By Ix Lee, Head of Sales SEA and Oceania, Universal Robots

The turn of the year was when Artificial Intelligence (AI) really became a household term. Following the meteoric rise of ChatGPT, almost everyone is now introduced to the phenomenon of AI. In fact, government agencies in the Southeast Asian region are harnessing its power to assist its workers.

Pair – a trial writing and research bot based on ChatGPT, was developed by Singapore’s GovTech to generate quick responses for over 4,000 public officers, showcasing AI’s growing significance in today’s working landscape. Computer processing has taken giant leaps forward in recent years, and we now have the processing power to handle the vast amounts of information and data required for AI technology, propelling its ascension in the workplace.

While chatbots have only started to change how we communicate and gather information on the internet, AI technologies are already making a real-life difference in another arena – manufacturing.

Image: Universal Robots

Here are four examples of how AI is impacting and benefitting industrial automation today in automating complex and diverse tasks, even in unstructured environments.

1. Enabling a human-like lens
Robots have always struggled with identifying and handling disordered objects like parts in a bin, unlike humans who can easily differentiate and handle them without disturbing other objects. However, AI is changing the game.

Apera AI’s ‘4D Vision’ technology is an example of AI revolutionising the field by giving collaborative robots (cobots) the ability to perceive objects like humans do. This technology enhances robot performance, particularly in bin-picking applications, making the manufacturing process faster and more efficient.

‘4D Vision’ combines scanners and cameras to identify the most easily accessible objects and guide the cobot on the quickest and safest route to handle them. This technology provides the cobot with pose estimation and path planning data, ensuring that it can reach its goal without any collisions.

2. Eliminating the need to teach and programme handling
AI is commonly thought of as technology that can make decisions on its own. The kit from Robominds exemplifies this, as it allows for autonomous tasks in the logistics industry. This kit is ideal for kitting, order picking, and de-palletising.

Typically, automation solutions in manufacturing are programmed to handle specific objects with set dimensions. While these solutions can be adjusted for variations, they still require human input to instruct the robot on which objects to handle and what to do with them.

However, with camera-based AI technology, robots can pick up objects of any shape or size. This eliminates the need for time-consuming teaching or programming, giving customers more flexibility to change the objects being handled without reprogramming.

3. Precision in moving parts 
AI enables industrial robots to adapt to variations in position, shape, or movement – vital components in a successful manufacturing line. For example, MIRAI from Micropsi Industries can generate robot movements in real-time instead of relying on pre-programmed measurements. In turn, this allows the robot to perform tasks like assembling, gripping, screw driving, or testing, even if the position of machines or objects changes.

Another example is Inbolt’s AI-based Inbrain technology, which also handles variations and moving parts. It processes large amounts of 3D data quickly and identifies the position and orientation of a workpiece. It then adjusts the robot’s trajectory in real-time. This makes it suitable for tasks such as assembling, handling, finishing, and testing.

AI can also be used to give robots the touch senses of robots. The AI control software from AICA enables the robot to learn precise tasks such as assembly of gears, even when the task varies every time. 

4. AI, the lifelong learner
Lastly, the biggest upside of AI in industrial automation is that it is constantly improving – automatically. The more a robot is working, the more data the AI application is gathering, and with this data the underlying algorithm can continuously optimise, adjust, and improve the robot’s performance.

This level of self-learning means that, a manufacturer’s automation solution will improve by the day – without having to spend time and money on updates or upgrades to the solution.

Flexible and simple, with the best to come

All in all, the benefits of combining AI and cobots bring a massive advantage for manufacturing. Manufacturers using cobot automation to address labour shortages, improve employee well-being, and increase quality and productivity can now tackle complex tasks in unstructured environments.

AI products provide manufacturers with flexibility, simplicity, and improved quality and reliability. It is clear AI is already making an impact on industrial automation, but the best part is we are only just scratching the surface. The future might be here, but the best it yet to come.

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