When we first engage with new customers, particularly those in the very early stages of their ideas, they are often not sure whether they are going to need a machine or a robot to fulfil their project objectives.
It’s not hard to understand why there can be a struggle in understanding how the two differ and it mainly relates to how we define them.
In terms of bare facts, a robot is a machine, so it can be difficult to separate them in the simplest of overviews. At this basic level of terminology they are one and the same. That said, to complicate matters, whilst all robots are machines, not all machines are robots. It’s a crucial difference.
Common dictionary-style definitions clarify that a machine is a piece of equipment that uses electricity or an engine to do a particular kind of work. You can see that this would also be true for a robot, as these are the power sources both would require and a robot can do a particular type of work, just as a machine can.
Nor is complexity the characteristic that we can make the distinction on. Machines can be simple, like factory processing tools, or complex, like automobiles.
To become a robot, a machine needs to have an added layer of intricacy. Robots are capable of making basic decisions and of being programmed to do other tasks or additional tasks, not just one basic one, in ways that machines are not.
One of the everyday comparisons often made is that of a standard vacuum cleaner and a robotic cleaner like the Roomba. Both are machines and both do the same job, but only the Roomba is a robot. This is because the Roomba can be programmed and left to its own devices. It also makes simple decisions for itself in terms of how it moves around, reading the layout of the room it is in with sensors and responding to the information these supply, to avoid getting stuck or overturned.
So how will I know which one I need?
Here’s where we come in, and, while it’s not necessarily a simple question, we pride ourselves on providing a simple solution – as per our pledge; Robotics. Made. Simple. ™
There’s a number of factors to be considered. Does the solution need to be adaptable? Is there one task to complete or several? How closely will human operators be involved? When are you likely to try and upgrade the system (out of design, necessity or ambition)?
It is possible that a machine may fit your needs now, but a robot could be your long term aim or ideal and may even be what is required in the future. Deciding how you get there is just one way we can help you. We call it our ‘Commercial Navigator’.
To swiftly provide some payback on investment, which in larger projects can take many years to be realised, most businesses can begin their journey towards commercial robots by stages.
The first incarnation of this may be a tailor-made machine, custom built for the specific company need, heavily reliant on operators and there to make the task easier, more efficient and safer, but with room for development.
With this framework in place, the next step can be the ‘smart machine’ which works collaboratively with humans, taking over more of the task and offering a more rapid increase in productivity. This smart machine platform, once established and paying back, now represents potential for even further transformations. We can look closely at what we have accomplished so far and what we could do better, and at Tharsus we always do, as part of our continual, embedded learning process. We can then add appropriate layers of autonomy allowing the machine to take on additional and increasingly complex aspects of the job.
By taking this lower risk, higher-reward strategy, businesses can navigate their way in recognisable stages towards deploying fully autonomous robotics, tailor-made for their needs and providing commercial advantage throughout the development process.
So maybe you just need a machine right now… what more could this machine do for your company? Maybe you want to start utilising robotics but you are finding colleagues concerned about the risks involved in a huge project. Perhaps there are ways to introduce the elements first and prove their worth to other members of the organisation before you take the next step up.
Even if you’ve never stopped to consider the possibilities of this process before, the best first stage is picking up the phone and talking to us. At Tharsus we are experts in helping companies evaluate their position and how best to get to where you want to be. We’ve already enabled others to achieve highly ambitious goals and introduce revolutionary new systems.
You don’t need to worry about how it happens, that’s our job. All that matters is what you need your new systems to do for you, your customers and/or your bottom line. Give us a call to find out more.
If you enjoyed this article you might also be interested in our recent blog on trends in robotics for 2018. We’re already seeing many of our predictions realised as the year progresses.