Robot mobility is booming worldwide, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). The ability for robots to move about in factory, warehouse, and service settings is opening up new business models and applications. In turn, this is spurring an increase in robot sales worldwide.
Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are a major contributor to this trend. AMRs can navigate independently and carry out functions in industrial, manufacturing, and warehouse/logistics settings, and in other sectors, including healthcare, retail, and public service.
The IFR forecasts that sales of AMRs in the logistics sector alone will grow by 31 percent annually between now and 2023, following sixfold increases between 2014 and 2019. The deployment of AMRs in public spaces will also boom, with unit sales growing by 40 percent a year.
For example, AMRs are used in healthcare for transporting linens in hospitals and care facilities, for cleaning and disinfection, and even for dispensing medication. Alongside these applications are significant developments in assistant robots for healthcare workers.
AMRs are increasingly being used in retail in stocktaking and customer service roles. There are also developments in robotic item-picking for order fulfilment.
AMRs have increasingly broad utility in airports, hotels, and shopping malls, says the IFR. Here, applications include public information services, room-service delivery, cleaning and disinfection, and security.
There are also increasing numbers of start-ups in the last-mile urban delivery space, with the intention of minimising the need for thousands of vans in crowded city centres.
Telepresence and telexistence are further applications of mobile robotics, including in healthcare – an area for robotic innovation that has become more important during the pandemic.
But what of the technologies themselves?
AMRs come in a growing variety of forms, including a mobile base for transporting items in warehouses, a mobile base with a robot arm for lifting, picking, and moving goods, and a complete mobile application with a bespoke user interface.
The IFR believes that mobile robots will become lighter and more flexible. Meanwhile, advances in sensors and software algorithms mean that AMRs will be able to navigate more safely and precisely through different environments.
Alongside these innovations, the IFR identifies rapid advances in autonomy, fleet management, interoperability, edge/cloud computing, and locomotion. Ongoing innovations in hardware and software are also enabling AMRs to identify and correctly handle non-standard shapes.
But AMRs’ application in manufacturing remains one of the most important areas, says the IFR.
For example, at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Aksaray, Turkey, AMRs from KUKA transport truck cab components along the assembly line. These AMRs are omnidirectional, mobile platforms that connect individual assembly sections and replace conveyor belts.
The AMRs charge automatically at charging stations integrated into the production line, ensuring that the robots are continuously available.
Meanwhile, at Daimler’s Factory 56 in Sindelfingen, Germany, the traditional assembly line has been replaced by reconfigurable driverless transport systems in some production areas.
An IFR whitepaper, A Mobile Revolution: How Mobility is Reshaping Robotics, is available now from IFR.org.
- As previously reported on Transform Industry, a June 2021 report from 360i Research forecast that the warehouse robotics market will be worth $4.6 billion globally this year, up from just over $4 billion last year.
The analyst firm predicted that the market will grow to $9.5 billion by 2026 – a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 15 percent.
Warehouse robots – autonomous or automated machines that locate and move items swiftly within warehouses for distribution – have helped companies like Ocado compete with Amazon in getting groceries and other goods to customers as quickly as possible as part of an end-to-end value chain.
Robots might include fixed, stationary articulated, gantry, and autonomous mobile machines.