Collaboration requires presence sensing
The challenge of automation has always been to keep people safe while trying to produce more product in the same footprint. The faster a machine runs, the more physical space is required to guarantee that, if something goes wrong, the machine has enough time to come to a complete and safe stop before potentially making contact with humans or other machines around it. Traditionally, this would involve a physical cage around the piece of automation. This cage could take the form of a frame with either polycarbonate or expanded steel (fence) panels.
Made to physically defend a person from getting too close, these types of guarding systems also take up a lot of real estate. For this reason, they are not well-suited to a cobot application where we don’t want the new automated device taking up any more space than the human it is replacing.
The technology required to respond to this need for an ever tighter operating envelope has advanced dramatically, especially over the past two or three years. While we will delve into that momentarily, it is important to note that the robot manufacturers, in addition to coming up with new ways to sense the presence of people in proximity to the robot, have had to come up with ways to safely limit the range of operation to be inside the normal operating range of the robot.