The Internet of Robotic Things

As manufacturing companies around the world embrace new approaches to automation, the robotics industry is expanding beyond even the most optimistic predictions. In the first quarter of 2016, North American robot sales grew 7% over the same period in 2015, totaling more than $400 million in orders.  Although China maintains its position as the #1 customer for advanced robotic devices, the industry is maturing as a driver of innovation all around the world.

Two cutting edge trends are converging to power the explosive growth of interest in robotics.

Industry 4.0 – Can a Factory Run Itself?

The concept of the smart factory relies, first and foremost, on sophisticated sensor technology fully integrated into the production environment – implemented in such a way that personnel can respond quickly to changes that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Tomorrow’s smart factories will collect dozens of times more production information than is available to manufacturers today, allowing leaders to pinpoint failures and process improvement opportunities down to the second.

This information-rich environment, supported by cloud networks in which industrial sensors are “shared” across multiple applications, is the foundation on which tomorrow’s factory will be built. Only once it’s in place can autonomous, self-learning industrial robots reach their full potential.

Cloud 2.0: The Internet of Robotic Things (IoRT)

Once all this information has finally been captured, how can it be put to use?

Dan Kara, director of robotics research for ABI Research, has a solution: what he calls the 'Internet of Robotic Things.' Instead of collecting and monitoring performance data for passive system optimization, the IoRT will take a more active approach: synthesizing data from a full spectrum of sources and using machine intelligence to make real decisions.

Once a course of action is decided upon, robotic devices need ways to execute in the real world. Up until recently, this seemed like a virtually insurmountable engineering challenge. Now, new advances in machine vision, actuation, and grasping are making it possible for robotic devices to manipulate the environment in ways that were previously unthinkable.

Just as impressive, the robots – now being developed and tested on a smaller scale than ever before – are increasingly operating within the wider plant environment instead of being confined to safety cages. Precision sensors again deserve much of the credit for allowing robots, specifically collaborative robots, to interact safely with equipment and materials side by side with their human colleagues. If you are new to the concept of collaborative robots, you can download our free whitepaper.