Automatica 2018 is one of Europe’s largest robotics and automation-related trade shows and a destination for global roboticists and business executives to view new products. It was held June 19-22 in Munich and had 890 exhibitors and 46,000 visitors (up 7% from the previous show).
The International Symposium on Robotics (ISR) was held in conjunction with Automatica with a series of robotics-related keynotes, poster presentations, talks and workshops.
The ISR also had an awards dinner in Munich on June 20th at the Hofbräuhaus, a touristy beer hall and garden with big steins of beer, plates full of Bavarian food and oompah bands on each floor.
Awards were given to:
In addition to the CEO roundtable discussion, IFR President Junji Tsuda previewed the statistics that will appear in this year’s IFR Industrial Robots Annual Report covering 2017 sales data. He reported that 2017 turnover was about $50 billion, that 381,000 robots were sold, a 29% increase over 2016, and that China, which deployed 138,000 robots, was the main driver of 2017’s growth with a 58% increase over 2016 (the US rose only 6% by comparison).
Tsuda attributed the drivers for the 2017 results – and a 15% CAGR forecast for the next few years (25% for service robots) – to be the growing simplification (ease of use) for training robots; collaborative robots; progress in overall digitalization; and AI enabling greater vision and perception.
During the CEO Roundtable discussion, panel moderator Ken Fouhy asked where each CEO thought we (and his company) would be five years from now.
In relation to jobs, all panel members remarked that the next 30 years would see dramatic changes in new jobs net yet defined as present labor retires and skilled labor shortages force governments to invest in retraining.
In relation to AI, panel members said that major impact would be felt in the following ways:
The panel members also outlined current challenges for AI:
I was at Automatica from start to finish, seeing all aspects of the show, attending a few ISR keynotes, and had interviews and talks with some very informative industry executives. Here are some of my takeaways from this year’s Automatica and those conversations:
An exec from Daimler AG, gave a talk about Mercedes Benz’s use of robotics. He said that they have 50 models and at least 500 different grippers. Yet humans with two hands could do every one of those tasks, albeit with superhuman strength in some cases. He welcomed the years of testing of YuMi’s two-armed robots because it’s the closest to what they need yet it is still nowhere near what a two-handed person can do, hence his plea to gripper makers to offer two hands in a flexible device that performs like a two-handed person, and be intuitive in how it learns to do its various jobs.
Enrico Krog Iversen was the CEO of Universal Robots from 2008 until 2016 when it sold to Teradyne. Since then he has invested in and cultivated three companies (OnRobot, Perception Robotics and OptoForce) which he merged together to become OnRobot A/S. Iversen is the CEO of the new entity. With this foundation of sensors, a growing business in grippers and integrating UR and MiR systems, and a promise to acquire a vision and perception component, Iversen foresees building an entity where everything that goes on a robot can be acquired from his company and it will have a single intuitive user interface. This latter aspect, a single intuitive interface for all, is a very convenient feature that users request but can’t often find.
Martin Hägele, Head of the Robotics and Assistive Systems Department at Fraunhofer IPA in Stuttgart, advocated that there is a transformation coming where end-of-arm devices will increasingly include advanced sensing, more actuation, and user interaction. It seems logical. The end of the robot arm is where all the action is — the sensors, cameras, handling devices and the item to be processed. Times have changed from when robots were blind and being fed by expensive positioning systems; the end of the arm is where all the action is at.
“We are convinced that industrial gripping will change radically in the coming years,” said Schunk CEO Henrik Schunk. “Smart grippers will interact with the user and their environment. They will continuously capture and process data and independently develop the gripping strategy in complex and changing environments and do so faster and more flexibly than man ever could.”
“As part of our digitalization initiative, we have set ourselves the target of allowing systems engineers and integrators to simulate entire assembly systems in three-dimensional spaces and map the entire engineering process from the design through to the mechanics, electrics and software right up to virtual commissioning in digitalized form, all in a single system. Even experienced designers are amazed at the benefits and the efficiency effects afforded by engineering with Mechatronics Concept Designer,” said Schunk in relation to Schunk’s OEM partnership with Siemens PLM Software, the provider of the simulation software.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said: “The world is in a massive transformation which can be seen as an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. The computing fabric is getting more distributed and more ubiquitous. Micro-controllers are appearing in everything from refrigerators to drills – every factory is going to have millions of sensors – thus computing is becoming ubiquitous and that means data is getting generated in large amounts. And once you have that, you use AI to reason over that data to give yourself predictive power – analytical power – power to automate things.”
Certainly the first or second thing sales people talked about at Automatica was AI, IoT and Industry 4.0. “It’s all coming together in the next few years,” they said. But they didn’t say whether businesses would open their systems to the cloud, or stream data to somebody else’s processor, or connect to an offsite analytics platform, or do it all onboard and post process the analytics.
Although the strategic goals for implementing IoT are different country by country (as can be seen in the interesting chart above from Forbes), there’s no doubt that businesses plan to spend on adding IoT. This can be seen in the black and blue chart on the right where the three big vertical bars on the left of the chart denote Discrete Manufacturing, Transportation and Logistics.
As at any show, there were pretty girls flaunting products they knew nothing about, giveaways of snacks, food, coffees and gimmicks, and loads of talk about deep learning and AI for products not yet available for viewing of fully understood by the speaker.
Kuka, in a booth far, far away from their main booth (where they were demonstrating their industrial, mobile and collaborative robotics product line including their award-winning LBR Med robot), was showing a 5′ high concept humanoid robot with a big screen and a stylish 18″ silver cone behind the screen. It looked like an airport or store guide. When I asked what it did I was told that it was the woofer for the sound system and the robot didn’t do anything – it was one of many concept devices they were reviewing.
Nevertheless, Kuka had a 4′ x 4′ brochure which didn’t show or even refer to any of the concept robots they showed. Instead it was all hype about what it might do sometime in the future: purify air, be a gaming console, have an “underhead projector”, HiFi speaker, camera, coffee and wellness head and “provide robotic intelligence that will enrich our daily lives.”