Manufacturer of World’s First Collaborative Robot Illustrates the History of the “Cobot”

Eight years ago, Universal Robots sold the world’s first collaborative robot - long before the term for this emerging robot class was coined. Fast forward to 2016 and the cobot market with an annual 50% growth is now the fastest growing segment of industrial robotics, forecast to hit $3B in global revenue in 2020.

ODENSE, Denmark--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Universal Robots has published a new infographic illustrating the rapid rise of collaborative robots - or cobots. In 2008 the Danish robot manufacturer sold the first industrial robot able to operate safely alongside employees. The company remains the market leader with more cobots sold than all competitors combined.


When Linatex, a Danish supplier of technical plastics and rubber for industrial applications, bought a new UR5 robot to automate CNC machine tending in December 2008, they did something unthinkable; instead of installing the robot behind safety caging, fenced off from people as was the norm for all industrial robots, they deployed it right alongside their employees. Instead of bringing in external programmers mastering complex scripting, Linatex was able to program the robot on their own through a touch screen with no prior programming experience.

The UR5 robot launched Universal Robots as a new significant player in industrial automation, blazing the trail through new territory by specifically targeting the small-to medium sized manufacturers that viewed robotics as too costly and complex. With more than 8,400 cobots now installed in over 55 countries worldwide, the company has successfully addressed a market in need of a user-friendly, flexible robot that can work side-by-side with employees while delivering a fast ROI.

Along the way, the revolutionary UR robots have overcome significant skepticism. Travis Hessman, Editor-in-Chief with New Equipment Digest recounts in his article, Robots, Cobots & The American Dream how he first experienced the UR robots as they became the first cobots to enter the U.S. market in 2012:

"The Danish startup's bots were a bit of an oddity at the time. They ran without the cages and barriers of traditional robots, in fact waving their arms through pre-programmed dances right over the heads of visitors. The UR staff drew crowds and shocked gasps by letting the robots run right into them on purpose.

No one quite knew what to think of them. There wasn't even a name for this kind of robot yet…No one thought it would last... And absolutely everyone was sure that OSHA would shut them down before they ever got adopted. They were wrong."

In opening up the market, Universal Robots spurred both larger, established robot manufacturers as well as other robotics startups to start developing and launching cobots. Having a built-in safety system that enables a robot to stop operating if it comes into contact with an employee is now the defining feature of collaborative robots, but CTO and co-founder of Universal Robots, Esben Østergaard, is raising the bar on using the term, expanding it to include user-friendliness, re-deployability, simple set-up and affordability:

"We've been the frontrunners of collaborative robotics since the term was invented. While safety is imperative, that's simply the cost of entry into the cobot market now. We believe that being collaborative is just as much being accessible, lowering the automation barrier by placing robots within reach of manufacturers that never thought they would be able to deploy robots."

As editor and publisher of The Robot Report, Frank Tobe, concludes when forecasting the cobot market:

"There's no doubt that the collaborative robot marketplace will be growing exponentially over the next few years - with UR leading the pack - and price, safety, flexibility and ease of programming being the key determinants as to which vendor(s) are chosen."

About Universal Robots
Universal Robots is the result of many years of intensive research at Denmark's successful robot cluster, which is located in Odense, Denmark. The company was co-founded in 2005 by the company's CTO, Esben Østergaard, who wanted to make robot technology accessible to all by developing small, user-friendly, reasonably priced, flexible industrial robots that are safe to work with and on their own can be used to streamline processes in the industry. The product portfolio includes the collaborative UR3, UR5 and UR10 robotic arms named after their payload in kilos. Since the first UR robot launched in December 2008, the company has experienced considerable growth with the user-friendly robots now sold in more than 50 countries worldwide. At just 195 days, the average payback period for UR robots is the fastest in the industry. The company, a part of Boston-based Teradyne Inc, is headquartered in Odense and has subsidiaries and regional offices in the U.S., Spain, Germany, Singapore, Czech Republic, India, and China. Universal Robots has more than 270 employees worldwide. www.universal-robots.com.

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