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Robotic colleagues accompanied by new legal questions

Although direct collaboration between humans and robots opens up completely new possibilities for automation solutions, it also brings along new risks that require new regulations.

08 Nov. 2017
Robotic colleagues accompanied by new legal questions (picture: KUKA AG)

The factory of the future will no longer differentiate between automated and manual jobs. People and industrial robots will work together, “hand in hand.” In such HRC scenarios (human-robot collaboration), employees and machines jointly carry out work steps in production processes. Although this relieves workers, especially when it comes to monotonous tasks and handling loads, it also raises new occupational safety questions .

The corresponding requirements for Cobots have been stipulated in ISO/TS 15066 since February 2016. The industry faces two major challenges in practice: Cobots have to be extremely flexible and not limited to a few defined process steps – this is where artificial intelligence and machine learning come into play. On the other hand, robots must be able to differentiate between products and co-workers and reliably readjust the force they use when they encounter a person: The BionicCobot from Festo is a bionically inspired lightweight robot that solves this task with 14 pressure sensors and digitally controlled pneumatics. Kuka is working with software-controlled safety areas and on the LBR iiwa with joint torque sensors on the axles.

There is nevertheless a residual risk that is currently occupying lawyers and insurers, especially in the litigious United States. The Lexington Insurance Company already has a Robotics Shield package in its portfolio, for example. That company’s product Development Manager David Kennedy considers small and medium-sized manufacturing companies to be particularly at risk , because unlike older large industrial robots, the smaller lightweight robots are also used in SMEs, which often lack experience with the relevant accident prevention, liability and data protection issues. The EU is therefore already hard at work discussing “ robot legislation ”.