Automate 2024 is highlighting the transformative impact of automation across all sectors.

Automate, the flagship educational conference and tradeshow for robotics and automation professionals, has returned to Chicago for the first time in five years. The event showcases latest solutions in cutting-edge robotics, vision, artificial intelligence (AI), motion control, and related automation technologies. In this interview, Jeff Burnstein, President, Association for Advancing Automation (A3), discusses the key trends the audience are seeing at Automate this week and how AI is heralding a new era of automation that promises to reshape the landscape of industries. Burnstein also serves on the Executive Board of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) and is the 2023 recipient of the Engelberger Award for Leadership, widely considered the “Nobel Prize of Robotics.”

Tech Briefs: One of the standout trends for 2024 is the deeper integration of AI capabilities with robotic process automation solutions. Will the audience be seeing new applications of robotics enabled by AI at Automate 2024?

Jeff Burnstein, President, Association for Advancing Automation (A3). (Image: A3)

Jeff Burnstein: Yes, AI-enabled automation is one of the main themes at this year’s Automate, reflecting our commitment to showcasing the forefront of technological innovation. Our exhibitors, conference sessions, and dedicated show theater will highlight new applications of robotics enhanced by AI. Attendees can expect to see state-of-the-art demonstrations of how AI integration is pushing the boundaries of robotic capabilities, leading to more sophisticated, efficient, and adaptable automation solutions.

In addition, our conference agenda includes over 30 courses that feature AI trends and technologies, and we have two half-day courses, our “Introduction to Industrial AI,” and our brand-new “Designing Intelligent Agents” course. Both courses have been developed for companies at the beginning of their AI integration journey, providing valuable insights into how AI can address specific challenges and improve operational efficiencies.

Tech Briefs: Generative AI is heralding a new era of automation that promises to reshape the landscape of industries. What are the risks and opportunities for Gen AI in manufacturing automation?

Burnstein: We are already seeing simple, but powerful, use cases, such as using AI systems to give workers easy access to equipment manuals or repair procedures with just a few text prompts. Generative AI is also being used to optimize the design process or help with predictive maintenance and other plant optimizations. It’s also helping build better simulations, allowing companies to try out their solutions virtually before building them in the real world.

Of course, while the potential of GenAI spans significant societal benefits, such as pioneering new treatments for diseases, addressing labor shortages across industries, and advancing sustainability efforts, it is not without its challenges. Risks such as the potential misuse of technology and biases in AI training data necessitate careful consideration and responsible management to fully harness GenAI's capabilities for positive impact.

Tech Briefs: Besides AI, what are the other key trends the audience should be excited about seeing at Automate this week?

Burnstein: Automate attendees will be treated to a wealth of insights across the full spectrum of automation. In addition to AI, some of the exciting trends to look out for include:

Ease-of-Use Automation is Accelerating Adoption and ROI: How no-code and low-code robotics are making it easier to deploy solutions than ever before.

Advancements in Humanoid Robotics: What was once considered science fiction is becoming reality with cutting-edge humanoid robots.

Mobile and Collaborative Robots Driving Industrial Innovation: Mobile robots and collaborative robots are driving a new era of flexible automation.

Addressing Workforce Shortages to Maintain Profitability: Automation is providing companies with a path to success despite workforce shortages.

Tech Briefs: Cobots and AMRs were prominent at last year’s Automate. Are you expecting more companies to demonstrate their capabilities in these areas?

Burnstein: Collaborative and mobile robots are helping companies add flexibility into their environments without some of the cost and complexity of traditional manufacturing technologies. The show floor will again feature AMR technology demonstrations, where you can see companies showcase their innovations. In addition, collaborative robots are increasingly being used for tasks such as welding and machine tending, which opens up all kinds of new opportunities for small- and medium-sized companies to take advantage of technological advancements in this area.

Tech Briefs: Manufacturers of all sizes are looking to implement smart automation to stay ahead of the curve. Despite this opportunity, many engineers remain unsure where to apply automation. What advice do you have for those who are getting started?

Burnstein: The Automate Conference is a great place to start. We offer courses on: Getting Started With Industrial Robots; Designing Small Automated Systems; Machine Vision Made Simple; Introduction to Robot Safety; and Automation 301: Improving Key Steps in Your Automation Process. And there are so many more classes just like that to choose from.

Tech Briefs: Automation is having a transformative impact on all sectors including manufacturing, healthcare, retail, and others. What would AI and automation look like in the next five years?

Burnstein: In the next five years we will see many advancements in AI. This is very exciting as AI holds the promise of helping people in so many ways. We need to keep in mind that the goal of AI, robotics, and related automation technologies is to augment the skills of people, not replace them. AI is a tool to help people achieve more. With labor shortages plaguing every industry, AI can help fill the gaps. Additionally, AI-enabled robots can help people in need of care, whether in assisted living facilities, hospitals, or even in their homes. Though all of these advances may not fully be achieved in the next five years, I expect to see great progress in that time frame.

For the complete conference agenda, visit .