Collaborative robots were gaining momentum in the marketplace before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. They create situations where humans and machines work safely, side by side.
However, the global health threat forced companies to cope with reduced operations and the possibility of having an entire team of workers isolate due to virus exposure. These advanced machines — commonly known as cobots — became even more appealing.
Keeping Companies Running With Smaller Workforces
If authorities categorized a company’s offerings as essential, it could stay open during lockdowns meant to control the virus. Receiving permission to continue operating didn’t remove obstacles for those business owners, however. Those that kept running had to do so while following public health precautions, such as social distancing.
In a small factory with limited space for people to stay apart, it’s easy to imagine why using cobots makes sense. They can’t contract the virus, so companies could use them to keep output levels high even as the novel coronavirus threat continued.
A metal fabrication company in Texas has eight cobots that came in particularly handy when all the workers from one shift had to go into self-quarantine. The owner reported he had to move employees around slightly to supervise the robots, but output stayed high despite many people confined at home. Although the organization has not hired more employees, its productivity has doubled thanks to the cobots’ assistance.
People can expect cobots to maintain popularity after the pandemic ends, too. Many cobot owners and users saw that these machines proved their worth in the toughest of times. This positive feedback encourages other business leaders to invest in these machines.
Following and Setting Standards to Keep Cobots Safe and Secure
Robotics engineers working on cobots must abide by several standards during the development process. For example, there are parameters for a cobot’s maximum speed and force while around humans. Such limits are crucial during hands-on tasks, such as when a person teaches a cobot the desired job.
People often — rightfully — make human safety a priority when developing or following cobot standards. However, there’s a growing argument for paying more attention to cybersecurity, too.
One of the ideals is to build systems that provide security by design, or at least allow people to secure them as new threats emerge. Some people speak about that goal more broadly, such as to include all industrial control systems, but they apply to cobot security, too.
Academics have also demonstrated vulnerabilities in mobile robots but, more importantly, offered complementing mitigation efforts to help people prevent problems. The greater attention paid to these issues bodes well for enhancements to cobot security in the post-COVID-19 world.
Offering New Security Features and Updates
Most of today’s leading makers of collaborative robots have security features built in, and they regularly update them. For example, many types of industrial machines — including cobots — offer remote access to authorized parties so people can assess the equipment without traveling. It’s also possible to customize security settings to view or alter the connections and other cobot specifics so only certain employees can view or change them.
Remote access also extends to people who want to stay on top of a cobot’s statistics without being in the facility that uses it. They do so through a secure framework that shows a cobot’s current and past metrics, plus enables easy data collection for later analysis.
Cobot security has also improved thanks to robot-as-a-service (RaaS) solutions delivered in the cloud. According to one report, the market worth of the sector providing robot-related services via the cloud will reach $157.8 billion in annual revenue by 2030.
Outdated software is a well-known security risk. However, since cloud-connected cobots can get all updates immediately after their release, this advantage bolsters cobot security overall.
Of course, these improvements don’t make cobots wholly safe from all cyberthreats. According to a small study about robot security, 51% of respondents found cybersecurity weaknesses in their machines. Only 9% experienced cyberattacks, but the fact they happened at all shows room for improvement exists.
As Purchasers and Users Demand Security, Positive Changes Should Continue
Anyone interested in purchasing a cobot or making them better for future uses plays a decisive role in improving security.
When the developers of collaborative robots continually hear that people prioritize secure machines, they’ll keep pursuing ongoing improvements in that area to maintain competitiveness in the marketplace.
It’s also worthwhile for security professionals overseeing corporate purchases of cobots to come up with lists of questions to ask sales representatives. Doing that reinforces that the machines must be sufficiently secure, as well as high-tech.