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The ‘cobots’ are coming. Is your IT team ready?

Cindy Waxer | May 17, 2017
These collaborative robots work alongside human employees, sending productivity sky-high. But IT teams must be prepared to take on complex programming, deal with connectivity issues and get used to sharing work space with 6-foot-tall machines.

By gathering details on the number of units that Manuel produces in a given period of time, Rosenberg says, "We can combine all of that data and create realistic, very accurate forecasts of our production needs, such as how many humans are needed and what we need to focus on to produce at optimal levels." From there, he says, Creating Revolutions can either "slow down certain processes" or "change what components the robot is making" to accommodate fluctuating demands.

As part of its machine-as-a-service model, Hirebotics also offers a software package that provides Creating Revolutions with reports, such as real-time charts for quick insight into exact production numbers.

Praxis, on the other hand, takes a more traditional approach to gathering the information generated by its cobots. "A lot of our data collection and analysis is done manually," says Hager. That's because most of the company's robotic tasks run for just short periods of time, or are performed only once.


Integration goals

However, these are early days for cobots. At the moment, much of today's proprietary hardware, such as sensors and conveyor belts, speak different languages, making it difficult for them to interact.

That's changing as more and more companies discover how to connect cobots to other computer systems and applications. "At one time [security and privacy] weren't really a concern," recalls Dan Kara, a research director at ABI Research. "[Robots] were isolated devices that had little connectivity with anything else around them and didn't collect a whole lot of information. That's changed dramatically over time. Now what you have are robotics systems that capture huge amounts of data and interconnect with other devices in a working environment."

All of which is giving rise to serious IT concerns. Says Kara: "Think of the amount of data that's coming through a manufacturing environment or a warehousing environment - billions of pieces of data are created every day. For a CIO or a CTO, how do you manage all that data? How do you store that data? How do you make sure it's secure? How do you derive value from that data?"


Preparing for smart factories

Helping to drive greater connectivity among cobots is innovative software such as Rethink Robotics' Intera 5. The platform aims to help manufacturers integrate robots into factories in just a few hours. In addition to easier deployment, Intera 5-powered cobots can pick parts from a conveyor belt and then communicate with other computer-driven tools to guide the precise placement of these parts.

While it may not sound revolutionary, these interconnected devices are laying the groundwork for a smart factory — a manufacturing environment in which robots and computer-driven devices communicate and cooperate autonomously with one another via cloud computing and the internet of things.


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