Uniting man and machine: an interview with Universal Robots’ Jürgen von Hollen


When discussing the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its consequences for manufacturing, many focus on the cost efficiency involved. However, Universal Robots is changing this discussion by putting human workers at the centre of automation and robotics.

Its collaborative robots, also known as cobots, are designed to enhance human workers’ lives rather than replace their job roles; building a more sustainable, productive and happier workforce as a result. Tech for Life recently spoke with Jürgen von Hollen, President of Universal Robots, to discuss this game-changing approach.

What is Universal Robots’ vision and purpose?

Universal Robots’ vision statement is about empowering people. What we’ve witnessed over the past 20-30 years is that many manufacturers have focused on taking humans out of the factory – out of production. In doing so, they’re understating the importance of the human. They see humans as a cost. Universal Robots wants to move beyond this and redfine what efficiency and value is to manufacturers.

What is the solution?

By using cobots, organisations can create the best production environment where humans and robots work well together. When robots are used as a tool to make a human’s life better, they’re free to work on more creative tasks and idea creation. Humans working alongside robots are 85 per cent more efficient because of this.

Did you start the business with this in mind?

Universal Robots’ three founders started the company in 2005 and the idea for it came about when one of them was doing his PhD. He was trying to develop an adaptive robot for his thesis and realised it was a challenge using the traditional robots available on the market at the time.

Plus, there was a gap where the SME market was concerned. They’re largely left out of the robotics race. We wanted to help them become more adaptable and flexible through cobots – and to highlight that robotics isn’t reserved for the big guys.

Of course, Cobots are relevant for the large corporations, and today we supply large operations as well as our core SME market, all over the world.

You have an interesting shared value model, can you explain more?

When Universal Robots started out, it had a focus on SMEs and on a single type of Cobot – a robotic arm. We have a community of 400 developers who work through an app-store-esque experience to create solutions for our cobots. We certify the application to give end-users peace of mind. There are also 700 partners worldwide who sell cobots – this collaboration has enabled us to achieve our current scale, and our global customer base.

This model enabled Universal Robots’ products to be developed across the world, supporting local businesses and economies.  Essentially, we’re helping to create lots of start-ups in every single country. This makes it more sustainable because it’s global, many people are involved and the growth and value is shared across the whole community.

What do you see in the future for robotics and Universal Robots?

For Universal Robots, it’s exciting to see the many innovations that the community are developing. Our focus is now on growing the market and educating SMEs about the benefits of cobots, the need to keep humans at the core of automation and how Cobots can better our lives.

All industries are facing a skills shortage. Automation also leads to more jobs being created. So, there must be a better way to resource and equip human workers with the tools needed to manufacture quicker, safer and be happier when doing so. Investing in cobots in the future won’t even be a question – it’ll be a must.