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ARTICLE: Cobots in manufacturing: Good for skill shortages and much more.

Written by Research Program Co-Lead Professor Greg Hearn and PhD Candidate Nisar Ahmed Channa both from the Human Robot Workforce research program in the Centre.  

In this era of rapidly evolving technology landscape, almost every industry sector needs to keep pace with technological advancements to prosper and remain competitive. However, many companies struggle to develop or even adopt innovations in technologies, processes, or business models. COVID-19 is one recent example where manufacturing companies found it extremely challenging to generate an innovative response to address labor shortages caused by lockdowns and movement restrictions across many countries. As a result, many production units of large as well as small to medium manufacturing companies shut down for significant time periods. This negatively affected global supply chains in many other sectors because manufacturing industries provide input in the form of usable goods and services to many other industries. Soon after the global economic crises, the manufacturing companies were facing issues like increasing production costs caused by unavailability of raw material and increased labour costs. Covid-19 pandemic further fuelled these issues due to disruptions in global supply chains and restricted movement of human workers. Even after the pandemic, various countries are still facing issues like increased labour costs, and shortages of skilled labour. Resultantly, companies are now investing huge financial resources to future proof their manufacturing potential and reduce input and increase output.

One of the innovative solutions to these labor and skills shortages on which academics and industry experts are working is the adoption of collaborative robots (Cobots) in manufacturing. A Cobot is a special kind of robot, with context awareness, which can safely share a workspace with other Cobots or with human operators. Recent research suggests that Cobots can be used as alternatives to skilled human workers and thus can supplement the shortage of workers across the industries. For instance, to cope with labour shortages caused by pandemic and to meet increased demand, manufacturing companies in North America spent around 2 billion USD in 2021 to acquire 40,000 robots[i],[ii],[iii]. Similarly, rising labour costs, and an aging workforce, has led to an increase in the demand for Cobots in the automobile sectors of Europe and the Asia–Pacific region iii.

Some labour economists believe that the introduction of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and robots increases production and efficiency in manufacturing through the displacement of jobs traditionally being performed by human workers. However, under certain conditions, these technologies can create new jobs and upskill other jobs across the ecosystem of the related suppliers and services providers.

In line with the priorities for Australian manufacturing formulated by the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre[iv], we argue Cobots could be “creatively productive” for Australian manufacturing not only because of their potential to reduce production cost efficiencies but also to enhance value differentiation, and potentially open up new revenue segments including through export[v]. Efficiencies can be achieved through optimisation of human-robot workflow design; accelerating workforce acceptance of robotic driven process efficiencies; reducing human errors in automation documentation; and by reducing downtime through enhanced work safety.  Value differentiation can be achieved by integration of Cobots in product design for rapid prototyping; by developing autonomous systems of quality assurance and better data analytics as value adding services; by improving capabilities for just-in-time and mass customisation products in existing markets; and by upskilling the manufacturing workforce for innovation leadership which in itself is a value differentiator. The fact that Cobots are designed to work alongside and close to people to perform their jobs and responsibilities can help companies to integrate and digitalise their business operations without compromising on lacking human aspects of the job. In many respects, Cobots are the hardware equivalent of augmented intelligence, rather than replacing people with autonomous equivalents. Cobots can supplement and improve human skills with super-strength, accuracy, and data capabilities, allowing them to perform more and add more value to the production process and to final product itself. It aids in creating strategic business value and improves efficiency, resulting in better, quicker delivery of products to customers in market.

[i] North American companies send in the robots, even as productivity slumps | Reuters

[ii] Robots marched on in 2021, with record orders by North American firms | Reuters

[iii] Rise of The Cobots in Automotive Manufacturing | GEP


[v] Microsoft Word – Hearn et al ACRA Final Submission.docx (

6 Reasons Why We Need a Prototyping Toolkit for Designing Human-Robot Collaboration

Written by Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Stine S Johansen and PhD Researcher, James Dwyer

In this short article, we will share 6 benefits of having a prototyping toolkit for designing human-robot collaboration (HRC). We will lift the curtain on our planned activities to work towards this in Program 2 of the Australian Cobotics Centre.

