Autonomous mobile robots: more diversity than first meets the eye
May 25, 2018
Autonomous mobility, in the general public's eye, is now synonymous with cars. Whilst this might be the largest ultimate prize, it is by no means the only commercial manifestation of this technology. Indeed, as the IDTechEx Research report New Robotics and Drones 2018-2038: Technologies, Forecasts, Players demonstrates, numerous autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are being commercialized in applications where there is (a) a clear commercial purpose and (b) a more structured and predictable environment.
IDTechEx review this trend below, showing these autonomous mobile robots are automating tasks in areas as diverse as security, retail, warehouses, delivery, agriculture, and the home environment.
- Warehouses: e-commerce is on the rise across the world. This requires faster delivery of multi-item packages to customers. Indeed, the push is to cut down delivery times to a point that the key advantages of bricks-and-mortar shops- the instant fulfilment- disappears. Mobile robots are helping here. Grid-based automated robots are very popular today. They operate in robot-only zones, follow printed regularly-spaced QR codes for navigation, and shuttle around special totes to human-staffed picking/packing station. They can regularly enable 300 picks per hour with some reporting even 500 picks per hour in special cases. They also enable more compact warehouses since shelves can be packed close together, given that robots slide underneath them. In this regard, the market has responded strongly to fill the gap when Kiva was taken off the market by Amazon. Today companies around the world, in the US, Europe, India and china, are reporting a rapid rise in installations. In parallel to this, AMRs are also appearing. They offer more flexible, collaborative and hybrid work arrangements and cut the installation, and work flow modification, times. They are getting increasingly more adept and trust levels are rising to assign them increasingly heavier loads. To read more see the IDTechEx Research report Mobile Robots and Drones in Material Handling and Logistics 2018-2038.
- Last mile delivery: The last mile of the delivery chain is its least productive. In contrast to other steps where large payloads traverse fixed routes, here small payloads are delivered to customized destinations. As such, this step represents more than 50% of the total cost. Today, this last step is accomplished by a man-in-a-van, a man-on-a-bike or a man-on-a-motorbike. Autonomous mobile robots now seek to automate this step and thus raise productivity. To this end, we are seeing the emergence of small AMRs. These travel at slow paces, carry small loads, and deliver only in fairly structured spaces with low congestion and/or under close supervision. As such, they offer poor conductivity. The secret, as IDTechEx have said before, however, lies in fleet-level productivity. Autonomy eliminates the driver overhead per vehicle thus enabling cost effective fleet operation. As such, even if individual units are less productive than current modes, the fleets can be more productive and cost competitive. For more visit www.IDTechEx.com/mobile.
- Agriculture: Already agriculture is the leading adapter of autonomous mobility technology. For years, level-3 and level-4 autonomous tractors equipped with RTKLS GPS technology have been selling on the markets. Now these tractors are tending towards full autonomy. To this end, for several years now, we have seen working semi-commercial prototypes of fully autonomous (level 5) tractors with and without a cab. The technology is ready, but cost of sensor suites is still too high and behavioural resistance towards adoption exists. However, these barriers are only temporary as the march towards higher levels of productivity is unstoppable in the long term, and agriculture has shown that once a new technology is proven it will adopt it. In parallel the rise of autonomy mobility can lead to a paradigm shift. Here, we can see the rise of fleets of autonomous, small, slow, and lightweight agricultural robots. These too will be less productive than a powerful tractor on an individual unit basis, but in some applications they will prove more productive on a fleet level. This is only made possible because autonomous mobility eliminates the driver overhead per vehicle. See the report Agricultural Robots and Drones 2018-2038: Technologies, Markets and Players for more.
- Security: The provision of private security is a major business worldwide. In the US alone, 1.1 million are employed in this sector earning around $30k per annum each. AMRs are now seeking to enter into this market as security guards, both for indoor and outdoor applications, such as in data centres, utility and oil/gas centres, solar farms, shopping malls, offices, other forms of commercial property, plants, and so on. These are sensor laden robots. In typical arrangements, they include cameras, two-way audio system thermal sensors, gas sensors, and so on. For outdoor purposes, these security robots are more rugged and can reply on GPS, whereas for indoor they require GPS free autonomy together with sleeker designs. These robots will not fully replace human workers. Instead, they will mainly complement them by automating tedious tasks. As with many other forms of mobile robots, they will change the nature of the job, putting an emphasis on the remote control of fleets. To read more see the report New Robotics and Drones 2018-2038: Technologies, Forecasts, Players.
- Retail: Autonomous mobile robots are beginning to be used in retail environments on the shop floor too. While initially humanoid robots have been used at store entrances, particularly in Japan, to entice people to the store and ask questions, more recently many companies are developing AMRs. Their uses include: mapping the store, monitoring stock levels and offering data analytics to help with product positioning and placement, guiding or walking the customers to their required item, monitoring regulation and health/safety compliance and so on. Today these robots are being employed in apparel stores and supermarkets in very small numbers. These are still very much the early days, but the fact that big supermarket operators are running notable nationwide trials in the US is in itself promising. Here too, if safety is ensured, the long-term march towards high productivity with increased automation in retail environments will be inevitable. For more see New Robotics and Drones 2018-2038: Technologies, Forecasts, Players.
- Home: The home environment has long been a market for autonomous mobile robots. Indeed, they have been around since the early 1990s. Today, they are in the market proliferation phase particularly in Asia markets including China. Indeed, the number of companies is multiplying with many seeking to challenge the dominance of iRobot, the market leader. This market has also entered its commoditization phase, with products often looking similar and competition shifting primarily towards price (although differentiate on features such as suction power remains). Technology wise, these robots are mature. The navigation has largely shifted from random movement to intelligence path planning, and the robot is being given connectivity capabilities to position it as the centre of the emerging smart home ecosystem. In parallel, attention is shifting towards larger-sized autonomous cleaning units aimed at commercial spaces such as hotels and shopping centres, whilst suppliers are doubling their effort to offer wet cleaners, window cleaners, and so on. To read more visit www.IDTechEx.com/robotics.
To learn more about emerging AMRs please see the IDTechEx Research report New Robotics and Drones 2018-2038: Technologies, Forecasts, Players.. Here, IDTechEx explain a variety of markets in detail and offer our insights into future market developments including potential for commoditization of the hardware and software as well as the risk of business scene consolidation. The report identifies and profiles all the key companies worldwide working on AMRs. Finally, it offers short-, medium- and long-term market projections in market value and unit numbers.
Marketing & Research Co-ordinator
+44(0)1223 810286 c.martin@IDTechEx.com
Top image: Mayfield Robotics