Collaborative robots and cybersecurity concerns for manufacturers

Some collaborative robots have cybersecurity flaws or weaknesses, which undermines the entire point of having a robot work together with humans in the first place. Manufacturers need to take the issue seriously and system integrators should ensure safe operating conditions.

10/31/2017


Image courtesy: Bob Vavra, CFE MediaCollaborative robots, or "cobots," are designed to work safely alongside humans in a number of ways from the laboratory to the warehouse floor to the production line. Robot makers go to great lengths to ensure these robotic systems are safe to work alongside humans.

Recent research has shown that some collaborative robots have cybersecurity flaws, which undermines the entire point of a collaborative robot and putting human workers at risk. Cybersecurity needs to be taken very seriously when it comes to collaborative robots. Why is it so serious? Is this different than cybersecurity in industrial robots?

The collaborative robot cybersecurity problem

With industrial robots, poor cybersecurity poses a major problem to the parts being produced. They could be produced just a millimeter or two off from the required specifications, causing part failure down the line. They could also be forced to stretch beyond their capabilities and break, or another of other things.

If someone hacks into a robot, they basically have full control. This presents many dangers with industrial robots, as it does with collaborative robots. But the two dangers are slightly different, since collaborative robots are meant to work alongside people. It's human laborers that are at most risk when a collaborative robot is compromised.

The cybersecurity solution for collaborative robots

Much of this responsibility lies with the manufacturer of the robot, so it's wise to keep an eye on which manufacturers are taking cybersecurity seriously. Outside of them, the robot system integrators also have a major responsibility to ensure safe operating conditions.

For example, the system integrators should limit the force and power of collaborative robot clamps, just to prepare for a worst-case scenario. They can also limit momentum and tool orientation to further improve safety.

A system integrator plays an important part in the safety of collaborative robots. While a robot manufacturer has to provide the foundation for a secure robot, a system integrator can still improve safety in other important ways.

Cybersecurity for collaborative robots has recently emerged as a vital part of collaborative robot deployment. Vulnerabilities in cybersecurity undermine the entire purpose of collaborative robots and put people in harm's way.

This article originally appeared on the Robotics Online Blog. Robotic Industries Association (RIA) is a part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3). A3 is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.



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