Cobots: An ultimate guide to Collaborative robots

October 4, 2023
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What are Collaborative robots?

Collaborative robots, commonly known as Cobots, are designed to work alongside human employees without the need for safety barriers, assuming proper risk assessment is conducted. 

They are built with safety and flexibility in mind, which lets them perform a variety of tasks ranging from simple to complex while being intuitive enough for non-experts to program and handle.

Cobots have not always been as accessible as they are today. They came from Industrial robots, which were often large, expensive, and confined to safety cages. 

However, the real innovation of Cobots started with the idea of creating more approachable robots that could safely interact side-by-side with humans. 

This led to the development of smaller, more versatile, and sensitive robots capable of using sensors and detecting and responding to their environment - and the humans in it.

The growing demand for flexibility in manufacturing and automation has catapulted Cobots into the spotlight. 

Unlike traditional robots, Cobots are agile, suitable for quick repurposing, and can perform a variety of tasks, which is crucial for businesses needing to adapt to changing market demands. 

Cobots: a brief history

For many years, large companies and manufacturers had to use traditional robots in their warehouses and factories. 

These expensive and complex robots were specifically created for high-volume and repetitive production tasks. Smaller and medium companies had a clear need for low-volume, high-precision tasks performed by smaller robots. 

The very first Cobot was created in 1996 by Michael Peshkin and J. Edward Colgate. They defined the Cobot as "a device and method for direct physical interaction between a person and a computer-controlled manipulator"

Since then, the Cobot has been transformed into a precision machine that can perform tasks next to people.

KUKA Robotics released its first commercial Cobot in 2004. Universal Robots followed suit in 2008, releasing the UR5. Then followed the UR10 in 2012 and the UR3 in 2015. 

Today, Cobots have become cost-effective, user-friendly, and very versatile. They allow a variety of companies of any size and almost any industry to improve their production processes, become more efficient, and improve the quality of their products.

Components and essential features of a Cobot

Arms and joints

The arm of a Cobot is typically what people notice first—it's the most prominent feature and signifies the reach and capability of the robot

Some Cobots have single-arm designs, with a streamlined structure designed for tasks in confined spaces. 

Others have multiple-arm configurations for complex tasks that mimic the human coordination of using both hands.

But what truly brings a Cobot’s arm to life are its joints (also known as the axis). 

Joints are the critical points of articulation that allow the arm to bend, rotate, and extend, providing the Cobot with a range of motion that's both versatile and precise. 

Cobots can have between 4 to 10 joints on an arm - far exceeding the capabilities of a human hand.

These are the different types of joints in a Cobot:

  • Rotary joints let a Cobot arm twist and turn, which is pretty much required for tasks that need rotation, like screw-driving or polishing.
  • Linear joints allow the arm to extend or retract in a straight line, vital for precision placement tasks in assembly operations.


End-effectors are the tools that allow Cobots to interact with objects. They are the point of contact between the Cobot and the workpiece or product, essentially the robot’s “hand”. They must be compatible with the Cobot’s arm in terms of weight and interface. 

The nature of the material being handled—its weight, fragility, and size—dictates the type of end-effector needed. 

Here are some types of end-effectors:

  • Grippers allow Cobots to pick up, carry, and put down objects. They can be customized for specific materials, shapes, and sensitivity requirements.
  • End-of-arm tooling (EOAT) lets users mount a variety of different tools on Cobots, like welding torches, screwdrivers, or painting nozzles.
  • Tool changers are a new technology enabling Cobots to autonomously change their tools as needed for the specific task they are working on.
  • Range extenders can be used to increase the range of a Cobot along the X- or Y-axis.
  • Vision systems are becoming increasingly common and are used to scan barcodes or identify things.
  • Feeding systems are mostly used in assembly lines. Cobots use these systems to supply screws or other objects required for operations.

Sensors and safety features

Since Cobtos operate alongside people. Safety features are very necessary. These components serve as the Cobot's sensory organs, allowing it to detect people and objects in their vicinity and ensuring safe interactions.

Most Cobots are designed with ergonomics in mind, using lightweight materials, and have rounded edges. This means that even if they come in contact with a person, there is a reduced risk of injury.

These are some of the sensors and safety measures in Cobots:

  • Collision avoidance sensors prevent Cobots from crashing into people - they will stop when a person (or object) is near. 
  • Force and torque sensors detect and measure the force and torque applied by or to the Cobot, enabling it to regulate its strength and respond to unexpected resistance or obstacles.
  • Proximity sensors use various technologies such as ultrasonic or infrared, to detect the presence of objects or people close to the Cobot without physical contact.
  • Vision systems like cameras and advanced imaging sensors provide spatial awareness, allowing Cobots to perform complex tasks like quality inspection or object recognition.
  • Emergency stop buttons to halt operations immediately if a hazardous situation is detected.
  • Pressure-sensitive, responsive skins that detect contact and stop movement to prevent injury.
  • Safety standards like ISO/TS 15066, provide guidelines on Collaborative robot operation, including safety measures.

