President Obama launched a national initiative last year to develop robots that are better able to work “alongside people” and “augment human capabilities.” The aim: bring manufacturing back to the U.S., where six million factory jobs were lost between 2001 and 2009.
Safety standards will be important if robots are to take up new tasks. Pictured is the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s robot manufacturing test bed in Maryland. NIST is working with industry groups to develop ways to ensure worker safety so that robots can be freed from their cages.
Ever since General Motors first put “Unimate” on an assembly line in 1961, most manufacturing robots have worked in isolation, caged off from human workers. Now a new breed of more flexible robot is being developed to work more closely with people.