The generations of robots have evolved as they have been incorporating technologies, acquiring new skills in our environments, seeking their autonomy and intelligence as their objective at the service of the activity for which they were programmed. This evolution and deployment of robots has been especially rapid in recent years also in industry. According to the World Robotics 2021 reports, there are 3 million industrial robots operating in factories around the world, an increase of 10% from 2020.
Michael Knasel, director of the Center for Robotic Applications at Science Application Inc., argued in 1984 that robots should evolve over five generations (Engelberger, J. “Robotics Today”, Robotics, pp. 59, 1979). He has more publications related to robotics and AI also. And time is proving him right. The first two, already achieved in the eighties, included the management of repetitive tasks with very limited autonomy. The third generation would include artificial vision. The fourth, advanced mobility outdoors and indoors. And the fifth would enter the domain of Artificial Intelligence. More details:
- First Generation: handling robots (“pick-and-place”). Robots dedicated to pick and place materials, used to complement industrial machines and are on a fixed base. They started in 1982.
- Second Generation: robots begin to learn. They move along a path and are capable of memorizing different movement sequences or specific and predetermined tasks. They appeared in 1984.
- Third Generation: robots with senses (vision and touch), AGVs. They have a more advanced control, with precision servomechanisms. They move self-guided, widely used in warehouses and internal logistics. They appear in 1989.
- Fourth Generation: mobile and intelligent robots. Robots with wheels or artificial legs, they begin to have a humanoid or similar shape, equipped with intelligent sensors to carry out maintenance tasks, entertainment, reception of clients, even as pets. It starts in 2000.
- Fifth Generation: singular robots based on artificial intelligence. Its controllers are based on advanced artificial intelligence. They are endowed with a high level of mobility and most importantly, they seek interaction with humans and are able to imitate their thinking. They start in 2010.
Being already in the fifth generation, or what could be the robot 5.0, it may be curious and even significant that we are focused on Industry 4.0, on the 4.0 worker, when it seems – at least by analogy – that they should go hand in hand these versions. What should we add to these 4.0 concepts? What advances are we giving to robots that the Smart Factory does not have? Is that plus of Artificial Intelligence the one that provides the qualitative leap to talk about Industry 5.0 and the worker/person 5.0? The answer, or at least part of it, lies in what these fifth-generation robots bring with their intelligence: interaction.
It is true that we work technologically to improve processes with Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, IoT with 5G, etc., but the Industry 5.0 concept must go beyond a contribution or technological leap, it must include the person, being precisely the human-machine fusion a core concept. Technology must be at the service of the person, and thereby increase productivity and efficiency.
The European Commission has published a report on “Industry 5.0” where it precisely recognizes the power of industry to achieve social objectives beyond employment and growth, and where it highlights research and innovation as drivers of a transition towards an industry European centered on the human being, sustainability and resilience.
There are already projects where this change, also disruptive, is being channelled and affects the business, political and intellectual spheres. A change that brings greater well-being to society as a whole. An example is HR-Recycler, a project committed to the environment and to adapting intelligent industrial systems to the operator.
The question is to create a symbiotic, interoperable and fluid environment between intelligent systems and people with the ultimate goal of empowering the person and the consequent “humanization” of industrial processes. A hybrid human-robot environment.
Intelligent industrial systems and Artificial Intelligence themselves can contribute to the creation of fairer systems; and to reinforce the training of workers so that they occupy the new necessary profiles, thus softening the impact of the reconversion of work and empowering the person, within the new environment of Industry 5.0.
Including this new contribution will have an impact both in the production centers, as well as in the technology providers, as well as in the training centers. However, what we must not lose sight of is that the true evolution is in the intelligence that we must put in to act with criteria and reach 5.0.