n. A robot intended to interact physically with humans in a shared workspace.
A cobot or co-robot (from collaborative robot) is a robot intended to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace. This is in contrast with other robots, designed to operate autonomously or with limited guidance.
Cobots were invented in 1996 by J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin, professors at Northwestern University. A 1997 US patent filing describes cobots as "an apparatus and method for direct physical interaction between a person and a general purpose manipulator controlled by a computer."
Cobots resulted from a 1995 General Motors Foundation research grant which had the goal of finding a way to make robots or robot-like equipment safe enough to team with people. The first cobots assured human safety by having no internal source of motive power. Instead, motive power was provided by the human worker. The cobot's function was to allow computer control of motion, by redirecting or steering a payload, in a cooperative way with the human worker. Later cobots provided limited amounts of motive power as well.
The term Intelligent Assist Device (IAD) has been used as an alternative to cobot, especially in the context of industrial material handling and automotive assembly operations. A draft safety standard for Intelligent Assist Devices was published in 2002. An updated safety standard was published in 2016.
Cobotics released several cobot models in 2002. Universal Robots released its UR5 robot, designated as a cobot, in 2008. Rethink Robotics released an industrial cobot called Baxter in 2012.
Cobots are utilised for various tasks — from autonomous robots capable of working together with humans in an office environment that can ask you for help, to industrial robots having their protective guards removed as they can react to a human presence under EN ISO 10218 or RSA BSR/T15.1.