Ford has completed a limited trial with a series of collaborative robots, or co-bots, at its factory in Cologne, Germany.
These new co-bots straddle the line between the large, mainly autonomous, machines that are a standard part of modern car factories, and the smaller hand-held power tools used by workers.
Measuring around a metre tall, the co-bots used briefly by Ford were developed over a period of two years by German firm Kuka Roboter. They resemble human arms, and can be programmed to assist with any number of tasks.
In the Cologne factory, they were setup to assist line workers install shock absorbers into new Fiestas. During the trial, the collaborative robots lifted the shock absorber into the correct position within the wheel arch.
All the worker has to do is verify that everything's in the right spot, before pressing a button to finish the installation process.
According to Ngali Bongongo, a production line worker at the Cologne facility: "Working overhead with heavy air-powered tools is a tough job that requires strength, stamina, and accuracy. The robot is a real help."
The Kuka robots used by Ford incorporate sensors that can detect the presence of people nearby and, just as importantly, stop itself if a human body part is in its way.
Ford says that it is "reviewing further use of collaborative robots", although the company has yet to state if more trials are on the horizon or provide a timeline for when co-bots might become a permanent fixture at its factories.
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