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December 24, 2019

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Robots and Cobots, Drones and Proximity Detection

Robots and Cobots, Drones and Proximity Detection form the final three two categories of the Arco Innovation Award finalists.

In the field of occupational health, technology that can automatically keep humans safe from potentially high-risk workplace scenarios is transformative. Better still, technology that takes this one step further and completely removes the need for a human even to be present in these kind of situations is the very definition of lifesaving.

Robots or cobots?

Robots are a clear example of technology that can undertake dangerous tasks for human workers. This includes working in contaminated environments or operating dangerous machinery, thereby removing the need for humans to work in risky scenarios altogether and improving workplace safety. Robots also boost productivity, while also offering businesses the opportunity to save money and reduce waste. They have the capacity to work faster and more precisely than humans, leading to efficient and effective results.

Cobots, or collaborative robots, are considered a cheaper (but equally useful) alternative to robots. Despite not offering the same breadth of autonomous benefits as robots, cobots are an effective first step for businesses wanting to introduce robotics into their workplace. Cobots typically fulfil repetitive or injury-prone tasks, freeing up human workers to focus on different or supportive work instead. They mimic human actions and carry out tasks at similar or slower speeds. This removes the need for humans to complete potentially hazardous work – enhancing workplace safety again.

Exoskeletons are an extension of ‘cobotics’. These are wearable robotic devices which augment or enhance the bodily movements of the wearer. They also provide ergonomic support, mitigating the risk of workers developing repetitive strain injuries and musculoskeletal disorders.

Drones – not just for leisure

Now widely commercially available, drones are frequently used for inspection and surveillance purposes in the workplace. They are able to gather data more efficiently, in more detail and in far greater quantities than humans. This eradicates the need for manual inspections, lowering the risk of workplace injury. In particular, the use of drones for inspections is a convenient, safer alternative to working at height – well known to be the biggest cause of death in the construction industry.

Advanced drone technology can also save workers time by generating reports and analysis about their inspections, based on the data gathered. Some drones are even programmed with photogrammetry tools to create 3D models of assets and buildings. These are designed to be used in planning, surveying and agriculture.

Proximity detection

Technology seeking to reduce the risk of collisions and accidents between workers and moving machinery is becoming increasingly prominent in warehouses and factories. An example is digital equipment able to alert both pedestrian workers and workers operating large, moving machinery if they come within a pre-set distance of one another. This technology reduces the risk of collisions and accidents, especially in factory and construction contexts.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are another form of proximity detection. From automatic lane centring, to cruise control, to rear view dashboard cameras designed for use when reverse parking, to audio warning signals, ADAS systems have already revolutionised the world of driver safety and reduced the likelihood of road accidents.

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