support 90 per cent of results are returned within the hour.

It doesn’t stop there, as ‘massage’ cobots have been developed in Spain that can be programmed to provide a variety of physiotherapy techniques. The CBot can provide treatment, even while a patient is being diagnosed. It is envisaged that this cobot can be used to assist with the rehabilitation from blood clots and stroke-related injuries, while it could also be used in home.

The cobot revolution embraces many areas of the healthcare sector, and while there is still a reluctance around cobots, particularly with regards to safety and delivering patient safety, it is evident that the continued enhancements in automation and AI, integral elements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, means more humans had better prepare for having a robot as work colleague – whatever sector.