Unlike automated guided vehicles, autonomous mobile robots can navigate through facilities without additional infrastructure, such as tracks or guides. Among the developments in robotics, 2019 has been a particularly fascinating year for showing what’s possible with AMRs.
Here are six of the most notable applications involving autonomous mobile robots. (See also The Robot Report‘s issue on mobile robotics.)
1. Improvements in autonomous product deliveries
Companies are working hard to figure out how to task mobile robots with delivering goods without human help. Autonomous mobile robot vendor Nuro has grocer Kroger as a client, and Walmart is ready to roll out the service to a test group of customers in Texas. In a Medium post, a Nuro representative explained how the self-driving electric vehicles complement Walmart’s supply chain.
On a related note, MIT researchers have developed a new navigation method for autonomous mobile robots. It does not require mapping out an entire area in advance, but instead allows the robot to use environmental clues to find its way to the desired location, such as a person’s front door.
2. Medical facilities find more uses for mobile robots
Robotic equipment is commonly used in hospitals to help with things like lifting patients or assisting with surgeries. ABB recently launched its dual-arm autonomous mobile robot called YuMi. In addition to assuming laboratory tasks like pipetting liquids or sorting test tubes, the company’s technology can also deliver medication to patients or transport bed linens. ABB’s data indicates repetitive tasks could get done up to 50% faster with help from automation.
Diligent Robotics is another company bringing autonomous robots to health care. It recently completed beta testing on its robot named Moxi, which assists nurses with tasks such as retrieving or delivering items. When a robot takes care of those unskilled nursing tasks, providers can focus on more advanced, rewarding work.
3. Amazon demonstrates what’s possible with AMRs
Amazon has substantially revamped supply chain management. Better automation is one of the ways it succeeds in that ongoing aim. Although the e-commerce giant had previous robot developments, 2019 demonstrated that it has no intention of slowing down.
For example, in January, news broke that the brand implemented special vests for workers to wear in more than 25 of its fulfillment centers. They allow AMRs to detect humans from further away, then adjust their paths sooner to avoid collisions. Amazon also acquired Canvas Technology for its safe navigation technology and announced an innovation hub to open in Massachusetts.
Another one of Amazon’s moves this year was Pegasus, an autonomous robot that drives around a warehouse to pick up and deliver single packages to the right places. That system reportedly reduced incorrectly sorted goods by 50%, and did so while maintaining safety standards.
4. Enhanced possibilities for applying mobile robots in agriculture
Although the agriculture sector was not among the early adopters of mobile robots, that started to change in 2019. A prototype robot called Mamut uses artificial intelligence to collect data to keep farmers better-informed. The machine can make real-time route changes based on things such as changes in crop growth.
Since the robot operates below the vegetation canopy, it gives a different perspective than drones can. Farmers could use Mamut to receive early warning signs about things like pest infestations and plant diseases. The bot can also collect data that gives better visibility into estimated yields.
5. Mobile robots become easier to set up and maintain
An analysis from 360 ResearchReports valued the autonomous mobile robots market at $180 million in 2017, but it expects the worth to reach $600 million by the end of 2025. Moreover, the statistics anticipated a combined annual growth rate of 15.9% from 2019-2025.
One of the likely reasons for that popularity is that autonomous mobile robots are especially easy to use and integrate into the workflow. For example, Waypoint Robotics launched MAV3K, which comes equipped with software to set up the robot in under 15 minutes. There is also no need for a person to remember to charge the mobile robot at certain times, either. It has a wireless system that enables the machine to charge itself when needed.
6. Companies find practical ways to address labor shortages with AMRs
Autonomous mobile robots are ideal for companies that want to keep efficiency levels high. Solving the labor shortage with this technology was another of the recent robot developments. 2019 was particularly successful for Cabka, a company that manufactures 5,000 pallets per day by running a 24/7 plant. The process involves recycling plastics into pallets and similar products used in industrial settings.
The work is physically demanding and repetitive, making it hard to find and keep workers. A MiR500 robot from Mobile Industrial Robots help pick up the slack by being a central component of a fully automated production line. It carries stacks of finished pallets. Cabka plans to automate 11 of its lines with AMRs.
People at the plant said they were impressed with MiR500’s payload capacity. They also said they like how it remains steady even though the facility that uses it is an older one that has uneven floors.
An exciting year for mobile robots
As this list shows, there have been many things for people in the commercial robotics sector to stay abreast of this year. They should anticipate more of the same in 2020 and that the developments in the coming year will complement those seen here.