Over time, robotics has evolved in the following stages:
- Industrial robots – were installed in factories and designed to complete repetitive tasks autonomously. The machines were often in cages and had no human contact.
- Collaborative robots (cobots) – could operate without cages and in close proximity to humans. Collaborative robots often complete professional services such as those in operations in healthcare, etc. Cobots also refer to consumer robots that operate in the home and complete tasks such as cleaning and other assistive tasks.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) – software-based robots with sophisticated sensors and connectivity. Most people are familiar with the classic ‘pop up’ chat-bot installed on many websites these days. That is one example of an AI robot.
With industrial robots, most of the tasks are controlled, predictable and automated, meaning that the safety regulations don’t stretch past most of the machinery directives that apply. With artificial intelligence, however, there is often no direct human control, and the robot can exhibit intelligent behaviour and self-learning, which poses a whole other scope of safety requirements that need to be taken into account. A cobot sits somewhere in between the two. At the essence of all robots is knowledge-driven automation to complete tasks that humans either cannot complete or would rather not complete, thus increasing general productivity and efficiency.
The European Union (EU) safety legislation poses general rules that can apply to robots. There are mandatory safety requirements involving technical specifications in order to meet EU laws or European harmonised standards. The manufacturer is responsible for these safety measures to be complied with and implemented in the design and production phase of developing the product. CE marking is issued after the relevant EU legislation has been adhered to. The legislation can differ depending on what type of robot is in question.
The main legislative framework for the safety of machinery is the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EU, which is the blanket framework for all machinery being placed onto the European product market. Almost all robots would have to adhere to this regulation first and foremost.
Another applicable framework is the Radio Equipment Directive 2014/53/EU, which is the legislative framework for the safety, interoperability, interconnectivity, and efficient use of the spectrum of radio equipment between 0 and 3000 GHz. This directive would apply to any robots that have sensors or spectrums by which they are receiving and transmitting the information. Most cobots and AI robots would need to adhere to this directive.
There are several other directives that may apply to a robot being placed on the European market, including the pending updated legal framework that will apply to artificial intelligence products. It is essential that businesses are clear on the directives that will apply to their products in the design phase to avoid any unwanted issues.
Once all of these steps have been completed, the product will be eligible for the European CE mark and able to enter the marketplace.
If you or your business require more information about robotics and compliance, contact us today.