OnRobot Takes First Place in Industrial Automation Category at 2019 LEAP Awards with Modular Robotics Integration Platform

December 05, 2019 by Robin Mitchell

The LEAP awards represent a chance for professionals to learn about promising new technological advancements. Here's a look at what they had to offer the automation space this year.

This year marks the second anniversary of the LEAP (Leadership in Engineering Achievement Program) Awards for electrical and mechanical engineering. This year's winner in the Industrial Automation category was OnRobot, which was recognized for its work on multi-functional robotics that stand to streamline industrial processes.


OnRobot's Mix-and-Match Approach to Robotics

While there are many honorable mentions at the LEAP Awards that could all be highly beneficial to automation in general, one winner in particular sticks out: what OnRobot calls the "One-System Solution to Simplify Automation."

This system can be thought of as the IBM PC when it comes to compatibility in the robotic world. OnRobot's robotic systems can be constructed from generic parts that are designed to interlock together. These robotic systems can then be controlled from the same unified platform that removes the need for specialized software and parts for each robot.


Mix-and-match robotics. Image from OnRobot


This system could dramatically help to reduce costs in maintenance and integration, improve efficiency, and make training technicians far simpler. The quick-change connection systems allow for different gripers and sensors to be attached in a process that now takes hours instead of days.


What Is LEAP?

The LEAP Awards is a competition hosted by three engineering magazines and network resource companies who each handle different engineering sectors. EEWorld Online is responsible for connectivity, computing, and power, Fluid Power World is responsible for hydraulics and pneumatics, and Design World is responsible for various manufacturing-related sectors including additive manufacturing, mechanical, motion control, and sensors.

Many different engineering sectors are covered in the LEAP awards but several are of particular importance to the automation community.

Connectivity is focused on connection solutions including Wi-Fi and ethernet while the sector on embedded computers is concerned with microcontrollers and SoCs. The industrial automation sector is mainly concerned with overall solutions. Other important automation sectors including power electronics, software, and switches and sensors.


Rules of Entry

The main goal of LEAP is to get different engineering sectors competing to release products that will help to further technological advances. However, entries must already be commercially available products and have been on the market for at least a year. By doing this, only commercially viable products can be recognized for their contributions to technology as they are, by nature, practical solutions.

The entries must also not have been previously entered into the LEAP awards to ensure that entries are technologically relevant. Any designs submitted to LEAP that are an alteration of a previous design must include substantial design changes. When submitting a design, a basic description of 250 words is required, as well as a high-resolution picture, datasheet, details on any patents, a description of the product's purpose and problems it solves, improvements to previous versions, and an outline as to how it will advance an engineering design.

While the LEAP awards do not offer money prizes, they instead rank designs and offer three levels of recognition: gold, silver, and bronze. Once the competition winners are chosen, they are recognized for their achievements in the field of engineering at an award ceremony in Santa Clara, California, in conjunction with the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum and DeviceTalks West events on December 9th.


An OnRobot pick-and-place robotics demo on display at Automatica 2018. Image from OnRobot


Real-world Products Only!

LEAP is limited by the fact that only commercially-available parts can be submitted; only proven designs are rewarded with recognition. It's possible that the acceptance of concept designs could also be a beneficial addition to the event as it could encourage designers to create new things. On the other hand, this limitation to market-ready products means that everything showcased has a proven ability to help engineers now.

Where the LEAP awards are strongest is that they point out potential designers and engineers of the latest hardware which may otherwise have gone unnoticed and bringing attention to the best hardware on the market. Overall, the LEAP awards provide engineers a chance to show off their products that could inspire additional technological development. For everyone else, they represent a chance to keep up with the latest ideas being released to the market.


Industrial Trends

As we are currently on the eve of Industry 4.0, there are some trends that cannot be ignored. Some of these are represented quite clearly at the LEAP awards.

It is clear that engineers are moving away from complex programming platforms with non-unified hardware working on local networks that rely on old technologies such as Wi-Fi and Ethernet. Automation of tomorrow will definitely move towards unified hardware structures and software platforms that allow for the quick creation of automated processes. This will be supported by 5G-like networks that can offer significant advantages over Wi-Fi including low-latency and the ability for devices to cross cell networks with little effect on reconnection.

Tomorrow's industrial processes will be able to communicate with each other while edge devices can run AI systems to monitor their local environment. However, it is not clear if an industrial site will be unified by a single “brain” that monitors all processes simultaneously or if each process will work by itself and alert nearby processes of potential issues (thereby removing the need for a central controller)—more like a hive colony.