Science fiction often portrays robots on the extreme ends of the spectrum: helpful and ready to learn and serve, or dangerous and preparing to take over jobs—and perhaps the world. Luckily, that fiction isn’t the reality.

The evolution of robotics has only just begun. Robots are no longer just difficult-to-program immobile units on the side of a conveyor that can perform only a single task. They now come in all sizes, shapes and capabilities. Many are mobile and easy to program. But still, can they really benefit the human workforce?

Collaborative robots, called cobots, have become a helpful, vital solution for many businesses. They can be used for dangerous or dirty jobs, as well as fill the gap left by tasks that are too small or too boring for humans to perform. Cox Container, a plastics blow molding manufacturer, needed such tasks performed and sought a solution with Sawyer, a cobot from Rethink Robotics.

Cox Container had difficulty finding and retaining employees for certain jobs, particularly a work cell that required two employees to pack bottles. It was difficult to sync the pace of work within the cell, which alternated between requiring two employees and only needing one. Sawyer alleviates this problem. The cobot assists one employee in the cell with packaging, which frees the other employee to work in a different area of the factory.