The Automate Show brought thousands of robots to Chicago this week. The robots were serving ice cream and beer, playing music, and in one case, boxing. They were wowing attendees with their speed and service, musical skills (the KUKA ones wore bows for their performance), and fight demos. Machine vision and image analysis was also on display. One system tested your drawing skills: did your picture most resemble a cat, dog, person, or camera? (Apparently the cat I drew resembled a person. The company told me it needed longer whiskers to be more convincing.)

In addition to these fun demonstrations, the robotic industry is growing in industries such as aerospace and automotive to composites and electronics, according to the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM). During his session, Arnie Kravitz, chief technical officer of ARM, described how robots will affect the future of manufacturing, offering a competitive advantage and boosting performance of companies around the world. Collaborative and commercial robots are especially poised to take off.

The growth of the robotics industry along with artificial intelligence and Industry 4.0 were common themes. The rise of collaborative robots was evident during a session by Amanda Nixon, an engineer on the collaborative robot team at FANUC, as she described the use of collaborative robots in high mix, low volume applications. These applications can often accommodate slower cycle times.

Kel Guerin, chief technical officer of Ready Robotics, showed that beer-pouring robots have been around for a while when he played a clip of the Unimate robot doing just that in 1961. During his session, he explained today’s top trends: data-driven AI for autonomous actions in the factory, new manipulators, virtual and augmented reality, and advanced simulation tools. In order to accelerate the adoption of automation, he said companies should build towards a common platform and interoperability, and focus on usability.

As the automation field continues to take off, so as the Automate Show and Conference. The biennial event has grown to more than 500 exhibitors, over 20,000 attendees and 1,000 paid conference registrants. The next Automate will take place in Detroit May 17-20, 2021.