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A cobot[1] or co-robot[2] (from collaborative robot) is a robot intended to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace.[3] This is in contrast with other robots, designed to operate autonomously or with limited guidance,[4] which is what most industrial robots were up until the decade of the 2010s.

Cobots were invented in 1996 by J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin,[5] professors at Northwestern University. A 1997 US patent filing[6] 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 1994 General Motors initiative led by Prasad Akella of the GM Robotics Center and a 1995 General Motors Foundation research grant intended to find a way to make robots or robot-like equipment safe enough to team with people.[7] The first cobots assured human safety by having no internal source of motive power. Instead, motive power was provided by the human worker.[8] 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.[9]

The General Motors team used the term Intelligent Assist Device (IAD) as an alternative to cobot, especially in the context of industrial material handling and automotive assembly operations.[10] A draft safety standard for Intelligent Assist Devices was published in 2002.[11] An updated safety standard was published in 2016.[12]

Cobotics[13] released several cobot models in 2002.[14] [15]

Universal Robots released its first cobot, the UR5, in 2008.[16] In 2012 the UR10 cobot[17] was released, and later a table top cobot, UR3, in 2015. KUKA's LBR iiwa [18] was the result of a long collaboration with the German Aerospace Center institute.[19] Rethink Robotics released an industrial cobot, Baxter, in 2012.[20]

FANUC - the world's largest producer of industrial robots[21] - released its first collaborative robot in 2015 - the FANUC CR-35iA with a heavy 35kg payload.[22] Since that time FANUC has released a smaller line of collaborative robots including the FANUC CR-4iA, CR-7iA and the CR-7/L long arm version.

Cobots can have many roles — from autonomous robots capable of working together with humans in an office environment that can ask you for help,[23] 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.[24]


  1. ^ "The Words of Tomorrow" Wall Street Journal, January 1, 2000
  2. ^ "National Robotics Initiative" National Science Foundation, 2012
  3. ^ "Cobots: Robots for collaboration with human operators"
  4. ^ "I, Cobot: Future collaboration of man and machine" The Manufacturer (2015-11-15). Retrieved on 2016-01-19
  5. ^ "Mechanical Advantage" Chicago Tribune, Dec. 11, 1996.
  6. ^ "Cobots" US Patent 5,952,796
  7. ^ "Here Come the Cobots!" Industry Week, Dec. 21, 2004
  8. ^ "Cobot architecture" IEEE Transactions on Robotics and Automation, Vol 17. Iss. 4, 2001
  9. ^ "A History of Collaborative Robots: From Intelligent Lift Assists to Cobots", October 28, 2016
  10. ^ "Cobots for the automobile assembly line" International Conference on Robotics and Automation, Detroit, MI, 1999, pp. 728-733
  11. ^ "Draft Standard for Intelligent Assist Devices — Personnel Safety Requirements"
  12. ^ "ISO/TS 15066:2016 Robots and robotic devices -- Collaborative robots"
  13. ^ "Stanley moves into materials handling with Cobotics acquisition" Cranes Today, April 2, 2003
  14. ^ "Intelligent Assist Devices: Revolutionary Technology for Material Handling"
  15. ^ "A History of Collaborative Robots: From Intelligent Lift Assists to Cobots", October 28, 2016
  16. ^ "A Brief History of Collaborative Robots", May 19, 2016
  17. ^ "UR10 cobot"
  18. ^ "LBR iiwa"
  19. ^ "DLR Light-Weight Robot III"
  20. ^ "Baxter Kinematic Modeling, Validation and Reconfigurable Representation" SAE Technical Paper 2016-01-0334, 2016
  21. ^ "FANUC Announces Record-Breaking 400,000 Robots Sold Worldwide". FANUC America Corporation. Retrieved 2017-02-03. 
  22. ^ "FANUC America Introduces New CR-35iA Collaborative Robot Designed to Work Alongside Humans". FANUC America Corporation. Retrieved 2017-02-03. [permanent dead link]
  23. ^ "CoBot Robots". Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved 12 March 2013. 
  24. ^ "Collaborative robots (COBOTS): Safe co-operation between human beings and robots". Retrieved 24 January 2016. 

See also[edit]

  • Air-Cobot, a collaborative mobile robot to inspect aircraft