Four Myths About Robotic Co-Workers, Debunked

By Bryan Lufkin on at

RoboUniverse 2015 is a robot nerd lovefest, and it’s great to be surrounded by other folks decidedly pro-robot. But some naysayers are less keen on sharing space with soulless gizmos. Know this: misconceptions about robotic companions are aplenty.

Brian Benoit, Senior Product Manager at manufacturer Rethink Robotics, gave a presentation at RoboUniverse called “Making the Case for Co-Worker Robots,” outlining recent advancements that help robots help humans at work. Read on, learn, then tell your HR person to start poaching more mechanised candidates.

Robots have a hard time picking things up

False. Not only can workspace-sharing robots pick up things easily, but they can pick up many types of things easily. But a kaleidoscope of “hands” are popping up that allow robots the freedom to interact with any object. One recent example is Festo’s water-filled gripper that was inspired by a gecko’s sticky stretchy tongue. It uses a flexible silicon material pressurised with water and air to grasp as well as humans.

Four Myths About Robotic Coworkers, Debunked

Robots need to be re-trained every time you move it to a new part of the office

Negative. Rethink Robotics’ Baxter, for example, can tackle many different tasks in many different physical locations. Cameras in its arms recognise 2D barcodes you can smack on stationary objects in Baxter’s immediate vicinity, and then Baxter begins carrying out the tasks it associates with those particular barcode-stamped pieces.

Robots could be dangerous to humans in the workplace

Nope. Well, the big industrial ones that lift massive, bone-crushing crates are dangerous (and kept behind cages), but not the collaborative robots meant to work alongside people. But even industrial ones are getting safer. Microsoft teamed with German robot manufacturer KUKA, for example, on a dishwasher-making ‘bot that has no vision system. But it uses Kinect motion-sensing technology to know when a person approaches, slowing down or stop moving to avoid whacking anyone.

Robots are hard to work with

No. And not because they’re gossipy or forget to wear deodorant. Some people barely know how to tweet, let alone share a workspace with robotic colleagues because they think they’re intimidating or complicated. But a common theme here at RoboUniverse has been that robots aren’t here to replace or invade, but to help and complement. With Baxter, it could pick up and distribute parts to humans, who screw those parts into other parts. “The people are doing the stuff where you need really fine motor control, and the incredible vision that the human eyes have,” Benoit says. “It’s good, intimidate collaboration.”

I mean, if I had to share a cubicle with C-3PO, I wouldn’t be complaining.