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Master butcher Josef Klein from Strass in the district of Neu-Ulm has spent a long time looking for a way to serve his customers when his store is closed. He ended up installing a vending machine staffed by a tracked robot that moves around the cold storage room and collects orders from the shelves. Customers placing orders from the vending machine can watch the robot through a window as it places cold cuts of meat, bratwursts or sausages filled with cheese into a basket and hands it to them through a serving hatch. Payment is contactless.

The trends in robot development have made this possible: They are becoming more compact, more flexible and less expensive than the industrial robots of yesterday, which only became worthwhile investments when used in automated manufacturing processes handling large quantities.

Ease of use and self-learning sensors make the robot into a collaborative robot—or Cobot—that can work safely side by side with humans, and no longer needs to be locked away in a cage. This makes Cobots a promising alternative for small businesses and craftsmen as well.

It opens up new opportunities for craft businesses in particular. Robots can make life easier when it comes to performing heavy and monotonous tasks and they are helping to address the skills shortage. However, they have only been used in a very small number of craft businesses so far. Only five percent of businesses reported that they used robots, according to a study conducted by the Chamber of Crafts and Trades for Lower Franconia which investigated the potential application of robotics in the skilled trade sectors.

The project was primarily concerned with the question of whether skilled workers can operate robots even if they do not have a sound knowledge of programming. The task they had to solve involved overhead drilling in concrete ceilings using a mobile robot. The initial results demonstrate that it is possible to use drilling robots on construction sites. The technology uses AI to instruct the robots where they need to drill, and sensor technology detects when the drill hits steel. The craftsman can see the working positions for the mobile platform using augmented reality glasses - just like in a video game. So, you don't need to be a programmer to use them.

Field tests have shown that working with the robot is seen as being an intuitive and straightforward process. The majority of participants were able to imagine working alongside the robot. This should come as no surprise: Overhead drilling is very strenuous and that is why it’s not very popular among craftsmen.

Increasingly complex technology that is becoming easier and easier to operate: This recipe for success has long since spilled over from the entertainment industry into robotics. In instances like these, it’s always about the machine's intelligent networking coupled with human work ethic and creativity - and not about replacing these things.