User interfaces

User interfaces are the touchpoints where human operators communicate with Cobots

The ease of use of these UIs significantly affects the efficiency with which workers can program, monitor, and interact with the robo-system. 

Two major interfaces for Cobots are teach pendants and graphical user interfaces (GUI).

Teach pendants are handheld devices that allow operators to manually lead a Cobot through desired movements, which the Cobot then records and replicates. 

They are typically ergonomic, with a clear display and responsive controls, ensuring that the precision of programming is not lost in translation between human and robot. 

Now, a lot of modern teach pendants include touchscreens and can provide haptic feedback to guide users through programming sequences.

GUIs with drag-and-drop functionality and visual programming languages simplify the programming process, making it accessible to users without advanced training. 

Some systems include simulation software that allows operators to test and refine Cobot tasks virtually before deploying them in the real-world environment. 

They also have dashboards that provide a comprehensive view of Cobot operations, displaying real-time data on performance metrics and system status.

Software and control systems

These systems serve as the brain of a Cobot. These systems determine how effectively a Cobot can perform tasks, respond to changes, and integrate with other digital systems in a smart factory environment. 

Of course, human users can often customize the software interface to match their workflow and preferences.

These are the core elements of a Cobot’s control system: 

  • The Operating System (OS) is the foundation on which all other software functions operate, managing the Cobot's hardware resources and ensuring stable, real-time responses.
  • The programming environment provides tools for coding the Cobot’s tasks, which can range from text-based languages for complex instructions to graphical interfaces for simple drag-and-drop programming.
  • The motion control software dictates how the Cobot moves, with algorithms that calculate trajectories, ensure smooth acceleration and deceleration, and correct for deviations.

Advanced software systems equip Cobots with learning algorithms that enable them to improve their performance over time through machine learning. They are also designed with connectivity in mind to allow Cobots to communicate with other machines and software systems, such as MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) or ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems.

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Functionalities and capabilities of Cobots

Understanding the functionality and capabilities of Collaborative robots is essential in determining their suitability for various tasks and their potential impact on productivity and efficiency within a workspace.

Here are the basic Cobot capabilities to keep in mind before you buy:


Payload capacity is the maximum weight a Cobot can lift and manipulate safely. 

It's crucial for tasks such as material handling, machine tending, or assembly operations where weight plays a role. 

Generally, most Cobots can lift payloads to the weight of 55 lbs.

A Cobot's motor torque and structural integrity are designed proportionally to its payload capacity. This means the higher the payload, the sturdier the Cobot’s build must be, which can influence its size and range of motion.

To determine the appropriate payload, evaluate the weight of the objects to be handled, including the weight of any tooling or end-effectors. 

It's advisable to choose a Cobot with a payload capacity slightly above the heaviest load to maintain performance without overloading the system.


Reach is the maximum horizontal extension of the Cobot arm from the base to its furthest point of extension. 

It dictates how far the Cobot can access and is critical in layout planning. 

There's often a trade-off between reach and payload. A long reach may reduce payload capacity due to the increased force on the Cobot's joints and motors.

Reach should be matched to the workspace dimensions and the operational radius required. For tight spaces, Cobots with a compact reach that can maneuver within confined areas are ideal.


Precision refers to the Cobot’s ability to reach a point within a certain tolerance and is essential for tasks requiring high accuracy, such as assembly or intricate welding.

Cobots achieve precision through a combination of high-resolution encoders, rigid construction to minimize deflection, and sophisticated control algorithms that compensate for any deviations.

Factors Affecting Precision:

Environmental factors, such as vibrations or thermal expansion, can affect precision. Cobots are designed with feedback systems to correct these issues and maintain consistent accuracy.


Speed is how fast the arm can move from point A to point B. It's measured in terms of cycle times for repetitive tasks or in degrees per second for joint movements.

While it's beneficial to have Cobots work quickly to increase throughput, their speed must be regulated when sharing space with humans to avoid accidents. 

Speed settings can be tailored within the Cobot's control software, allowing for different speeds for various phases of an operation. For example, a Cobot may move quickly between tasks but slow down during precise operations or when a human coworker is nearby.

Maximizing speed can sometimes compromise repeatability due to factors like inertia and vibration. 