What type of human-robot collaboration are we talking about?

The Australian Cobotics Centre focuses on cobots in manufacturing settings. In these settings, robots are most often big and locked away in cages for safety reasons. They are useful for highly defined and repeatable tasks that require strength. In contrast, cobots are typically smaller and allow for people to safely carry out a task by handing over items to the robot or even by physically handling the robot.

Cobots address an increasing need for more adaptable robotic systems for customised and bespoke products. These types of products still require people in the manufacturing line to accommodate changes from product to product.

So, what could a prototyping toolkit look like?

Imagine a toolbox with screwdrivers, a hammer, cutters, etc. Similar to that, we already have tools in our design toolbox that work at a generic level or are appropriated to suit particular problems. But a toolkit for prototyping human-robot collaboration is still left for us to investigate. In Program 2, James Dwyer (PhD student) will contribute to our knowledge about how different prototyping tools can facilitate design processes of HRC. The goal is to develop a practical and affordable toolkit that can be used to enable designers, engineers, and end-users to work together towards human-robot collaboration in manufacturing settings and beyond.

What are the benefits of having a prototyping toolkit?

Knowing how a cobot can fit into an existing or new manufacturing setting requires substantial research. What if we had a way to make that process easier and more efficient for designers and clients as well as more accommodating for the final end-users of the cobot? This is the broad aim of a HRC prototyping toolkit. Here are 6 concrete benefits that we aim to support through our work in Program 2.

1) Accessible end-user engagement

Manufacturers often lack the expertise to define how a cobot could be used. They are, however, experts in their respective domain. Domain knowledge is not always something that can be documented in written reports. It is also the tacit knowledge that workers build through years of experience. A prototyping toolkit can enable that knowledge to play a role very early in the design and development process by lowering the currently high technical barriers to understand how a robot works. In Program 2, we rely on principles from participatory design which is a design practice to produce tangible outcomes together with end-users.

2) Cost and time efficiency

Facilitating a cobot integration project can require substantial costs and time which makes it non-viable for some manufacturers. The hardware investments require committing to a particular setup, but there are risks associated with such investments if feasibility of the concept has not been investigated early on. Therefore, it will be beneficial to have prototyping tools to conduct such investigations without the necessity of actual hardware. Prototyping tools can furthermore allow for quick and cheap iterations. Subsequently, there is a need for tools that facilitate the transition from early concepts to implementation and testing.

3) Flexibility

Given the opportunity for cobots to assist in manufacturing of customised products, there is a high need for flexible solutions. Crucial to realising flexibility is the establishment of design processes that bridge the gap between early stage conceptual development and technical integration. For cobots to effectively contribute to customised production, they must follow a rich understanding of work practices, production methods, and customisation requirements entailed in the manufacturing. This understanding can be developed through iterative design and a holistic approach, covering all aspects from conceptualisation, prototyping, and implementation. This will ensure that the cobots are versatile, adaptable, and able to meet changing production needs.

4) Risk mitigation

Even though cobots are generally equipped with safety measures such as a safe stop button and sensors to detect and stop collisions with people, it is still possible to get hurt by a faulty cobot that has not been adapted to its environment. Prototyping tools allow us to mitigate this risk in two ways. First, it is possible to create virtual models of the environment and cobot, meaning that we can simulate tasks and clarify potential safety risks we might not otherwise have detected purely from prior experience and safety standards. This allows us to develop safety measures long before anyone gets hurt. Second, while engaging end-users in the design process has many benefits, people with non-technical backgrounds are not necessarily comfortable interacting with a robot – especially an unfinished robot solution. Therefore, prototyping tools can support our engagement with end-users by removing the potential fear of getting hurt.

