Volkswagen recently announced that they are setting up their first “collaborative robot” to assist humans at their engine plant in Salzgitter, Germany.
The lightweight robotic arm is the first for the company that won’t sit in a cage. Rather, it will work in close vicinity of humans in the cylinder head assembly section and, with its “collaborative gripper,” will be responsible for handling a delicate part called a glow plug.
The addition of the robot, called the UR5, will relieve two employees at the plant of having to stoop into a painful posture to insert the glow plugs into “scarcely visible” cylinder head drill holes. Volkswagen, in a press release, said the advance would release staff from “ergonomically unfavorable work”:
“We would like to prevent long-term burdens on our employees in all areas of our company with an ergonomic workplace layout. By using robots without guards, they can work together hand in hand with the robot,” said Jurgen Hafner, project manager at Volkswagen’s Salzgitter plant, calling the UR5 essentially a production assistant.
While Volkswagen isn’t the first company to have robots working alongside humans, it is the first to have them working on the line with humans without protective cages.
Even though there is currently a debate taking place about whether robots will be taking over peoples jobs, Volkswagen’s current experiment should show how robots can augment people’s work and increase productivity rather than replacing people completely.
Read more about the collaborative robot at Fast Company.