Robots for collaboration with people

A cobot is a robot for direct physical interaction with a human user, within a shared workspace.

Cobots were invented by Northwestern University professors J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin in 1996. Cobots were intitially called "programmable constraint machines", highlighting a passive and safe method for allowing a computer to create a constraint surface for a human user (and optionally a payload) to follow.

The term "cobot" was coined by Brent Gillespie, a postdoc at Northwestern University at that time, in response to a lab competition to come up with a better name. Cobot was chosen as one of the Words of Tomorrow by the Wall Street Journal in its January 1 2000 issue. Brent won $50.

The first patent related to cobots (US 5,923,129) was filed in February 1996, and a patent using the new name (US 5,952,796) was filed in October 1997.

The first academic paper on cobots was

Nonholonomic Haptic Display 
James E. Colgate, Michael A. Peshkin, Witaya Wannasuphoprasit
Proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, Philadelphia, PA, April 23-27, 1996.

It won the Best Conference Paper award. The first paper using the word cobot was

Cobots: Robots for Collaboration with Human Operators
J. Edward Colgate, Witaya Wannasuphoprasit, Michael A. Peshkin
Proceedings of the International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exhibition, Atlanta, GA, DSC-Vol. 58, Nov. 17-22, 1996, pp. 433-439

Subsequent academic papers.

Photos of some early cobots.

Development of cobots at Northwestern University was supported by the General Motors Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and Ford Motor Company.

A spinoff company, Cobotics LLC, was founded in 1996 by Colgate and Peshkin, to develop, manufacture, and license cobotic technology. In 2002 Cobotics LLC was acquired by Stanley Assembly Technologies, Inc.

Other terms that are used for human-interactive robots include collaborative robots, co-robots, and Intelligent Assist Devices (IADs). IAD is used especially in the material handling field.

A 2002 white paper on Cobots and IADs describes Cobotics' view of the future of human-robot collaboration.

The Robotics Industries Association issued a safety standard for IADs.

Non-technical reports & publicity

Photo gallery, pictures of early cobots

Cobot: a Kinder, Gentler Robot, press release, Nov. 1996

Worth Watching: Robots to provide help in a tight spot, Financial Times (London), May 1, 1997

Mechanical Advantage Chicago Tribune, Business, p.1, Dec. 11, 1996

Definitions of the word "cobot"

Cobots learn to guide people, WIRED News, Dec. 19, 1996

People push while machine directs, Inside R&D 25:50, Dec. 11, 1996

Worker-Friedly Robots, Popular Mechanics, Tech Update, April 1997

Domo Arigato Mr. Coboto, Canadian Business Magazine, "technology", Spring 1997

NU inventors make assembly line safer, Northwestern Daily, April 8, 1997

Discover Magazine Awards for Technological Innovation, 1997, Discover Magazine, July 1997

Robot helps humans in the factory, Advanced Manufacturing Technology, Nov. 15, 1997

Somewhat technical

Cobots work with people, IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine, Dec. 1996

Cobots for the assembly line, Mechanical Engineering Magazine, Nov. 1997

Cobots: A new generation of assembly tools for the line worker, SPIE Robotics and Machine Perception International Technical Working Group Newsletter, April 1997


Please see cobot publications here