UR’s co-founder and CTO, Esben Østergaard, delivered the first robot himself after having led a small team through three years of development in a basement at the University of Southern Denmark. For his pioneering role in developing cobots, he was awarded the Engelberger Award, considered to be the ‘Nobel Prize’ of robotics, earlier this year.
He still remembers the early days in 2008, when the small UR team delivered the first UR5s in Denmark and Germany: “A decade might seem like a long time, and it’s definitely been quite a journey, but we’ve only just started to scratch the surface,” he says. “I continue to see our cobots power new applications that we never imagined when we first launched.”
Østergaard and the growing UR team launched the larger UR10 in 2012, and the table-top UR3 in 2015. In the same year, Teradyne saw the company’s potential and acquired UR for $285 million.
“We’ve been the front runners of cobots since the term was adopted,” says Østergaard. “While safety is imperative, that’s simply the cost of entry into the cobot market now. We believe that being collaborative is just as much about being accessible and flexible, by placing robots within the reach of manufacturers who assume them to be too costly and complex.”
In 2016 UR launched Universal Robots+, a platform which leverages the company’s global ecosystem by enabling third-party developers to create products – such as grippers, vision systems, software, and other accessories – that are certified to work seamlessly with UR cobots. The UR+ showroom now includes around 130 certified UR+ products and over 390 approved commercial companies in the UR+ developer programme.
A year later, in 2017, the Universal Robots Academy was launched to raise robot literacy. The academy comprises nine free-of-charge interactive modules of online training in mastering the programming, set-up and operation of UR cobots. The programme has been widely adopted worldwide, with more than 45,000 users from over 130 countries signed up. Modules are available in eight languages including English, Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai. UR says it is the only cobot vendor offering robotics training of this calibre, for free.
“We are facing a looming skills gap in the manufacturing industry that we need to bridge by all means possible,” says Østergaard. “Facilitating knowledge creation and access to our cobots is an important step in that direction.”
Cobots are now the fastest-growing segment of industrial automation, expected to jump tenfold to 34% of all industrial robot sales by 2025, according to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). As a first mover, UR has kept its market leading position with a 60% global share of the cobot market according to BIS Research, selling more cobots than all competitors combined.
As the cobot market is experiencing an increasing number of competitors – both from the established industrial players and start-ups – it is vital, however, to keep ahead of the curve. In June, UR launched another generation of its cobots, the e-Series, which is a platform that enables even faster solutions development and the deployment of a wider variety of applications.
“As manufacturers increasingly embrace cobots, we see the need to support even more demanding applications with greater accuracy and tool integration,” says Østergaard. “Launching the e-Series will help us continue propelling cobots forward into new applications, benefitting companies of all sizes.”
In 2017 the company grew 72%, while earlier this year UR marked its 25,000th cobot sale by delivering a limited edition in gold. To date, the company has sold more than 27,000 cobots around the world.