What are autonomous mobile robots (AMRs)?
Autonomous mobile robots are capable of independently performing tasks without the support of a human operator. As a result, they are often used to increase operational efficiency, speed, precision, and safety in warehouses, logistical companies, agricultural businesses, and healthcare institutions. AMRs handle a variety of tasks and environments through their use of sophisticated sensors, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.
How do autonomous mobile robots work?
AMRs function independently from human workers. The AMRs rely on a series of sensors that help them navigate a given space, avoid obstacles, and make independent decisions in order to complete tasks.
A typical real-world example of an AMR is a Roomba. The consumer robot vacuum cleaner uses sensors to decide how it moves within an environment. It can learn how to navigate obstacles like furniture and pets while systematically cleaning floors.
Three critical components of an autonomous mobile robot include:
- Sensing: An AMR must include a mechanism that allows them to “see” their environment. The AMR uses sensors to establish orientation, location, and distance to support decision-making processes, whether via cameras, lasers, sonar, infrared, GPS, or whiskers.
- Information processing: AMRs make decisions in real-time based on the data gathered from sensory inputs. The data is collected, processed, and analyzed through complex algorithms (often involving machine learning and artificial intelligence) to action the AMR.
- Actuation: For AMRs, actuation can be a wheel, linear actuator, or hydraulic ram that assists an AMR in moving within the environment. It is the mechanism that turns decision-making into action.
Applications of Autonomous Mobile Robots
Autonomous mobile robots are capable of a variety of applications. For example, autonomous mobile robots support tasks that speed up the inventory and shipping process in a warehouse setting.
AMRs fall into three main buckets when used in a warehouse environment for e-commerce and logistics:
1. Transporting inventory and products within a facility.
Human workers remain in a single spot while items are brought to and taken away from them. The use of AMRs in this scenario increases worker safety and productivity.
2. Assisting in the order picking process.
Using a human workforce to locate and pick individual items physically is very costly for warehouse facilities. Instead, autonomous mobile robots reduce travel times and increase productivity by locating and retrieving products for orders.
3. Sorting, fulfillment, and handling returns
Autonomous mobile robots sort products, fulfill orders and return products to the appropriate rack, shelf, or workstation. The AMRs also help human workers know how much inventory they have overall, when specific products have low inventory, and more.
In healthcare, AMRs streamline medicine transport within a facility. In addition, they protect nursing staff by caring for high-risk patients by limiting physical contact without sacrificing quality care.
How are Autonomous Mobile Robots Different from Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
The main difference between autonomous mobile robots and automated guided vehicles is how they move about a space. Automated guided vehicles move along fixed routes using embedded wires or magnets in the ground, similar to a train or trolley system. The automated guided vehicles cannot veer off the predetermined course. However, since autonomous mobile robots use sensors to guide movement, they can “see” obstacles in their way and map out the available space in a given location so that they can move freely on their own. No course or path is necessary for autonomous mobile robots.