The human-robot working relationship is about to get a lot closer

TOKYO - Manufacturers have always been a driving force for innovation in robotics. That remains true today as a new breed of robot takes centre stage.

Typical of the older generation of robots were the dangerous power arms that needed to be installed behind protective walls. The new generation collaborates, communicates and even moves with human workers to execute common tasks. This closer working relationship could profoundly change all types of jobs involving manual labour.

The next wave

In auto factories in Japan, there are already about 1,500 conventional robots per 10,000 employees, more than seven times the proportion seen in other manufacturing industries, according to the International Federation of Robotics. In Chinese factories, however, the ratio still stands at 30 robots to 10,000 humans. As these plants move to catch up with their global peers, the number of traditional robots at work will increase substantially.

At the same time, the rise of collaborative robots promises to bring a whole new wave of growth. Initially, the market will likely be divided between traditional automated machines and intelligent collaborative robots. But since the new breed is far more sensitive and flexible, it may soon become the norm. It is even possible that all jobs will eventually involve some sort of collaboration with robots.

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