Collaborative Robots

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Collaborative Robots

Collaborative robots—or cobots—work alongside humans or together with other machines.

Key Insight

Collaborative robots—or cobots—work alongside humans or together with other machines. Teams of robots can communicate with each other, on their own, about when to wait, when to move, when to carry out an activity, or even to ask what to do next.

Why It Matters

In the past, installing and maintaining collaborative robots had been cost-prohibitive for smaller companies, especially compared to human workforces—but now that’s starting to change.


Collaborative robots are finding more widespread use in industrial settings, which can often prove challenging for humans alone. Under the European Union’s Horizon2020 project, researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, EPFL, Sapienza Università di Roma, and University College London developed an autonomous humanoid robot assistant for engineers that interacts with other robots and can learn from its human coworkers. Tesla uses robots to assemble its cars, while Amazon uses robots throughout its vast warehouses. German company KUKA and Japan’s FANUC both offer collaborative solutions to implement more automation within factories.

What’s Next

Researchers are developing cobots with computer vision, faster processors, and A.I. systems. As 5G comes online and reduces latency, cobots will process spatial data at fast enough speeds to adapt to environmental changes. In the near future, collaborative robots will play a key role in warehouses and distribution centers, automating the tasks previously performed by humans. Some other use cases: Collaborative robots will help on construction sites, in factories, and during military operations. In the further future, collaborative robots will underpin fully-automated supply chains, logistics services and delivery networks.

The Impact

Today, collaborative robots make up just 3% of the current installed robot base around the world, but that’s going to change. According to the International Federation of Robotics, collaborative robots are the fastest growing segment of new robot sales.


ABB Robotics, Aethon Inc., Amazon, Autonomous Solutions, Boston Dynamics, Carnegie Mellon University, DARPA, Denso, Energid Technologies, EPFL, EPSON Robotics, FANUC, Festo, Hitachi, Honda, iRobot, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, KUKA, Lockheed Martin, Mitsubishi Electric, MIT’s Interactive Robotics Group, Northrop Grumman, Ocado Technology, Raytheon, Robotshop, Sapienza Università di Roma, Seegrid, SoftBank Group, SoftBank Robotics Corporation, SpaceX, Tesla, Toyota, ULC Robotics, University College London, University of Tokyo, VEX Robotics, Yamaha.