What Is an Autonomous Mobile Robot & How Can it Be Used in a Warehouse Environment?

There’s no denying that challenges abound in today’s market. From supply chain issues to labor shortages and sudden shifts in consumer demand, a variety of concerns keep enterprises of all kinds on their toes.

Within these challenges lie exciting possibilities — especially for technological implementation. Business leaders who understand and take advantage of these opportunities could gain a huge edge on their competitors.

One of the best options worth considering in a time of uncertainty? Autonomous mobile robots. These systems promise to transform warehouses and distribution centers. They’re already hugely influential in a variety of sectors — and they’re just getting started.

Not sure why autonomous mobile robots are so valuable or what they can accomplish? Keep reading to learn all you need to know about the past, present, and future of AMRs.

What Is an AMR?

An autonomous mobile robot (AMR) can perceive and interact with its environment, even when direct supervision is not provided. It is not a programmed or guided robot, but rather, capable of free navigation. As such, AMRs are frequently used in warehouses and other environments in which robots may need to navigate numerous routes.

Autonomous mobile robots should not be confused with automated guided vehicles (AGVs). While these technologies seem similar at first glance, they hold several differences worth considering.

AGVs, unlike AMRs, rely on specific lanes. Their predetermined routes mean that they are limited in scope. This is true even for the most advanced models that have some limited abilities to detect obstacles.

While AMRs feel, to some extent, like science fiction, they’ve actually existed in some capacity for decades. Initially relied upon for neurophysiology research, they featured bump sensors, light sensors, and eventually, sound sensors. For several decades, autonomous mobile robots remained primarily in laboratory settings.

Commercial AMRs entered the scene in the 90s with the introduction of the HelpMate. Since then, they’ve grown far more sophisticated. Powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence, they are increasingly relied on for automated storage and retrieval. They are now just as efficient as human workers, and often, far more accurate.

These robots can be difficult for many people to identify, as they take several forms. Automated forklifts are capable of dropping off pallets, while AMR carts assist with picking. Meanwhile, inventory management AMRs offer high-level scanning to better keep track of stock. Even cleaning can be handled via AMR, thereby ensuring a more hygienic environment.

How Do They Work?

A variety of perception solutions allow AMRs to detect where they are and whether any obstacles might be present. For example, they mimic the sense of sight with help from LiDAR (light detection and ranging) scanners, UWB (ultra-wide band) sensors, or conventional 2D or 3D cameras.

These and other tech solutions help these robots “see” where they are headed — and make quick adjustments as needed. Equipped with these visual tools, AMRs need not stick to a guided path.

In addition to options that help them “see,” some robots come with solutions that imitate the sense of sound. Intelligent sound relies on microphones, which enable reliable auditory navigation.

Finally, AMRs are aided by maps, which provide a more comprehensive overview of the warehouse environment. These maps offer valuable insight into how various robots might make their way from one location to the next.

AMR maps integrate permanent or mostly permanent obstacles such as shelving systems. Beyond this, they use the built-in sensing technologies described above to detect mobile obstructions such as workers or other AMRs. This clever combination provides both immediate insight and an overarching “understanding” to promote both long-term efficiency and swift adjustments to evolving conditions.

Known as simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), advanced AMR technology allows bots to localize their positions according to maps developed via high-level algorithms.

Benefits of AMRs in the Warehouse Environment

A natural fit for the modern warehouse environment, autonomous robots promise to deliver huge improvements in efficiency and productivity. They also make today’s warehouses as flexible as possible.

The following are just a few of the many advantages these high-tech solutions promise to deliver:

Addressing Labor Shortages

Labor shortages are currently a huge source of concern across businesses of all types. Warehouse facilities, in particular, struggle to get enough workers on board.

These issues are significant even during low-demand periods, but they’re bound to accelerate as the holiday season draws near. At this point, scalability becomes a key concern for the e-commerce industry, which struggles to keep up with unprecedented demand.

AMRs fill in the gap when it’s difficult to get facilities fully staffed. These robots can operate longer hours while handling the most mundane or dangerous tasks. This can significantly reduce the burden on today’s busy employees, particularly when peak periods of demand arrive.

Strategic implementation of AMRs should make it easier for businesses to scale up and shift workflows in time for the holiday rush. Likewise, sudden increases in customer demand can be accommodated without significantly increasing labor costs or other expenses. Scaling down is also easier when these robots are involved.

Increased Flexibility

AGVs, as mentioned previously, can streamline a variety of warehouse operations. Unfortunately, because they are limited to specific routes, these solutions tend to be less flexible. This can be problematic given the current need for warehouse agility. Enterprises that are unable to adjust at a moment’s notice are at a huge disadvantage as compared to their more flexible counterparts.

AMRs bypass this issue because they are free to move wherever and whenever they need. As such, they are not limited to a single route and are therefore better able to carry out a variety of tasks. They can stop by several locations in a warehouse — and according to whatever timing proves the most efficient.

A warehouse that relies on AMRs can implement new technologies or layouts as needed to respond to changes in demand or SKUs. Meanwhile, the AMRs themselves can meet these changes; simply add more when they are required or use fewer until it’s time to scale up again. Their inherent flexibility extends to multiple locations, as relocation is uniquely easy when they are involved.

High Accuracy

Human workers are prone to errors — especially under the current pressures of the competitive labor market. There’s only so much employees can handle when they’re limited to manual processes.

Thankfully, robotic solutions such as AMRs deliver impressive accuracy. This is particularly evident when examining metrics for manual versus automated picking. This improves order fulfillment, thereby boosting customer satisfaction.

Getting Started With AMR Technologies

Are you interested in joining the AMR revolution — but not sure where to start? There’s a lot to consider as you prepare for this next step.

Proper implementation is key to making the most of all that today’s automation solutions have to offer. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can bid farewell to the repetitive, monotonous tasks of yesteryear. What’s more, AMR is a cost-effective strategy that will save your enterprise a great deal in the long-run.

Peak Technologies can provide valuable assistance every step of the way. Offering a range of warehousing and inventory control solutions, we will help you make the most of revolutionary tech without taking on the risks of “plug and play” solutions. Our customized services ensure that automated systems are carefully tailored based on the realities of your industry and facilities.

If you’re ready to bridge the gap between exciting tech and personalized implementation, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Contact our team today to learn more about our advanced automation services.

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