5) Enhanced creativity

As design researchers, we often engage in generative ideation activities to address research questions. Prototypes enable us to see facets of an idea that were not previously obvious. This is sometimes referred to as ‘filtering’ (for further reading on this topic, see our list of references). It’s like putting on special glasses that highlight the specific qualities we want to explore further while still capturing the essence of the entire concept. In order to use prototypes as filters, it is necessary to have a holistic understanding of the context within which the cobot will operate and how that context can change with the introduction of the cobot. A prototyping toolkit can help give us different lenses to explore facets of the context in early prototypes, thereby becoming a creative extension for designers. This could include prototyping tools such as facilitating Wizard-of-Oz methods, video prototyping, or virtual simulations.

6) Facilitating internal communication

Prototyping is an activity that allows us to both internalise and externalise ideas. In other words, prototypes enable us to internally reflect on what works and what does not work as well as communicate ideas to team members, clients, or anyone interacting with them. Prototypes have always had that role in design research, but with the technical barriers to quick prototyping for human-robot collaboration, there is a need to identify new ways to facilitate this role of prototypes.

We look forward to sharing our progress throughout the next few years. Please reach to us for further discussion, questions, or other inquiries.

Further reading:

Lim, Y. K., Stolterman, E., & Tenenberg, J. (2008). The anatomy of prototypes: Prototypes as filters, prototypes as manifestations of design ideas. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI)15(2), 1-27.

Wensveen, S., & Matthews, B. (2014). Prototypes and prototyping in design research. In The routledge companion to design research (pp. 262-276). Routledge.

William Odom, Ron Wakkary, Youn-kyung Lim, Audrey Desjardins, Bart Hengeveld, and Richard Banks. 2016. From Research Prototype to Research Product. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’16). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 2549–2561.

Gopika Ajaykumar. 2023. Supporting End-Users in Programming Collaborative Robots. In Companion of the 2023 ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI ’23). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 736–738.

ARTICLE: Can we Unlock the Potential of Collaborative Robots?

Written by Dr Marc Carmichael and Louis Fernandez from the Australian Cobotics Centre.

Collaborative robots, or cobots for short, have gained significant attention in recent years due to their potential to work in close proximity and collaboration with humans. However, despite their name, there seems to be a lack of actual collaboration between humans and cobots in many, if not most, industrial settings.

The Australian Cobotics Centre aims to transform the Australian manufacturing industry through the deployment of collaborative robots, and in a recent webinar we discussed how significant benefits may be possible if more sophisticated forms of collaboration between humans and cobots can be practically achieved.

In this article we discuss this, starting with the basics of cobots, exploring the untapped potential of cobot-human collaboration, and how we hope to develop new ways of enabling humans and cobots to collaborate.

Defining Cobots and Industrial Robots:

Before we talk about the untapped potential of cobot-human collaboration, let’s start by understanding the basic differences between cobots and regular industrial robot arms.

Industrial robot arms are normally big, heavy machines you might see in factories or other environments that have repetitive and predictable jobs. Industrial robots are great at lifting heavy things quickly and accurately. However, this is also what makes them dangerous around people, so they need to be kept away from them.

On the other hand, cobots are much smaller and lighter. They also have technology that lets them ‘feel’ their surroundings. These functionalities allow them to work alongside humans. On top of that, they’re easier to program than industrial robots. This allows them to be quickly put to work on different tasks and makes them good for flexible jobs.

The Current State of Cobot Collaboration:

Even though cobots are capable of working beside people, they don’t very often really work with people. Feedback from experts and users, as well as research literature, have observed that cobots are being used more like traditional industrial robots. For example, cobots are often used in pick and place or palletising jobs. These applications look much like how industrial robots work, except cobots don’t need the protective cage around them. This raises the question: “Are we really using cobots to their full potential?”

