The robotic solutions market, an integral part of Industry 4.0, is experiencing explosive growth and rising demand across industries. Collaborative robots, or cobots have been a key part of this industrial change, however, with dramatic advances in robotic capabilities, these smaller, lighter, and more agile classes of robots are now finding applications outside of manufacturing and logistics.
Cobots for home use
We have readily been inviting ‘smart’ objects into our homes for years. Assistants such as Alexa help us stay organized and entertained while other smart home IoT systems monitor our safety, reduce energy bills and even keep us healthy. Cobot technology is ready to leverage our digital behaviors with robots that can augment our domestic lives.
Major robotics companies are investing in cobots for the home. While many cobots initially designed for manufacturing settings are currently still fairly big, the technology has the potential to be scaled down to suit smaller domestic settings. The base, arms, and grippers can be smaller and lighter enabling the cobot to undertake more delicate-domestic oriented tasks. So what can a cobot in your home actually do?
Collaborative robots offer solutions for personal assistance in a high variety of home tasks that are deemed boring, time-consuming, or difficult. For example, thorough cleaning could be done by a cobot trained to pick up and use various cleaning tools and products. Cobots with advanced vision systems can sense and adjust to minute changes in the environment ensuring that nothing will be broken during the dusting.
Cobot assistance is not limited to the interior of a home. Mobile cobots who use either a wheeled mobility platform or have another form of locomotion such as legs can complete tasks such as shopping, mail pickup, and even security of a property.
Elderly care and generalized nursing
Elderly assistance is the key area of focus for many domestic-focused cobot manufacturers. Rapidly aging populations means there is predicted to be a huge shortfall in the number of carers available. Japan is facing a predicted shortfall of 370,000 caregivers by 2025. Trials of cobots in elderly homes have been underway for several years. Agile, mobile cobots assist in elderly living homes with menial tasks such as cleaning and basic food preparation as well as lifting patients with mobility issues. They have also been used as ‘digital companions’. Some cobots have been trained to play various games or images in activities such as painting or arranging a puzzle.
Delivering cobots ready for personal use
For a cobot to function as a useful, intuitive, and valuable member of a household it must possess more intelligence and learning ability than your average robovac. German-based Neura Robotics have developed a suite of cobots that have huge potential as domestic cobots thanks to their advanced cognitive functions. Of special interest is the cobot named MAiRA (Multi-Sensing Intelligent Robotic Assistant). Let’s break down some of the capabilities of MAiRA and how these translate into adaptation for cobot use at home.
MAiRA is equipped with multi-sensing technology that enables it to see, hear and feel its environment. This is critical in a home setting where there is likely to be much more dynamic change than in a structured and repetitive production environment. MAiRA is equipped with an integrated 3D vision sensor and 3D speech recognition for voice commands as well as non-contact recognition of people in the vicinity.
This translates into the ability for the cobot to be able to not only ‘see’ its environment but understand it. Over time, MAiRA can learn the behaviors of people in its shared spaces and adjust accordingly. MAiRA also has intelligent hearing capabilities meaning it can recognize individuals through the sound of their voice enabling MAiRA to predict an upcoming event. For example, one member of the household might like to have a MAiRA robot help them make a pizza, while another utilizes MAiRA’s ability to carry heavy loads to help them carry in the groceries from the car.
MAiRA is enabled by a proprietary `Touchless Safe Human Detection" system that means the cobot can detect and adjust to movement close to it. The sensor has a 360° all-round view and can safely detect people (and pets) at a distance of 3m. The redundant design of the system complies with the common principles of functional safety, which is elementary for such a safety-relevant key component. Shadowing by common end effectors is intercepted by intelligent modeling approaches. This translates into a robot that is super aware of its surroundings with particular attention being paid to the unpredictable movements of humans. This advanced sensor system means humans can safely interact with MAiRA at very close quarters with no fear of being struck
Unless you are a robotics engineer, the idea of programming your personal robot may be a bit daunting. However, MAiRA can be programmed in a number of ‘low-code’ methods including via a smartphone-like app, as well as through gestures. Additionally, the robot can be directed using voice commands. This is a particularly important feature for users with mobility issues who need to direct the cobot to undertake tasks from a stationary position.
The crucial aspect for a cobot in the home is mobility. MAIRA gets its locomotion from teaming up with another Neura Robotics product, the MAV (Multi-Sensing Autonomous). MAV is an intelligent mobility platform that can safely locate and transport objects of a total weight of up to 1.5 tons. The indoor intralogistics vehicle will have a lightweight version suitable for personal and domestic use that reduces its footprint and increases its agility.
Collaborative robots are gearing up to become a part of our daily lives. They’ll positively augment our lives and potentially assist in the care of our increasing older generations. The intuitive controls, multi-sensing capabilities, reliable safety systems, and advanced AI of MAiRA serves as an example of what the new generation of personal-use cobots are capable of.