Robot, Cobot or Sobot?

We live in a world of robots, whether we know it or not. . .

From the machines that work in manufacturing to the chatbots that deal with customer queries, robots are becoming increasingly integral to society. The problem is, how do humans know when they’re interacting with a robot, and how can they tell what kind of bot they’re interacting with? Robots can be broadly split into two categories – Cobots and Sobots.

So, what’s the difference?

Baxter Robot
Baxter from ReThink Robotics


A cobot is, a mechanical co-worker. Cobots work in production lines, undertaking manual labour. Baxter is a cobot that was created by Rethink Robotics for use in the industrial sector. The model is compatible with a range of different accessories in order to perform a wide variety of manual tasks.


Pepper robot
Pepper the social robot from Softbank Robotics


A sobot, on the other hand, is a social robot. Social robots are built with human-to-robot interaction as their primary function, and so they are developed with the ability to talk, detect emotions and provide entertainment. An example of a sobot would be Pepper, the four-foot tall humanoid made by Japanese firm SoftBank Robotics. Pepper is a day-to-day companion that has recently been adopted in the workplace as a friendly assistant.

Although they’re quite different in focus, there’s clear overlap between cobots and sobots. Both work alongside human employees, and both can complete manual tasks. Both are customisable, and both are becoming more advanced. Cobots, for example, can now be built with Artificial Intelligence software, making them increasingly interactive and therefore more like sobots. Developers are also expanding the capabilities of social robots so that they can actively help people rather than just keep them entertained. Despite this, the main difference between the two remains – sobots interact directly with consumers, whereas cobots work behind the scenes.

Cobot or sobot?
If a company wants to adopt advanced robotics within the working environment, they’ll want to invest in the right kind of tech. What type of robot they need entirely depends on what kind of business they are. If the business is mainly focused on factory-based production and manufacturing, then cobots are better suited to that kind of environment. However, if a business is involved with direct customer interaction (such as a bank or a hotel) then sobots would be more beneficial. At the moment, sobots deliver a better customer experience because they are built to do so. In so far as strengths and weaknesses go, cobots and sobots are broadly similar. They both require outside expertise to run efficiently and they can be costly. This, as well as the continuing wariness about robots in general, has provided barriers to adoption. Despite this, both mechanical co-workers and social robots are becoming more popular, especially as technology improves and prices drop.

How disruptive are robots?
The widespread use of advanced robotics will have knock-on effects that have been endlessly debated by commentators. The infiltration of society by human-hating bots and mass unemployment are among the less optimistic possibilities. . . At the minute though, there seems to be a willingness to accept robots, especially in the domestic sphere. Pepper, for instance, sold 1,000 units a month last year. Cobots are transforming production and manufacturing, whilst sobots are gradually changing the way that society views bots. The advent of self-teaching robots will open up a whole new can of worms, as cobots and sobots start to interact and share their knowledge to the point that they are only distinguishable by hardware.

There was once a very clear divide between cobots and sobots, but now the differences are less clear as all robots become more capable. Although a cobot on the factory floor may never have direct contact with a customer, it will have the social capabilities to interact with a human worker. Likewise, although a sobot may never work on a complicated piece of machinery, it will be able to fetch its human companion a drink – which is pretty impressive as it is. Right now, developers and marketers are still trying to figure out how to make society (which includes both consumers and workers) comfortable with the presence of advanced robots. If adoption rates are anything to go by, they could be on the right track.

Could your company benefit from advanced robotics? Can humans and robots really work in harmony? Will self-teaching robots remove the distinction between ‘cobot’ and ‘sobot’? Share your thoughts and opinions.