The Future of Robotics at Automate 2019

MSR students and staff recently attended North America's largest showcase of automation industry trends and leading-edge technology.

By Matthew Elwin

I had the opportunity to experience the Automate 2019 Show and Conference earlier this month, and the first thing that struck me was the sheer size of the event. It's impossible not to be taken in by the scale of the event.

Automate is not only a huge industrial automation trade show, but it is actually North America's largest showcase of automation industry trends, leading-edge technology, and business innovation. More than 20,000 people attended this year's event, which was held in Chicago's McCormick Place and included more than 500 exhibitors displaying all types of new technologies.

When you walk into Automate, you see robots everywhere. There were robots polishing cars. There were robots playing musical instruments. There were robots serving beer. There were robots picking items up from one conveyor belt and moving them to another belt.

There are also so many products available to help people automate their factory or warehouse, and they seemingly all were represented, from vendors displaying conveyor belts and shelving to forklifts and motors.

Some of our students in the Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program were able to take in Automate, and I hope that they were able to see how refined industrial robotics actually are. The robots move fast and precisely. While this makes them productive, it also makes them dangerous for humans to be around.

One growing trend that I saw represented at Automate was the move toward more collaborative robots. A number of major companies have been working on these types of robots because they are safer for humans to work around. From an educational institution perspective, these robots are desirable for students because it enables them to be closer to the robot as they work on their projects.

Before I attended Automate, I was confident automation would continue to play an increasing role in industries and throughout society in the coming years. Now, not only do I believe that, but I've seen firsthand how it will happen.

 

Matthew Elwin is the Associate Director of Northwestern University's Master of Science in Robotics program.