Reported by Russell Nickerson, MassRobotics Engagement Liaison

A3’s Automate Show in Detroit was an amazing experience that brings the Automation and Robotics industry together. As Engagement Liaison for MassRobotics this conference season has been busy as ever, rebounding post COVID. It was my first time in Detroit and the Motor City certainly is revving like an engine. I’ve heard the giant convention center gets filled but it is no joke, the entire massive space is filled with aisles labeled 100 – 7000. MassRobotics had a booth in the first row corner, which was an easy location to point to : “Go as far as you can go in the corner near the AMR demo area.” As an organization that does so many things, it is easy to make an uninitiated visitor dizzy. 

The MassRobotics AMR Interop Standard (and AMR standards overall) are on the minds of many industry leaders wanting to diversify their egg baskets with different AMR solutions. MassRobotics had a panel and live demonstration with Daniel Theobold (Mekable), Florian Pestoni (inOrbit) and Patty Katsaros (Locus Robotics). There were announcements that the next revision of the MassRobotics Interop Standard is in the works. Contributors are proud to provide the industry with a piece of the puzzle to connect multiple technologies and systems.

The MassRobotics Booth had a strong presence with our residents Flexxbotics, Ubiros and Opteran. When we first showed up, we were all wondering if we were too in the corner or out of the way. It certainly was not the case. I was joking with Tyler Bouchard from Flexxbotics that he was having so many interviews that he should get a makeup person and have an autograph session. Flexxbotics has a solution demo that caught the eye of many with a Universal Robots robot interfacing with a HAAS CNC controller to cycle parts. Ubiros presented another solution that many food handling attendees found interesting with their soft electric gripper solution. Opteran highlighted their insect-inspired lightweight AI solution that runs on the lowest cost hardware.   

It was surreal bumping into familiar faces at every turn, even right at the front door. Scalable Robotics lucked out having a booth immediately at a front entrance. Their click welding is needed in the industry where it can be hard to find qualified welders but also make welders jobs so much easier and consistent. Chris Aden of LMI (Formerly FringeAI) presented on AI vision processing approach. Pittsburgh Robotics Network was also representing their region in force with amazing startups such as the winner of the Phoenix Contact Startup Competition, ESTAT. We also ran into friends from Silicon Valley Robotics. The Intrinsic and InOrbit after parties (on separate days respectively) were a great way to finally sit down after a long day on our feet, as well as try local Detroit style pizza and beers. 

Of course, we owe the industry itself to the titans that bring the fundamentals, large and small to the table. We made sure to swing by (or at least try to poke our heads into the busy booths!) our attending partners at FESTO, maxon, TD Cowen, Mitsubishi Electric Automation, AMD, Harmonic Drive, Locus Robotics, Universal Robots, and Ruland Manufacturing.

Our Director of Community and Events, Colleen Anderson and I had the honor of attending the Engelberger Award dinner. We congratulate Roberta Nelson Shea and Jeff Bernstein on being recipients of the award this year. If anyone (like myself) felt imposter syndrome just being in the room with the highest luminaries of the robotics industry, Jeff humbled us all with his speech and reminded me that we all play diverse and important roles to make robotics and automation succeed. Just a few months ago I recalled Roberta Nelson Shea working with a cohort at the MassRobotics event space for a week to hash out the very safety standards she pushed through to improve the industry. The standards she worked on were the very standards she was receiving an award for that night.   

Often people reflect in a business sense on the success of a show perhaps on how many leads or deals that were made on or off the floor. I’m a little more sentimental, nostalgic and (as some people put it) weird. I’d have to say a special moment for me was seeing an original Unimate at the Kawasaki booth. I remember as a child getting books on robotics and it would have a grainy black and white photo of that very robot, which Joseph Engelberger pioneered and pushed hard to create the industry that fills a massive conventional hall and factories around the world. That robot really gave perspective to how far the industry has come and the scale of where it can go. Another albeit perhaps humorous moment that stuck out to my visit to Detroit was something unrelated to the show. Across from our lodging was an abandoned building with broken windows. Similar to the old Unimate, I thought it looked cool but wondered why it wasn’t being demolished and replaced. Well, the next day they began demolition. Walking to the show in the morning, there was a moment where the water misters used to keep dust down created a rainbow in front of the hydraulic demolition equipment. Of course, get in the “That’s so Detroit” quip, but this resembled a moment where old and new are dancing, creating and growing with machines and people working together.

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