FRIDA is a dual-arm robot under development by ABB to work alongside humans.
Factory workers at mid-sized electronics companies may find themselves working alongside a robotic companion named FRIDA with human-like arms that are able to grasp and manipulate small parts.
A prototype of the robot was introduced earlier this month at an industrial trade show in Europe by ABB, the Swiss-based power and automation technology giant.
FRIDA, which has a torso and arms akin to those of an adult, is intended to join assembly lines in the fast-changing electronics sector currently populated with flesh-and-bone humans.
Due to the pace of new product introductions and uncertainties in volume, according to ABB, this sector has been reluctant to use robots, which tend to be bulky, dangerous to work around, and require reprogramming whenever the next greatest thing is introduced.
The small size and weight of FRIDA, which stands for "Friendly Robot for Industrial Dual-arm Assembly," make it easily portable without mechanical support such as a forklift. In addition, it is easy to safely slot in next to humans, according to ABB.
FRIDA's arms are padded and each has a gripper for grasping small parts. It "demonstrates agility of movement and can reach human cycle times while working in narrow spaces without risk of cable entanglement," the company says.
ABB maintains that the robot is intended to complement human labor, not replace it, though the technology would allow for scale-up of automation at factories currently turned off by the high costs and relative inflexibility of industrial robots.
The company is testing several prototypes in a range of industrial settings. Among the key remaining challenges is figuring out how to engineer and efficiently reprogram the systems to perform different tasks.
Information on an actual cost for the robot is unknown at the moment, though ABB says they aim to keep costs down so that a company can quickly get a return on its investment.
FRIDA is joining a race in the robotics world to fill the niche of electronics company assembly lines, IEEE Spectrum reports. Other players include the dual-arm Motoman SDA10D from Japan's Yaskawa and the Workerbot from the German firm pi4_robotics.
The Motoman and Workerbot are both larger than FRIDA and need more sensor safeguards when working around humans such as fencing, IEEE notes.
With all this robotic competition for space on the assembly lines, one thing seems certain: greater automation, freeing up humans for other jobs, assuming they can find one.
More on the robo-future:
- Your new co-worker may be a robot
- Japan looks to a robot future
- Female robot to hit Japan catwalk
- What happens when good robots go 'bad'?
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).