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The rise of the cobots: robots that collaborate, rather than compete with humans

Can humans and robots collaborate and work alongside each other rather than compete for jobs?

Automation in the workplace used to be a dirty word in the workplace. But events over the last two years upgraded our mindset and dared us to explore something different from the soul-destroying commute and repetitive nature of the daily grind. What if we could leave mundane tasks to machines and get back to being human to free ourselves from a robotic-like existence?

In 2019, it was revealed that there were more older adults in the world for the first time than young children. Contrary to popular opinion, in an aging world, many see robots as a way to solve problems around labour shortages rather than stealing jobs that nobody wants. For example, in the UK, offers of up to £30 an hour were still not enough to tempt Brits to pick vegetables.

Aging and attitudes towards repetitive work are a huge part of the story in robot adoption. Whether you are doing something in an office or a factory that's repetitive, it will likely be passed on to robots. Leaders with a future mindset are daring to imagine the opportunities that could arise by having robots and humans collaborating and working seamlessly alongside each other rather than competing for jobs. Welcome to the rise of the cobots.

The rise of the cobots

Collaborative robots, AKA cobots, work alongside human colleagues to accomplish tasks better and faster. An increase in productivity can also have a domino effect in creating more jobs across the entire organization. Cobots can augment and enhance human capabilities and empower teams to do more than they ever thought possible. Ultimately, on their own, humans and cobots have limited capabilities, but together they can deliver unprecedented value to an organization.

By definition, cobots work with humans rather than compete or replace them.

As a result, they actually help humans to do their jobs with greater efficiency and to a higher standard as this new symbiotic partnership continues to flourish. The most obvious example of cobots is in the manufacturing industry, where machines can increase accuracy on repeatable tasks while also freeing up more time for technicians to work on value-add tasks.

Cobots also benefit from being much cheaper and easier to set up than traditional fully automated systems. Due to the flexibility of their nature, cobots are increasingly being seen as an attractive option for small and mid-sized businesses looking to automate small parts of their industrial processes.

Improving healthcare

Copenhagen University hospital turned to cobots to transform how they analyse blood samples. A pair of cobots can comfortably handle 7 – 8 tubes of blood per minute which equates to around 3,000 samples a day. For humans, this means that 90% of results can be ready within an hour, which can dramatically improve the morning rounds in a hospital with physicians having accurate and up-to-date information.

The Da Vinci surgical system is a cobot that translates a surgeon's hand movements into more precise actions. It has transformed multiple types of surgeries in operations on more than 7 million patients worldwide. They can also help dispense medications in pharmacological labs and reduce healthcare professionals' workload and physical strain.

However, cobots can also play a crucial role in helping us better take care of our planet and not just each other. Some of the greatest minds in the world are working collaboratively and inclusively to tackle climate change and increase sustainability. But many are waking up to the opportunities we can unlock if we augment and enhance these capabilities by collaborating with cobots too.

The future of human/robot collaboration

Analysts predict that robots could displace 85 million jobs. But it will also create 97 million new job roles. The reality is we have been here before, and the employment landscape will continue to evolve. For example, mobile app developers, cloud computing specialists, Uber drivers, social media managers, or cloud architects didn't exist 15 years ago.

Unlike traditional robots, cobots are not hidden behind safety cages and work alongside their human colleagues in a shared workspace.

As a result, cobots have the potential to set humans free from a robotic existence performing repetitive tasks. Instead, by leaning on our human skills, we can focus on more value-add tasks to be more creative, innovative, and strategic while being more empathetic to those around us.

Rather than fearing the rise of the cobots, maybe it's time we learned to collaborate instead of competing with machines. As we continue to navigate uncharted waters, there is an opportunity to augment and enhance our performance to ensure we continue to add value to the world.

When machines collaborate and focus on what each does best, they have the potential to form a unique relationship that helps build a sustainable future for everyone. So, at a time when we need more hope than fear in the world, maybe the rise of the cobots is not such a bad thing after all.

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