As automation expands across warehouses, factories and supply chains, navigating the multiplying types of robots is essential yet challenging. By examining key traits around locomotion method, autonomous capability, application domain and more, we can categorize robotic systems for clearer understanding and more informed selection.
Yet, augmenting repetitive functions is only the first step. Comparing and contrasting stationary versus mobile robots with varying levels of autonomous skills lays the groundwork for maximizing productivity via modular, intelligent and hybrid systems capable of ever-broader autonomous decision making. Let’s examine the types of robotics powering the next generation of automation across intralogistics.
What are Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)?
Autonomous Mobile Robots, shortened to AMRs, are self-navigating machines that map, route, and travel their surroundings without infrastructure add-ons or human guidance.
Instead, they’re equipped with sensors that collect distance data on objects in their vicinity. The data is then processed by onboard artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to generate a real-time map of the mobile robot’s environment. AI also plans the robot’s route, avoids surprise obstacles, and continuously updates the map as new data comes in.
Stationary Robots vs. Autonomous Robotics
The differences between stationary robots and autonomous robots start at a rather basic level: stationary robots are anchored to one location, while autonomous robots operate more freely and independently in their environments. However, there are some fundamental distinctions in terms of capabilities and use cases that set them apart.
What is a Stationary Robot?
A major difference is that stationary robots typically have greater payload capacity and precision, while mobile robots offer more flexibility and range of motion.
Stationary robots are fixed in their place to a frame that is bolted to the floor, walls or ceiling. By being hardwired to their power source, stationary bots operate without the constraints of onboard power cells or having to rely on recharging.
Additionally, tethered robots tend to pack more operational muscle and torque. They can lift heavier objects, wield larger tools, and apply more force, This makes them well-suited for repetitive industrial processes like welding, painting, pick-and-place assembly and intricate manufacturing procedures.
What is an Autonomous Robot?
Alternatively, an autonomous robot is able to perceive their environment, plan based on goals, and make decisions about how to act and maneuver without human intervention. This is enabled by functions like sensors, computer vision, AI planning algorithms, and decision-making capabilities coded into the robot.
For example, an autonomous mobile cart can map its surroundings, plot its route, and navigate around obstacles without a hospital employee manually pushing it from waypoint to waypoint.
The cart is assessing conditions, processing visual inputs, planning routes and choosing how to respond autonomously in real-time. This allows patient meals, room supplies, and test results to be delivered safely, without taking up additional staff time.
Autonomous Robots’ Superior Function Over Other Robots
What truly sets autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) apart from stationary and other types of robots is their ability to automate mundane and repetitive tasks. Their navigation, vision, motion, and data compiling abilities provide an unrestricted range of operation and automation. This results in complete fleet management with unmatched control and traceability for optimal performance.
Stationary robots serve many useful purposes, but autonomous robots promise even greater functionality. They maximize efficiency and potential societal benefit as they take over an increasing range of tasks too complex, dangerous or expensive for humans to reliably perform.
There are also innovative companies like the Quasi Robotics company that are developing unique autonomous systems with manipulation abilities. Their robots leverage precise robotic arms and end-effectors, mounted on top of an AMR. This allows the mobile robots to autonomously navigate facilities, accurately pick and handle inventory, and transport heavy materials around warehouses, labs, hospitals and commercial buildings.
Different Types of Robots for Automation
Robots have advanced from simple mechanical machines with minimal functionality over the last century. Types of robots can now be categorized based on key attributes like locomotion method, application domain and degree of autonomous operation. Each of the following robotics examples have their own specific use-cases in which they’ll excel:
1. Collaboration Robots
Collaborative robots, also called cobots, are designed to safely work alongside and cooperate with human workers. They are typically stationary or have limited mobility, utilizing sensors and control mechanisms that prevent hazardous contact with people.
Their benefits include enabling humans and robots to jointly complete tasks that leverage their respective dexterity, cognitive skills and strength. However, safety restrictions can limit payload capacities. Cobots most commonly assist factory workers on assembly lines and in warehouses.
2. Inventory Transportation Robots
Inventory transportation robots excel at autonomously navigating facilities while securely carrying materials from point A to point B. They can offload repetitive transport duties from human workers.
However, reliance on autonomous navigation can pose challenges in overly dynamic or crowded environments. These mobile automatons are ubiquitous in large fulfillment centers, hospitals and hotels, handling everything from moving packages, linens and food trays.
3. Scalable Storage Picking Robots
Storage picking robots are stationary robot arm systems capable of quickly and accurately selecting a vast number of SKUs from densely-packed shelves or automated storage and retrieval systems to fulfill orders or replenish lines.
They offer immense throughput but typically stay fixed to optimize precision manipulation. Massive distribution centers often combine fleets of these high-speed picking robots. Avoiding locomotion preserves repeatability in the sub-millimeter range, essential for managing vast inventories of similarly shaped items stored in minimal space.
Massive distribution centers often combine fleets of these high-speed picking robots to handle hundreds of thousands of daily customer orders. This lets logistics operations flexibly expand picking bandwidth for surges in e-commerce volumes driven by annual events like Prime Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
4. Automatically Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
AGVs follow marked routes, either magnetically, optically or via lasers to reliably transport heavier loads without human involvement in industrial and warehouse settings. They maximize uptime and efficiency in repetitive transport tasks.
However, route restrictions and lack of environmental awareness limit versatility in dynamic or crowded settings. The confinement of AGVs to guidepaths and markers, combined with a lack of object avoidance sensors restricts deployment flexibility in densely trafficked zones or areas requiring frequent layout changes.
Yet with consistent movement patterns and transport loads, AGVs deliver immense productivity benefits through automating material flows. Tugger AGVs are ubiquitous for recurring movement of standardized pallets, containers, or carts holding batch components, sub-assemblies, and finished items across expansive facilities.
The world of robotics is vast and diverse, with different types of robots designed for various applications. Autonomous robots, with their superior functions and adaptability, are transforming numerous industries by automating complex tasks and improving operational efficiency. As technology advances, we can expect to see even more impressive examples of robots, further pushing the boundaries of what these remarkable machines can achieve.