Don’t get me wrong, using cobots as cageless industrial robots has great advantages. Not needing a cage means you have more space on your shop floor for other equipment, and you spend less time during the installation process. In addition, cobots are generally easier and faster to program compared to industrial robots. For example, cobots can be programmed by physically grabbing and moving their arm to show them where to go. This easy form of programming allows cobots to be easily set up and deployed, a benefit for small businesses getting into automation. Plus, cobots are getting better, with some having more reach and strength to handle different jobs. As they improve, we might see cobots and robots becoming harder to tell apart, and using cobots like cageless industrial robots might become common.

However, using cobots like industrial robots doesn’t make the most of what they can do. We should explore the challenges and opportunities of making cobot-human collaboration better.

Defining Levels of Human-Robot Collaboration:

Before we continue, it is important to define collaboration in the context of cobots. What collaboration means depends on the discipline, and terms are often used inconsistently or interchangeably. A classification that is becoming increasingly common, and which we personally like, is the following:

Level 0: Cell – this is the traditional approach used in industrial robots where humans are isolated from the robot, often by physical caging or fences.

Level 1: Co-existence – the human and cobot share the workspace, but work together on a task in a sequential fashion. For example, a cobot performs a packing task, with a human only entering the workspace to restock items. Sensors such as a safety area scanner are used to slow/stop the cobot when someone is in the vicinity.

Level 2: Co-operation – the human and cobot operate in shared space, with the worker guiding or influencing cobot operation via inputs (e.g. force, speech, gesture, etc). Cobot may adapt its motion based on human measurements.

Level 3: Collaboration – the human and cobot cooperate on joint task. Cobot learns and adapts by observing humans, to achieve a dynamic and supportive collaboration. Human and cobot are responsive to each other in a mutually beneficial manner, where both parties actively contribute to the task at hand.

Although it is sometimes difficult to define, these definitions can help distinguish different levels of interaction and collaboration between cobots and humans.

Exploring the Potential Gains and Barriers to Collaboration:

We would consider most cobot use cases to be Level 1 collaboration, where other than the cobot adapting its pre-programmed routine based on the presence of a human, there is next-to-no real collaboration between the two. To rephrase the previous question that we raised: “what are we missing out on by not going after Level 2 and Level 3 collaboration?”

There are some interesting and compelling proof-of-concepts by robotics researchers that demonstrate the potential to be achieved, See Further Reading for some examples. One study estimated a potential reduction in task completion time of up to 20%, suggesting significant benefits in productivity can be unlocked. Unfortunately, there are relatively few examples of high-level collaboration that have made their way to practical use.

In our program (Human-Robot Interaction) at the Australian Cobotics Centre, our goal is to increase the scope of genuine collaboration. Our efforts are focused on novel interaction approaches using multi-sensory interfaces, gesture control devices and augmented reality which can reduce training costs, enable rapid prototyping, and make robots safer and easy to use in production tasks.

It is our belief that addressing these challenges will lead to new methodologies for enabling rich and beneficial forms of human-robot collaboration. Combined with the work of our colleagues at the Australian Cobotics Centre whose programs are addressing technical, social, and organizational challenges, we are looking forward to sharing the outcomes we achieve and are excited about the future of cobotics.

Further reading:

Michaelis, J. E., Siebert-Evenstone, A., Shaffer, D. W., & Mutlu, B. (2020). Collaborative or simply uncaged? understanding human-cobot interactions in automation. Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

Guertler, M., Tomidei, L., Sick, N., Carmichael, M., Paul, G., Wambsganss, A., Hernandez Moreno, V., & Hussain, S. (2023). When is a robot a cobot? moving beyond manufacturing and arm-based cobot manipulators. Proceedings of the Design Society, 3, 3889-3898.

Kopp, T., Baumgartner, M., & Kinkel, S. (2020). Success factors for introducing industrial human-robot interaction in practice: an empirically driven framework. The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology, 112(3-4), 685-704.

