Get ready for the robotics A-Team

Autonomous mobile robots can accomplish a variety of tasks.
Written by Bob Violino, Contributor
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Autonomous robots can perform actions or complete tasks with a high degree of autonomy, which makes them ideal for applications such as space exploration or cleaning your living room carpet. Mobile robots are capable of moving from place to place.

Put these capabilities together and you got a powerful machine that can handle lots of tasks in industrial environments such as factories, as well as in hospitals, hotels, and other areas. And, in fact, one of the more prominent trends in robotics today is the growing popularity of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), with new vendors jumping into the market and sales on the rise.

AMRs are modular, self-driving mobile robots that can be used for a variety of business applications, such as locomotion, mapping, navigation, and inspection.

"It is still a relatively new technology, but industries that are using AMRs include warehousing, distribution and manufacturing," said Bob Doyle, director of communications at the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the umbrella association for Robotic Industries Association, Advancing Vision + Imaging and Motion Control & Motor Association.

Other potential users of the technology include healthcare institutions, hospitality companies, and the agriculture sector, said Doyle, who will lead a panel on AMRs at the RoboBusiness conference in San Jose, Calif., next week.

One of the benefits of AMRs is that the application of these robots is infrastructure free. "It typically enables the units to move using onboard sensors only, meaning no magnetic tape, no beacons, and no additional infrastructure to navigate a facility," Doyle said.

"Most AMR suppliers also offer software for intelligent monitoring of their robots, tracking material movement and delivery," Doyle said.

With advancements in the field and many startup companies entering the market, more organizations are realizing the benefits of integrating AMRs into their operations, Doyle said.

Also likely to contribute to the growth of AMRs is the emerging Internet of Things (IoT). "The benefit of AMRs is the ability to track their movements, efficiency, up-time, recharging time, etc.," Doyle said. "These AMRs generate a lot of data, which can be analyzed and put to good use to ensure they are running efficiently."

Among the vendors offering AMRs are Aethon, Fetch Robotics, Clearpath Robotics/Otto Motors, Locus Robotics and Savioke. Aethon in July 2016 said its first-half bookings for AMRs were up 160 percent compared with the same period of 2015. Growth was driven by strong sales of its TUG autonomous mobile robots, selling a record 102 in the first half.

According to a report from Persistence Market Research, "Global Autonomous Mobile Robotics Market Analysis for Forecast 2016-2024," there is growing demand for AMRs in the industrial and technical sectors.

Low-cost computing, advancements in sensors used for navigation, and a rising dependence on unmanned or military vehicles are among the key factors contributing to the growth of the AMR market. AMRs are still in the nascent stage, the report said.

"The major challenge lies in moving mobile robots from experimental practice to precise science," the report said. Technological advances, government funding, the availability of sound platforms and growing application areas are expected to provide major opportunities for the market.

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