Trend Watch: Intelligent Automation

« View All

Orignally posted 01/21/2022

We’ve all seen the strides made by companies leaning into the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, robotics and intelligent automation. While not new terms by any means, they do continue to evolve and advance “work” as we know it.

Today, there’s no question that artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are helping to shape and power almost every industry and sector, in some way or another. But what do we really know about the opportunities that come with AI?

In this article, we’ll explore:

Let’s dive in!


The English Oxford Dictionary defines AI as "the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and translation between languages."

Simply put, AI allows machines to be intelligent. While the ultimate goal may be to think and act rationally, or like humans, we still have a ways to go before achieving broad human-like AI. For now, it helps machines understand information and tackle solutions.

With it, machines can process large amounts of data (more than humanly possible), recognize patterns, perform tasks and make predictions or decisions based on the input. Hence, why AI is often used in tandem with automation to streamline, optimize and improve upon workflows.

Common artificial intelligence terms

Artificial intelligence comes with a spectrum and range of techniques—many of which work together. Here are four branches of AI to know when discussing industrial automation:

  • Machine learning (ML) - teaches systems to perform tasks without explicit instructions.
  • Computer vision - focuses on extracting information from video and images.
  • Deep learning (DL) - a form of machine learning inspired by the human brain to solve complex problems.
  • Natural language procession (NLP) – allows machines to understand, analyze and manipulate natural language like text and speech.

Automation vs. intelligent automation vs. AI

Automation is the creation and use of technology to perform tasks with minimal human intervention. Typically, these are routine, predictable or repetitive tasks that have predetermined steps.

Intelligent automation (IA) takes this a step further by adding a layer of intelligence to understand and analyze data for decision-making and problem-solving.

While intelligent automation and artificial intelligence are often used interchangeably, AI is just one form of intelligent automation. IA is the broader term that speaks to the combination of AI and automation technologies like robotic process automation (RPA), for example.


From predicting equipment failure before it’s a problem to testing millions of potential drugs in a lab, companies are unlocking enhanced ways to leverage data and insights, optimize efficiency, boost productivity and decision-making, and even expand career paths.

Let’s look at a few ways AI-powered automation is changing industries—and our futures.

Manipulation and grasping

When it comes to material-handling tasks, the idea of grasping an object might sound easy. But for many robots, this has been a challenge. Thankfully, machine learning is being applied to robots to help with these very tasks.

Take the manufacturing process, for example, where picking robots are used for stacking, sorting, packaging, inspections and so on. By combining machine learning and machine vision, these robots can now pinpoint specific items, grasp them, and sort or place them where needed.

Recent advances in AI continue to further this ability for robots to master material handling when it comes to unexpected objects or situations. While humans are flexible and can work through scenarios, robotic solutions still have some learning to do. But AI and machine learning techniques like reinforcement learning (RL) are helping teach robots how to adjust along with hardware and material updates that are enhancing grasping and suction capabilities.

Automated order fulfillment

The advances in manipulation and grasping to help robots accurately select, move, kit and organize products are benefitting industries far and wide—from manufacturing to agriculture to logistics and warehouse fulfillment.

Using detailed information provided by 3D cameras and sensors, AI-powered robots can support tasks handling a wide range of products with little to no need for programming or other human input.

An example of this is the sophisticated AI-enabled robots from Symbio Robotics. These industrial robots can quickly learn how to target objects in a disorganized bin and pick them up for highly precise kitting even when a robot has not been pre-taught the objects.

Inspections and defect analysis

Again, vision systems combined with machine learning are allowing operations to inspect and monitor products or processes at amazing speeds. By adding a layer of AI to laser, 3D, infrared, 2D or other cameras, they can begin to learn, distinguish between objects and even recognize objects. This then allows these systems to spot defects, slightly off parts, or areas in need of replenishment or service.

While a human subject matter expert is still needed to help the system learn, automated inspections and analysis can provide speed, accuracy and repeatability that are hugely beneficial. In fact, factory and grocery operations are just a few industries leveraging this automation tech.

Data gathering and decision-making

AI can free workers from mundane tasks, therefore allowing managers to use their talents where higher level skills are required, such as quality control.

In industries, like retail and warehouse sectors, companies are using AI to make critical decisions like predicting a product’s demand or calculating when to replenish the stock of raw materials.

By eliminating human errors that come with using spreadsheets, multi-tasking or simply human mistakes, AI can empower managers to focus on developing solutions that robots and software can implement.

Predictive maintenance

Whether they are used for pick and place, welding or palletizing, or other tasks, industrial robots produce seas of data. Compiling, interpreting and using that data is the key to maximizing efficiency in your company. And this is where AI and machine learning can come to the rescue—they help manufacturers leverage robotics to their fullest.

By using a machine’s historical data and mathematical models to create actionable information, AI and machine learning systems can forecast issues, predict when parts will fail, and schedule the necessary maintenance or repairs with minimal disruption.


No one likes hearing the words cyberattack, threat or breach. But in today’s digital world, malware, hackers and cybercriminals are always looking for an open door—even if just slightly ajar.

The good news is that artificial intelligence can provide protective measures. For example, AI can assist in monitoring an enterprise-level network with anomaly detection approaches to identify any behavior that is suspect or out of the ordinary. It can also do the same for industrial networks including robotic solutions where one attack could potentially shut down an entire plant.

Autonomous mobile systems

If you were at Automate 2023 then you would have seen a lot of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). These solutions have seen impressive growth over the last several years, especially in e-commerce warehouses.

Today, you can find AMRs in factories, grocery stores and even farms. Why? Because they offer added flexibility, are easier to program and implement, and can support employees in solving worker shortages.

It’s no wonder companies such as MiR, Locus, Omron and others continue to expand their capabilities and potential use cases to meet the growing demand and interest in this technology.

Customer service

AI is making a difference in the hospitality industry too. Despite some initial skepticism, AI-powered robots have found their place in an industry traditionally dependent on human interactions.

From answering guest inquiries to delivering food and drinks to hotel rooms—the possibilities are wide open. And since each robot is connected to the same network, every interaction is registered in a single database and shared to provide new learnings for the bots and hotel management.

For example, this growing bank of knowledge could help inform a guest’s needs or preferences before a booking is even made. The result? Highly personalized customer service can go a long way for guests.

Safety technologies

Safety should always be a top priority, no matter the industry or company. Like with defect analysis or cybersecurity, AI-based machine vision systems can help ensure the safety of your operation, employees and customers.

Think about facial recognition software, sensors in dangerous zones and systems that can determine whether or not a worker is wearing the right protective equipment on a shop floor. We’re just scratching the surface of the potential for AI to keep us safe and protected against avoidable mishaps.


Whether you’re new to automation or just new to artificial intelligence, the beginning of your AI journey can come with a lot of questions, and maybe concerns. The most important thing when starting out is to really ask yourself (and your stakeholders) what exactly are your business needs.

Do you have the capacity to implement intelligent automation solutions? What gaps will potential solutions fill? How can it strengthen your workforce? Are you and your leaders committed to making these advancements? Ensuring alignment at the start of the process will lead to a more successful implementation, and beyond.

And if you’re ready to take that next step, then start preparing today. Compare options, begin prepping your organization for the change and experiment with what works. At the end of the day, AI and automation are here to help you unlock the potential of your business—and your employees.

If you really want to see what’s possible in automation and AI, the Automate Show is where you need to be. Experience the leading and latest solutions for free on our show floor May 6–9 at McCormick Place in Chicago, IL.

« View All Blogs