Male, J. and Martinez-Hernandez, U. (2021). Collaborative architecture for human-robot assembly tasks using multimodal sensors. 2021 20th International Conference on Advanced Robotics (ICAR).

Carmichael, M. G., Aldini, S., Khonasty, R., Tran, A., Reeks, C., Liu, D., … & Dissanayake, G. (2019). The ANBOT: an intelligent robotic co-worker for industrial abrasive blasting. 2019 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS).

Zhuang, Z., Ben-Shabat, Y., Zhang, J., Gould, S., & Mahony, R. (2022). Goferbot: a visual guided human-robot collaborative assembly system. 2022 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS).

ARTICLE: Human-Robot Collaboration through Augmented Reality

Written by Dr Alan Burden, Postdoctoral Research Fellow from the Australian Cobotics Centre.

In previous articles, we delved into socio-technical systems (STS) and highlighted the importance of spatial design in shared human-robot environments. As we continue this exploration, this article will focus on technologies that show immense potential in improving the harmony between humans and cobotic systems. Our spotlight will be on augmented reality (AR), a technology poised to make human-cobot interactions more intuitive, efficient, and enjoyable. 

AR is a part of the ‘reality technologies’, often grouped under the umbrella term of extended reality (XR), which also includes virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR). These technologies merge the physical and digital worlds, creating innovative environments where humans and machines interact. AR stands out because it doesn’t replace our reality, as with VR, but instead enhances our existing environment by overlaying digital information.   

AR enhances our perception of the physical world by overlaying images, sounds, or other data, onto our physical environment. In cobotics, AR could serve as a communication bridge between humans and robots, facilitating a more intuitive and efficient collaboration. For example, AR can visually guide a human worker in a manufacturing plant, showing them how to operate a machine or assemble a product with the help of a robot. Similarly, AR could provide surgeons with real-time data during a robotic assistant procedure in a healthcare setting. AR offers opportunities to improve the efficiency of the task at hand and enhance the safety and effectiveness of human-robot collaboration. 

The potential of AR extends beyond communication. It also plays a crucial role in spatial design for shared human-robot spaces. AR can help visualise the optimal arrangement of a workspace, considering the movement patterns and tasks of both humans and robots, which could lead to safer, more efficient, and intuitive shared spaces. For example, in a warehouse, AR can help design a layout that minimises the risk of accidents between human workers and autonomous robots. By visualising the robots’ paths and highlighting potential danger zones, AR can contribute to a safer and more productive environment. 

However, the integration of AR into cobotics is not without challenges. Technical limitations, such as AR devices’ accuracy and reliability, can affect AR applications’ effectiveness. User acceptance is another critical factor. While AR can make human-robot collaboration more intuitive, users must adapt to a new way of working and interacting with technology. Ethical considerations, such as privacy and data security, must also be addressed. 

Despite these challenges, AR presents exciting opportunities for the future of cobotics and STS. It can make human-robot collaboration more accessible and user-friendly, opening new possibilities for automation in various industries. Moreover, as AR technology evolves, we can expect even more innovative applications that will further enhance human-robot collaboration. 

AR is a powerful tool that can significantly enhance human-robot collaboration in STS. By improving communication and contributing to the design of safer and more efficient shared spaces, AR can help us harness the full potential of cobotics. As we navigate the intersection of humans and technology, embracing tools like AR will be crucial in creating a harmonious and efficient future for human-robot collaboration. The journey towards this future is filled with challenges and exciting opportunities. As we continue to explore and innovate, we can look forward to a world where humans and robots work together seamlessly, each enhancing the capabilities of the other. 

ARTICLE: 6 Reasons Why We Need a Prototyping Toolkit for Designing Human-Robot Collaboration

In this article, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Stine Johansen and PhD Researcher, James Dwyer highlight the pressing need for a #prototyping toolkit to support the design process of human-robot collaboration (HRC).

