In 2008, the Danish robot manufacturer sold the first industrial robot able to operate safely alongside employees.
When Linatex, a Danish supplier of technical plastics and rubber for industrial applications, bought a new UR5 robot from Universal Robots to automate CNC machine tending in December 2008, they did something unthinkable: instead of installing the robot behind safety caging, fenced off from people as was the norm for all industrial robots, they deployed it right alongside their employees. Instead of bringing in external programmers mastering complex scripting, Linatex was able to program the robot on their own through a touch screen with no prior programming experience.
In opening up the market, Universal Robots says it spurred both larger, established robot manufacturers as well as other robotics startups to start developing and launching cobots. Having a built-in safety system that enables a robot to stop operating if it comes into contact with an employee is now the defining feature of collaborative robots.
“We’ve been the frontrunners of collaborative robotics since the term was invented," says CTO and co-founder of Universal Robots Esben Østergaard.
"While safety is imperative, that’s simply the cost of entry into the cobot market now. We believe that being collaborative is just as much being accessible, lowering the automation barrier by placing robots within reach of manufacturers that never thought they would be able to deploy robots.”