Written by Gavriela Senteri on 2.04.2021.
Have you ever had a discussion with your friends on how robots are here to replace humans and “steal” their jobs? Well, the answer here is that robots are currently used in industry to support workers and not replace them. The collaboration between humans and robots will not lead to a society of robots and unemployed people, but to a society of specialized people that collaborate efficiently to robots.
There is no doubt that robotics will affect employment and change the working world of the future. In CoLLaboratE, we are thinking that this change will only benefit both human workers and companies, and especially the ergonomics in the workplace.
The demands on mechanical engineers and programmers will increase, trying to cover the needs in sectors such as the industrial and the medical one, where robotic agents are being deployed. Concerning the professions that require physical work, human operators have to carry heavy equipment or repetitively perform postures of their working routine that cause musculoskeletal strain in the long term. A daily recurring routine with such a physical burden does not only cause health problems to the operator itself but also consist of an economic and ethical load for the company itself.
That kind of physical burden usually leads to surgeries, postoperative medical support or physiotherapy to be covered economically by the companies themselves, since those injuries have been caused as part of the operators’ daily working routine. Robots are used to take on the load and release the worker from that kind of work that burdens them physically. In many cases, the robots are not only helping the worker in his routine but also supervise the work environment to avoid accidents and consequent injuries.
Apart from the workload, much more before the outburst of COVID-19 and especially now, industries were using technologies that minimize the need for physical interaction for industrial workers, enabling device operation at a safe distance. Tools like gesture recognition or posture detection algorithms can lead to not only an effective but also safe human-robot collaboration. The human operator wears a sensor or has a camera following his actions, allowing the cobot to recognize his actions, react according to them, predict and prevent accidents, creating a safer working environment.
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) are a major problem in the industry, being the most common work-related health issue in Europe, consisting also a large financial cost for the industries themselves. Ergonomy is not only connected with tasks that require carrying heavy materials but also movements performed repetitively, in angles that burden the employee in the long term run. A possible solution to reduce the prevalence of WMSDs is assisting workers with collaborative robots.
Within the Collaborate project, we address this issue using those robots and supplying them with all the necessary tools, in order for them to be able to execute the most ergonomically dangerous tasks. This way, workers avoid being subjected to any physical strain. Apart from this, alternative sensor-based evaluations are also developed, to determine which tasks expose workers the most, to factors associated with increased risk of developing a WMSD, with the ultimate goal of helping companies act not only repressively, but also proactively.
MINES ParisTech, France