As robots become increasingly integrated into industry, companies are grappling with uncertainties surrounding their implementation and task allocation. Developing a prototyping toolkit is one way to address these challenges.

By involving manufacturers and end-users early in the design process, we can harness their domain knowledge and tacit expertise to create meaningful outcomes to transform the future of manufacturing.

Read more HERE



ARTICLE: The Human Robot Workforce research program

To implement #collaborativerobotics effectively in #advancedmanufacturing, we must address the both the technological advancements required and the human and design factors that are associated with technological change. These areas form the focus of our research programs, each comprising several PhD projects that explore specific research questions.

Our Human Robot Workforce program is the first of our research programs where all of its PhD researchers have begun their projects. Today, we are delving a little deeper into the program and share the objectives of each project within it.

Program Leads: Dr Penny Williams & Prof greg hearn
Program Postdoctoral Research Fellow: Dr Melinda Laundon
PhD researchers: Jacqueline GreentreeNisar Ahmed ChannaAkash HettiarachchiPhuong Anh Tran
Other Chief Investigators involved: Dr Sean Gallagher
Associate Investigators Dr Claire Mason & Dr Luca Casali

Read more HERE



Australian Manufacturing Week 2023

PhD researcher Jagannatha Pyaraka and research program co-lead, Dr Michelle Dunn

Australian Manufacturing Week was held in Melbourne from 9-12 May 2023.

It provided an incredible opportunity for me (PhD student, Jagannatha Pyaraka) to gain firsthand experience and insights into the world of cobotics in the manufacturing industry. Special thanks to Cornelius van Niekerk, Business Development Manager from Weld Australia for giving us the opportunity to share the stand. Representing the Australian Cobotics Centre (ACC) Jagannatha Pyaraka, Mats Isaksson, Michelle Dunn, Christopher McCarthy, and Anushani Bibile, showcased a demonstration featuring our new UFactory Xarm6 cobot.

Our demo aimed to demonstrate the potential of collaborative robots (cobots) in enhancing manufacturing processes. We highlighted how cobots, designed to work alongside humans, can improve productivity while ensuring safety. By employing the Media-pipe technology in conjunction with D435 RealSense camera, the cobots capability to accurately capture and follow the tip of presenter’s palm was

Throughout the event, we had the opportunity to interact with a diverse audience. People were intrigued by the capabilities of cobots and had a keen interest in the ACC’s work. We engaged in discussions on various aspects, including safety, efficiency, integration, and the return on investments associated with implementing cobots in manufacturing processes. These conversations provided valuable insights into the practical challenges and applications of this emerging technology.

One particular highlight was the interaction with other exhibitors, who showcased their own advancements and trends in the industry. The most widely shown cobot application was welding. This exchange of ideas allowed us to broaden our perspectives and gain a better understanding of the future developments in cobotics.

The experience at Australian Manufacturing Week 2023 has not only provided exposure to practical applications but has also deepened my understanding of the challenges and opportunities that arise when implementing cobots. Witnessing the enthusiasm and interest of the audience reaffirmed the importance of the work carried out by the ACC and boosted my passion for further research in this field.

Looking ahead, it is evident that cobotics will continue to revolutionize the manufacturing industry. As we strive to improve safety, efficiency, and productivity, the ACC will play a vital role in driving innovation and shaping the future of cobotics. I am excited to be able pursue my research in this field and look forward to witnessing the continued growth and impact of collaborative robots in manufacturing

Overall, Australian Manufacturing Week 2023 was a remarkable experience that not only allowed us to showcase our demo but also provided valuable insights, connections, and inspiration for the future of cobotics and the ACC.

Weld Australia CEO Geoff Crittenden
PhD Researcher, Jagannatha Pyaraka & Postdoc, Dr Anushani Bibile
Swinburne University Lead, A/Prof Mats Isaksson























Designing Shared Human-Robot Spaces – The Impact that Spatial Design Has on Socio-Technical Systems

Written by Dr Alan Burden, Postdoctoral Research Fellow from the Australian Cobotics Centre.

