Top takeaways from AUTOMATICA 2014
#6 Bin picking, box moving and mobility
Someday soon mobility solutions will combine with bin picking systems so that extensive space and costly conveyor and material handling systems will no longer be necessary to go from one phase of the manufacturing process to another. Every robot vendor displayed bin picking in their booth. Many described the gripping, vision and collision avoidance software involved "challenging" when responding to the question as to why bin picking isn't more widely adapted.
At the Fraunhofer IPA booth, where they work on innovating new and fine-tuning various aspects of industrial robotics, they were showing a new automated bin picking software system using a robot with two arms. The system is capable of detecting and localizing objects, computing the appropriate grasping points and planning how to remove the part from the bin without collision with other parts or the walls of the bin. The two-armed robot can alternately pick components from the bin and, if necessary, even grip and put them down accurately with its second arm.
#7 SMErobotics and Fraunhofer IPA
SMErobotics, the EU public-private-partnership (PPP) to provide robotic solutions for small and medium-sized enterprises, has defined the need for software improvements such as those achieved by Rethink Robotics and Universal Robots and suggested that it was time to incorporate "smart" and "intuitive" technologies into the robot programming process. The big pitch that SMErobotics makes is that the robot must be plug and play, easy to program, and safe. The contention is that SME will know what needs to be done and won't need an integrator to help them set it up and get it running.
SMErobotics had a booth at AUTOMATICA and along with the Fraunhofer IPA, displayed their work-in-process toward such a new training and robot instruction methodology. It was a slick presentation and very comprehensive albeit it took a personal guide to actually see and understand all that they were showing.
SMErobotics' approach is to provide software components that help plan what is needed. It determines and develops the necessary robot sequences and grasp methods either from CAD data or from physical training of the robot and then generates and graphically displays robot programs to implement those motions and sequences. The software incorporated many new innovations: a tablet interface, sensors and the robot instructed from the same interface, the PC-based control system works on any robot and sensor setup, and the system learns normal robot behavior and detects unexpected deviations. But as slick as it was, it was still on the drawing board and not yet being deployed in the field.
#8 "Robots at Work" series from the Financial Times
Financial Times reporters made the rounds at AUTOMATICA 2014 and crafted a series of 18 stories on the subject of robots and robotics:
(1) Co-workers who toil 24 hours a day; (2) Baxter takes on dull, repetitive tasks; (3) Japan's robot makers under threat; (4) Robots take over Korean operating tables; (5) Managers wanted, must understand robots; (6) Robot makers aim at tech industry; (7) Rockwell reaps big data robotics rewards; (8) Silicon Valley seeks to embrace robotics; (9) Robots: rise of the machines; (10) New robot army in the work place; (11) Festo takes a leap with its robot kangaroo; (12) Softbank offers robots with a human side; (13) How to raise a personable robot; (14) Robot makers told by EU to calm job fears; (15) China overtakes Japan as top robot buyer; (16) BMW robots un-caged and put to work beside staff; (17) South Korean robot lead the world; (18) BMW's mini plant armed with future proof robots. All 18 stories can be secured via this link.
#9 Industry 4.0 gets big push and billions of Euros
On the first day of AUTOMATICA it was announced that The Partnership for Robotics in Europe (SPARC), a public-private partnership of 180 companies and research organizations, is the EU's policy effort to strengthen Europe's global robotics market with the goal of increasing Europe's share of that market to 42% (a boost of €4 billion per year). As part of the project, the EU will invest €700 million and the PPP will invest €2.1 billion.
Application areas emphasized by SPARC include manufacturing, healthcare, home care, agriculture, security, cleaning waste, water and air, transport and entertainment.
SPARC provides €100 million in funding per year for 7 years. By comparison, in the U.S., the National Robotics Initiative program is a one-time grant of $50 million (about 37% of the EU annual funding).
#10 Schunk is everywhere
Every show I visit, every conference I attend, in every lab that I go to, Schunk is almost always there (as they were at AUTOMATICA 2014), sometimes as an exhibitor, other times as a silent participant as their modular arms and grippers are used by others. Their smooth shiny silver and powder blue modular arms with contrasting black and silver grippers can be seen everywhere. This family-owned company has solid products and also gives back to the robotics community. Their annual International Expert Days Service Robotics conference held each year at their factory in Lauffen, Germany is an example.