Current robots on automobile production lines are gangly and unsightly machines that need a cordoned off space to operate in order to ensure the safety of its human counterparts.

Well, Ford Motor Company is looking to change all that with the development and trial of a robot that has enough sensors to be gentle enough to give you a massage, dexterous enough to make coffee but capable enough to lift a heavy shock absorber and install it in a Fiesta.

Two workstations in Ford’s assembly plant in Cologne, Germany are currently the test bed for what the company calls Industry 4.0, the advent of the fourth industrial revolution by ‘embracing automation, data exchange and manufacturing technologies.’

One of the robots helping a factory worker install key components

Known as co-bots, these machines do all the heavy lifting side-by-side with production line workers who assist to make sure that each installation is a perfect fit.

“Robots are helping make tasks easier, safer and quicker, complementing our employees with abilities that open up unlimited worlds of production and design for new Ford models,” said Karl Anton, director, vehicle operations, Ford of Europe.

The co-bots are more than three feet high and aren’t being developed to replace people. Ford’s goal is to increase efficiency and productivity through the collaboration between humans and machines.

“Working overhead with heavy air-powered tools is a tough job that requires strength, stamina, and accuracy. The robot is a real help,” said Ngali Bongongo, a production worker at Ford’s Cologne plant.

Robot and Humans working together

Keeping the human workers safety their number one priority, Ford equipped these co-bots with high-tech sensors in order for it to stop as soon as it detects a finger or a hand that is in harm’s way.

“We are proud to show the capabilities of our new generation of sensitive robots that are supporting and collaborating with Ford workers by carrying out ergonomically difficult and technically challenging tasks. As part of our close partnership with Ford and based on the feedback from employees, we are looking forward to further challenges,” said Klaus Link, key account manager, Ford, KUKA Roboter GmbH.