In the era of rapidly advancing technology, socio-technical systems (STS) are becoming increasingly relevant as they help integrate humans and technology in many different domains. One such example of an STS is cobotics which aims towards task collaboration between humans and collaborative robots, working together on tasks in a shared environment.

In a previous article (ambitiously titled A Very Brief Introduction to Socio-technical Systems), I wrote about how STSs aim to combine social and technical elements to create efficient, safe, and productive human-robot collaborations (HRC). In this article, we will look at shared environments, or to call them by another name, human-cobot co-working spaces – and the 5 key considerations that should aim for better STS outcomes.

While not a new concept in many industries, the idea of shared environments, particularly those inhabited by humans and machines, draws upon elements of architecture, interior architecture, industrial design, and interaction design. The interdisciplinary nature of shared environments is vital in creating functional spaces for human-machine interaction, including human-robot activities. This multidiscipline approach ensures that all aspects of the environment contribute to a successful STS. The overlap between these disciplines provides the foundation for optimising safety, productivity, and satisfaction within a shared human-robot workspace.

A common element across all areas of a cobotic STS are the spatial requirements, as crowded workspaces can significantly impact the human’s well-being (both mental and physical) while also severely limiting the cobot’s effectiveness. A well-designed space can improve safety, productivity, and worker satisfaction. In contrast, a poorly designed space may lead to inefficiencies and accidents. Consequently, organisations must focus on spatial design to ensure the seamless integration of humans and robots in the workspace.

Frequently in analysing and designing STSs, it makes sense to consider a holistic approach to address both human and robotic needs. This approach includes understanding the unique challenges (and opportunities) presented by shared human-robot spaces and developing strategies to overcome potential pitfalls. Organisations can craft environments that harness the positives of human-robot partnerships while ensuring safety and satisfaction for all involved by focusing on the key factors that influence successful collaboration. The factors that promote effective collaboration and maximise the benefits of STS are:

1.      Safety and Accessibility: Ensuring the safety of both humans and robots is paramount. Spaces should be designed to prevent accidents, with clear paths for movement, adequate lighting, and appropriate barriers or markings to delineate shared areas. Additionally, spaces should be accessible and ergonomic for human workers, accommodating their needs and abilities.

2.      Flexibility and Adaptability: As technology and work processes evolve, it’s essential to design spaces that can quickly adapt to new requirements. Flexible and modular workstations, reconfigurable layouts, and scalable infrastructure can help organisations accommodate changes in technology and work processes.

3.      Zoning and Separation: While human-cobot interaction might be the focus of STSs, there will be instances where separation is necessary for safety or efficiency reasons. Organisations should consider zoning and separating spaces for different tasks, allowing for focused work and minimising distractions or hazards.

4.      Communication and Visibility: Effective communication between humans and robots is critical for successful collaboration. Spaces should facilitate clear lines of sight, allowing visual communication and awareness of each other’s actions. Integrating multi-modal communication technologies like screens, speakers, and sensors can enhance information sharing and collaboration.

5.      Comfort and Aesthetics: Creating a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing environment can significantly impact worker satisfaction and well-being. Natural light, greenery, and comfortable furniture can create a more pleasant and supportive workspace.

Implementing shared human-robot spaces often substantially improves productivity, safety, and worker satisfaction. For example, a manufacturing facility that integrates cobots on the assembly line may create zones where humans and robots work together on specific tasks, with clear visual cues and safety barriers to prevent accidents. In healthcare, a hospital may design a shared operating room with robotic surgical assistants, with ample space for human surgeons to navigate and interact with the robotic systems.

As technology advances and human-robot collaboration becomes more commonplace, the importance of spatial design in STS will only grow. Organisations should prioritise spatial design as a critical aspect of their STS strategy, ensuring that shared human-robot spaces are safe, functional, and adaptable. Researchers, designers, and engineers must also develop new design principles and best practices to accommodate the evolving nature of human-robot interactions.

