One kind of robot has endured for the last half-century: the hulking one-armed Goliaths that dominate industrial assembly lines. These industrial robots are built to only be task-specific — built to spot weld, say, or add threads to the end of a pipe. They are neither versatile nor flexible, but in the latter half of the 20th century they transformed industrial manufacturing and, with it, the low- and medium-skilled labor landscape in much of the U.S., Asia, and Europe.

You have probably been hearing a lot more about robots and robotics over the last couple years. That is because for the first time since the 1961 debut of General Motor’s ‘Unimate’ robot regarded as the first industrial robot, the robotics field is once again transforming world economies.

Only this time the impact continues to be much broader. Today, robots are cropping up in offices, hospitals, and schools — decidedly non-industrial environments — as well as in warehouses, fulfillment centers, and small manufacturing centers. More and more, they are on our roads and flying overhead.

How the Collaborative robots have become a game changer

A new generation of collaborative robots has emerged in the last few years. Unlike the heavy industrial robots of the 20th century, these collaborative robots, most of which have one or multiple articulated arms, are flexible and easily reprogrammable on the fly. These modern models learn by imitating when humans demonstrate tasks.

The primary feature that makes collaborative robots from Universal Robots safe is their ability to avoid unwanted collisions and, using high accuracy torque sensors, to recognize when they have bumped into something or someone they should not have. This capability is what allows the cobots to function outside of safety cages and alongside humans thus opening up new productivity potential for industrial manufacturers. These commercial robots are able to learn complex tasks and then act as a second pair of dexterous hands to augment the capabilities of skilled workers — thus the “collaborative” designation.

The demand for mobile computing has been a boom for robotics development, leading to falling prices, rapid advances, and miniaturization of sensor technology. Previously, accelerometers used to cost hundreds of dollars each. Now every smartphone can measure acceleration, as well as capture stunning video, fix geographical location and offer guidance, interface with other devices, and transmit across several bands of spectrum — functionality robots need to maneuver through our world productively.

In 2009, a paper presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) introduced the Robotic Operating System (ROS) to the world. ROS is the first standard OS for robotics development. It also happens to be free, open source, and inherently flexible, freeing robotics developers from the time-consuming task of developing an OS from scratch.

There are plenty of open source users involved in personal computing, but because proprietary operating environments like Windows reached scale first, open source options have always been an alternative to something else. Not so with robotics, where open source is now the norm, resulting in a flurry of crowd-assisted development.

Hardware improvements are also making cobots more effective. Universal Robots, under whose stewardship ROS falls, has also unveiled a robotics simulator which allows engineers to test robots in virtual reality without risking hardware. Cheaper and better cobot hardware allows the users to focus on computer vision and tailoring software for specialized tasks


Automation is increasing in industries like automotive and electronics manufacturing and making speedy inroads in fulfillment warehouses, such as  As prices for task versatile platforms fall, the small- and mid-sized manufacturers are starting to employ robots.

And that is just to name a few spheres in which robots are rapidly gaining traction by doing work more efficiently, reliably, and for less money than previously possible. This is also making a lot of people excited — and a lot of others worried especially the manual labor force who assumes that the robots are here to replace them.