For this reason, the design of a Cobot includes considerations such as damping the vibrations and controlling acceleration/deceleration, to maintain repeatability even at higher speeds.


Repeatability is the Cobot’s ability to return to the same position multiple times with a high degree of accuracy, often measured in millimeters. It’s a crucial factor for tasks that demand consistent quality.

High-quality gearboxes, rigid robotic arms, precise drive mechanisms, and advanced control algorithms all contribute to a Cobot's repeatability. 

It's important to differentiate repeatability from accuracy. A Cobot can be highly repeatable even if it’s not accurate to a target position, as long as it consistently hits the same incorrect spot. Both factors are essential for different aspects of task performance.


Adaptability refers to a Cobot's ability to switch between different tasks without extensive downtime for reprogramming. Quick-change end-effectors and user-friendly programming interfaces facilitate this flexibility.

As operations scale or change, Cobots can be reconfigured with new software, tools, or tasks. 

Sounds complicated? This is often as simple as updating the software or selecting new modes on the Cobot’s interface. 

Keep in mind that Cobots can also adjust to changes in the working environment, such as lighting variations, or to new positions of objects due to their advanced vision systems and sensory inputs.

Types of Collaborative robots

These are the different types of Collaborative robots based on how safe they are to work with humans:

Power and force limiting Cobots

Power and force-limiting Cobots are designed to be inherently safe. They are equipped with sensors that can detect contact with a person or an unexpected object. 

If contact happens, these Cobots either stop moving or limit the force they apply, minimizing the risk of injury. 

This type makes it possible for robots and humans to share a workspace without physical barriers. 

When implementing these, it's crucial to consider the nature of the tasks they perform and the surrounding work environment to ensure safety without compromising efficiency.

Safety monitored stop Cobots

This type of Cobot is integrated with safety sensors that halt its operation if a human enters its working space

While the robot will stop to prevent collision or injury, it's not designed to keep going until the space is cleared and the system is reset. 

When setting up such Cobots, effective workflow mapping is essential to minimize stoppages and maintain productivity.

Speed and separation monitoring Cobots

With advanced vision systems and sensors, these Cobots can modulate their operating speed depending on the proximity of human workers. 

They can slow down when a person is approaching and speed up again when the person leaves the area. 

This requires a combination of reliable sensor technology and software that can predictively adjust the Cobot's movements to maintain a safe working environment.

Hand guiding Cobots

Hand-guiding Cobots allow operators to directly interact with the robot, guiding its movements manually. 

This can be very useful for teaching the Cobot new tasks without complicated programming. To use these Cobots to their full potential, workers should be trained in manual handling as well as basic programming for task optimization.

Specialized customization

Industrial CNC machines often offer a level of customization that can be tailored to meet highly specialized manufacturing requirements. 

The customization options for standard CNC machines are usually limited, offering fewer specialized tooling and software choices.

For instance, a manufacturer of wind turbine blades may require specialized tooling and software algorithms to produce aerodynamically efficient and structurally sound blades. 

As an answer, an Industrial CNC machine could be custom-tailored to meet these unique specifications.

Use cases of Cobots in different industries

Collaborative robots are incredibly versatile and are becoming more and more affordable, which means they are used in a range of industries. 

Below are some industries that most commonly make use of Cobots today:

Automotive and manufacturing

Imagine this: a traditional Industrial robot swinging around heavy metal arms attached to a large claw, while people duck and dive to get out of the way. 

These robots have commonly been used in the automotive industry, but they can be death traps when operating alongside people.

The built-in safety features of Cobots mean they can navigate human workspaces safely without causing harm. 

For example, in the automotive industry, a Cobot carrying a heavy load with sharp edges will move around slowly, completely aware of the people around it.

In the manufacturing industry, Cobots are used for:

  • Quality control and inspection
  • Assembly
  • Machine tending
  • Dispensing

These robots can also be programmed easily to perform custom tasks to meet a company's manufacturing needs.


Professionals in the medical industry often tackle life-and-death tasks, where mistakes can be fatal. 

For that reason, hospitals have started to turn to Cobots for repetitive administrative tasks. These bots can also perform different tasks in the medical manufacturing industry, like creating prosthetics. 

Here are some common automation solutions that Cobots are used for in healthcare:

  • Lab testing
  • Data entry
  • Patient intake
  • Billing
  • Creating prescriptions
  • Inventory management
  • Client management
  • Insurance claim processing
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Track vitals
  • Sending out emergency alerts

A specific niche of robots in healthcare is those used in surgeries and physical therapy. Cobots can work alongside medical professionals to increase precision during operations or aid in the rehab of post-op patients. 