Overall, the success of HRC in STSs relies heavily on thoughtful spatial design. By considering safety, accessibility, flexibility, adaptability, zoning, communication, and aesthetics, organisations can create effective shared spaces that promote seamless integration between humans and robots. Developing new design principles and best practices that adapt to the evolving nature of human-robot interactions is crucial. Organisations that invest in well-designed shared spaces will undoubtedly reap the benefits of increased productivity, safety, and worker satisfaction. Embracing the importance of spatial design in STS is a vital step towards a harmonious and efficient future for human-robot collaboration.

ARTICLE: Guidelines for Safe Collaborative Robot Design and Implementation

Congratulations to Dr Matthias Guertler and team (including Dr. Nathalie SickGavin PaulMarc CarmichaelManisha AminRebecca GraceSazzad HussainLaura TomideiAnnika WambsganssVictor Hernandez Moreno, and Leila Frijat) on their Cobots Work Health & Safety project completed in partnership with the NSW Centre for Work Health and Safety and funded through the NSW Workers Compensation Operational Fund.

The team have developed guidelines, methods and principles to design safe cobots and cobot workplaces. These are fantastic resources for organisation who are planning on implementing collaborative robots (“cobots”) or are curious of how to work safely with cobots in general?

The project team have created a website full of useful resources that include:
– An introduction to, and general safety information, aspects of human-cobot collaboration.
– Guidance documents to assist in the planning of an upcoming or amended workplace.
– Checklists and assessments to assess an existing or future workplace’s safety features

Read more HERE



ARTICLE: Try-a-Trade, Gladstone

By Melinda Laundon, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, and Jacqueline Greentree, PhD Researcher, Human-Robot Workforce Program, Australian Cobotics Centre

Almost 200 Grade 9 and 10 girls from Gladstone and surrounds gathered at CQUniversity for Try-a-Trade on 15th March. This event brought together manufacturing, aerospace, energy, mining, engineering and construction industry businesses and stakeholders from government and education to encourage female high school students to learn about a range of careers in STEM and try out some practical activities that they might encounter in STEM jobs.

The event was organised by the Gladstone Engineering Alliance in partnership with the National Association of Women in Construction and the Queensland Government‘s Department of Employment, Small Business and Training and Gladstone Manufacturing Hub.

It is important to engage high school students early to consider careers in manufacturing. The lower numbers of women in manufacturing make it particularly important to provide female students with opportunities to consider and experience diverse manufacturing career options. In Queensland, 29% of the current manufacturing workforce are women. While the proportion of women employed in manufacturing has grown dramatically over the past decade, most are in clerical or administrative roles. Only 11% of women in manufacturing are technicians and trade workers[1].

Australian Cobotics Centre industry partner Weld Australia hosted a stall at Try-a-Trade with two Soldamatic welding simulators. This popular activity allows people to experience welding in a safe environment. It also provided a fun competition between girls to compare their welding accuracy. Weld Australia’s Regional Training Coordinator, Adam Coorey said:

“To address the skills shortage, we need to give a greater range of access to the full available workforce. By utilising augmented reality technology, students who would normally shy away from the heat and sparks of a welding bay can try welding in a safe environment.  This accessible technology gives students the opportunity to experience a career that they may thrive in”.

At the Cobotics Centre stall, we discussed the impact of cobots and other advanced technology on future work. We also asked students to think about the skills and attributes that would be required in the future to work with a cobot as a team member. They came up with many creative insights, including:

  • Problem solving skills
  • Patience
  • Understanding human interactions
  • Coding
  • Good communication
  • Independence
  • Curiosity
  • Designing
  • Digital technology education
  • To be able to build
  • Understanding of mechanics

[1] Queensland Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water (2023) Women in Manufacturing Strategy.