Collaborative or Scary Robot?

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Collaborative or Scary Robot?

01/12/2018

Early Images of Robots
Science fiction has created many scary machines and frightening future-world scenarios involving disobedient or secretive robots, or more likely malevolent controllers.

Back in 1942 the famous science fiction author Isaac Asimov created the three laws for robots in order:
 
1) Don’t harm humans;
2) Obey orders; and
3) Protect yourself.

Asimov explained the order of these laws is important because a robot protecting itself must only do this after complying with the first two laws. Otherwise you may get the scenario as depicted in the caption below.
Another author, Osamu Tezuka, formulated an expanded set of ten (10) principles for robots for his 1988 series Astro Boy.

I particularly liked a couple of the new rules including:

a) Robots shall not leave the country without a permit;
and
b) Robots must not alter or conceal their identity.

Clearly, the Astro Boy robots were expected to be advanced and operate independently.

Fast Evolving Technology
A speaker on a Radio National science program recently made the comment that cockroaches are more intelligent than our current breed of robots.

He said current robots are so stupid that if you placed one in the forest it would quickly get lost, fall over and die, where as a cockroach would scurry for cover, forage for food and thrive.

The science program speaker explained our goal is to first develop robots as smart as cockroaches, then rats, and then dogs. But cautioned developing robots as smart as monkeys, as they may be too smart and become disobedient.

The Rat King
Professor Milford, Chief Investigator at the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision, see photo below, is studying the navigation skills of rodents to discover the secrets to their uncanny ability to quickly navigate through unfamiliar territory.

He explained that rodents seem to navigate around their world effortlessly, yet our current robots find it hard to find their way around simple environments.

However, technology is changing fast. Up until now all industrial robots were fully isolated in the workplace with extensive guarding and fencing with complex interlock procedures to enter robot compounds.

These old-fashioned robots typically performed tasks which were too heavy or dangerous for humans.

Recently a London based client asked us at Safety Action to prepare a technical standard on cobots for use world-wide. Initially I had to ask what they meant by the term “cobot”.

Collaborative Robots - Cobots
Many progressive companies are now introducing clever robots to carry-out intricate and repetitive tasks alongside human workers.

These robots are called collaborative robots, or “cobots”, and often have superior; “eye-sight”, dexterity, and infallible accuracy and reliability. All the things us normal humans do not have.

This is why cobots will increasing be seen working alongside us, and possibly as our supervisor in future generations.

Cobot Risk Assessment
However, collaborative robots working side-by-side with people must have specialised risk assessments and multiple levels of presence sensing and power limiting devices to minimise the risk of harm for the people in their vicinity.

Safety Standards for Cobots
The key Australia Standard governing design, implementation and operation of collaborative robots is AS 4024.3303: Safety of Machinery - Collaborative Robots.

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