With robotics industry sales up more than 50 percent last year, attendees at the Automate 2011 show in Chicago earlier this week had good reason to be upbeat. Despite the tragic events in Japan, unrest in the Middle East, and climbing energy prices, markets around the world continued to forecast an economic recovery—one in which robotics would play a vital role.
Robonaut 2, a NASA-GM collaboration, heralds a time when robots will work side by side with humans, even in the most hazardous environments.
As Jeff Burnstein, president of the Robotic Industries Association, the annual event’s organizer, noted in an essay prior to Automate’s opening, “Traditional barriers to automate are falling fast. It’s no longer too costly or complex, no longer is automation just for large companies or those with vast internal engineering resources.” Indeed, he said, “Now is the time to automate.”
The second-day keynote presentation on the NASA-GM collaboration that produced ROBONAUT 2, the humanoid robot that flew aboard the International Space Station, set the tone for how robots would shape our future. Close by, in the exhibition hall, more than 350 exhibitors came to the McCormick Place Convention Center to show attendees—who were mainly from the manufacturing sector—how robots could make their companies run faster, cheaper, and better.
Fanuc’s heavy lifting robots will open more industries to automation.
Most of the big names were in attendance, among them Denso, Kawasaki, and Motoman, whose black jack playing robot was a hit of the show. Fanuc brought what it said was the world’s largest and strongest robot. The mechanical arm, more than a story high, was a show centerpiece, capable of lifting more than 1,300 kilos.
Event organizers hoped the March 21-23 gathering would be a catalyst for investments in areas such as machine vision and motion control. And companies touting their machine-vision technologies were especially in evidence, including Sony, which brought along a line of high-speed cameras, and FLIR, whose night-vision systems are familiar to those of us who watch the Discovery Channel.
Motoman’s Dexter Bot reveals why it’s unwise to bet against the robotics industry.
It wasn’t all business at Automate, however. Adept’s autonomous mobile platforms wondered among those visiting the company’s large booth and asking in a HAL-like voice if anyone had seen their robotic companions—yet another highlight of a show that may be remembered as a hallmark of an important new era in the robotics industry.Read More