By using Cobots in the healthcare industry, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists can free up time to take care of critical-need patients.


The electronics industry and tech companies have used Collaborative robots for several years. These Cobots are used mostly for repetitive tasks requiring precision work. 

Some examples include:

  • Labeling products
  • Screwdriving
  • Insertion of components
  • Dispensing

By automating these processes, skilled workers can apply their "human-only" abilities, like strategic thinking and problem-solving, without having to focus on these tasks. 

Smaller tech companies that use Cobots are able to see a total ROI in less than a year thanks to the versatility and ease of programming to customize the bots. By using Cobots, they are much more productive, with lower production costs, while meeting customer demands.

Metal fabrication

Companies working with metals make use of Cobots for a variety of applications, including:

  • Machine tending
  • Welding
  • CNC
  • Press brakes
  • Die-casting
  • Dial tables

By allowing the Cobots to automate these functions, workers are freed up to focus on high-profit tasks. 

Some of these metal fabrication tasks can be risky to humans - something you don't have to worry about with Cobots.

Polymers and plastics

Companies in the plastics and polymers industry have to inject molds repeatedly and work with materials at melting points or consisting of harmful chemicals. 

This work is not only dangerous for human workers but it can also be quite stressful due to the precision involved.

Cobots can be used in this industry for:

Food and drink

The food and beverage industry often uses Cobots in harsh working environments, like humid greenhouses or freezers. 

Cobots can also work around the clock, which is helpful if there is a high production volume.

In the food industry, Cobots can further be used for:


The scientific research community is often at the forefront of new discoveries, so it should come as no surprise that this industry has wholeheartedly embraced the use of Collaborative robots. 

Cobots are used to educate students in vocational programs, showing them how certain tasks must be performed. 

Cobots are also used in laboratories to automate experiments. This is especially useful in dangerous labs where there is the risk of harmful contamination.

Other industries

As is clear from the above, Collaborative robots can be used in various industries, and also in various ways within each industry. As Cobot technology continues to advance, so does Cobot application.

Some other industries that are starting to use Cobots include:

  • General manufacturing
  • Packaging
  • Agriculture
  • Furniture and equipment
  • Chemical

How to implement a Cobot

Implementing Collaborative robots (Cobots) into a production line or workplace involves strategic planning and consideration of various factors to ensure seamless integration and optimal performance. 

  1. Review and document current processes to identify repetitive, labor-intensive, or precision-dependent tasks that are suitable for Cobot automation.
  2. Before automating, streamline the existing processes to eliminate inefficiencies. Automation should enhance an already optimized process, not complicate an inefficient one.
  3. Use the detailed tasks and requirements to select a Cobot with the appropriate payload, reach, precision, speed, and repeatability.
  4. Consider a trial period with a demo unit to test the Cobot's performance in real-world conditions and ensure it meets operational needs before full integration.
  5. Design the workspace to accommodate the Cobot, considering factors like the reach of the Cobot arm and the safety of human workers.
  6. Implement necessary safety measures, including sensors and programmable safety zones, to prevent accidents and ensure compliance with regulatory standards.
  7. Develop comprehensive training programs to educate staff on how to operate, interact with, and troubleshoot Cobots.
  8. Engage with employees early in the process to address concerns and highlight the benefits of Cobots, such as reducing the strain of manual labor and upskilling opportunities.
  9. Ensure that the chosen Cobot can be integrated with existing machinery and software systems, minimizing disruption to current operations.
  10. Set up the necessary data infrastructure to support Cobot functionality, including machine learning capabilities and data analytics for continuous improvement.
  11. Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the impact of Cobot implementation on productivity, quality, and ROI.


The integration of Collaborative robots into various industries marks a significant stride toward a more efficient, flexible, and productive future. 

Cobots stand as major catalysts for growth, not merely through their operational contributions but also by fostering an environment of continuous learning and adaptation. 

But remember: they are not a replacement for the human workforce but a complement that can drive innovation.

Next steps

Looking to scale your operations with a high-end Cobot? Enter RO1 from Standard Bots—the top choice for both burgeoning startups and established industrial giants alike.

  • Affordable and reliable: RO1 leads its class of robotic arms, delivering unparalleled value at half the cost of its nearest competition.‍
  • Swift & robust: Despite sporting a best-in-class payload of 18 kg, RO1 outpaces rivals in both speed and precision.‍
  • Built-in safety: Equipped with safety sensors and collision detection, RO1 ensures secure and dependable operations right on your shop floor.

Get in touch with our expert team now to initiate a complimentary, 30-day onsite trial and get tailored guidance for a seamless RO1 deployment!

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