The Technology industry has an uncanny ability to churn out unique buzzwords at regular intervals. Cloud computing, Internet of Things, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence are some of the notable ones. While robots have been garnering attention for quite some time now, in recent times, collaborative robots (cobots for short) are one of the most recent innovations. These might remind you of the much-loved R2D2 droid of the hugely popular Star Wars films, but cobots are much more and come with distinct business benefits. Industrial robots have been characterised by heavy, expensive and unwieldly mechanised arm-like machines made by engineers for engineers. Universal Robots, a Danish tech firm headquartered in Odense, is at the forefront of a new emerging reality, designing a new class of robots\u2014cobots\u2014with the ability to work alongside employees with no safety caging. Unlike their big brothers working behind cages at automobile plants and other big assembly lines, the UR cobots are lightweight, flexible and can easily be moved and reprogrammed to solve new tasks, meeting the short-run production challenges faced by companies adjusting to ever more advanced processing in smaller batch sizes. Pradeep David, general manager - South Asia, Universal Robots, says, \u201cThese kinds of cobots are poised to bridge the gap between fully-manual assembly and fully-automated manufacturing lines. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the SME sector, which, until now, considered robot automation as too costly and complex to consider.\u201d Setting the pace As the first Indian company to implement the use of cobots in automotive assembly lines in 2010, Bajaj Auto today has more than 150 cobots driving its position as the world\u2019s third largest motorcycle maker. \u201cIn 2010, we were looking for solutions to automate our assembly lines,\u201d says Vikas Sawhney, general manager \u2013 engineering (robotics and automation), Bajaj Auto. \u201cTwo-wheeler assembly lines are highly labour-intensive, spatially challenged and need physically taxing movements with high-end precision. While trying to automate these lines, one of the basic requirements was standardisation. Moreover, we wanted to be cognisant of the requirements of the large women workforce at Bajaj.\u201d After an intensive study of the options that were available in the market, Bajaj Auto chose Universal Robots. \u201cThe key benefits such as their compactness, low pay back period, flexibility, light weight, cost-effectiveness, accuracy and safety convinced us,\u201d Sawhney added. David says that after three months of extensive testing, Bajaj deployed its cobots as a standardised solution for all its functional requirements. \u201cSeveral processes such as material handling and machine tending were collaboratively handled by our cobots and Bajaj employees. Moreover, new decal applications which are now patented by Bajaj, were also devised by the company to make the most out of the flexibility provided by the cobots,\u201d he adds. Making a difference Similarly, Aurolab, the manufacturing division of Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai collaborated with an Universal Robots distributor in India, GI India Automation and Systems, to optimise its manufacturing processes. Precision and accuracy were extremely important in Aurolab\u2019s manufacturing process for intraocular lenses (IOL), that included tasks such as material handling and picking and placing of the components. Besides fitting in seamlessly with the workforce, the cobots were selected for their affordability, reduced power consumption and safety, which ensured that the protective stop measure turns the power off when a load is applied to it. Aurolab has seen a 15% increase in annual output, with the cobots at work. From 15 workers, the employee strength has gone up to 700 and it makes 10,000 IOL per day. The young untrained women who form 90% of the workforce have been easily operating and programming the eight cobots. Today, Aurolab delivers high-quality IOLs whose prices have further reduced from Rs 270 per lens to Rs 80 in the past five years. \u201cThe kind of benefit which Aurolab has received by deploying UR cobots is incredible. The quality of their products is unparalleled with minimal wastage,\u201d said David. The UR arms can be implemented in virtually any industry, in any process and by any employee. \u201cAround the world, more than 10,000 operating cobots are testimony to just that: To make collaborative robot technology accessible to companies of all sizes,\u201d says Jurgen von Hollen, president, Universal Robots (see interview).