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The Rise of Autonomous Mobile Robots

By July 8, 2020July 6th, 2021No Comments

We’re seeing an explosive rise in autonomous mobile robot (AMR) development and deployment in the supply chain. In this article, we look at how the rapid increase in e-commerce led warehouse and distribution center operators to clamor for the benefits AMRs provide and how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting demand. PLUS, get to know Bolt™, the collaborative AMR from IAM Robotics, and why it could be the AMR solution you’ve been waiting for.

An autonomous mobile robot deployment in action.

The Exponential Rise of E-Commerce

Nothing has impacted supply chain industries as much as the exponential growth of e-commerce, accelerated even more by the global pandemic. In February 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that online spending represented 16 percent of total retail sales in 2019. Unknown at the time, of course, was the impact COVID-19 would have on every aspect of life and business, particularly online shopping. 

In fact, online sales data from approximately 10,000 retailers showed that e-commerce sales for the week of May 26 through June 1, 2020 were about 40 percent higher than the pre-pandemic benchmark week of Feb. 24 through March 1. While recent data is showing a flattening in online sales, the e-commerce security experts at Signifyd don’t see sales levels returning to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon. “The figures appear to reflect a plateauing of sales increases rather than a reversal of fortune as the COVID-19 pandemic continues,” the vendor says. As noted by Digital Commerce 360, “The longer the COVID-19 crisis goes on, the more likely it is we will hit warp speed in the decades-long march toward e-commerce and away from stores.” Many consumers are trying online purchases for the first time, or purchasing goods they never considered buying online previously. Others are increasing online purchases because it feels like the only safe option. Regardless, at least some of this consumer behavior is likely here to stay.

The ‘New Now’ Could Be the ‘New Normal’

While societal trends of how we work, learn, shop, and use technology were changing rapidly before the pandemic, the high-speed acceleration of these changes due to the crisis will likely lead to a new definition of ‘normal.’ The short-term reaction is necessary for survival, but businesses willing to pivot their operations to complement and exploit behavioral changes will be market leaders post-pandemic.

Senior fellow and policy director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute, Mark Muro suggests, “Adoption of robotics doesn’t typically happen at a steady pace but instead in ‘bursts,’ especially in bad times such as in the wake of economic shocks when human labor becomes relatively more expensive as revenues decline.” This helps explain the recent rise in AMRs!

The Role of Robotics in the New Normal

Robots are already deployed across all segments of the supply chain, but expect an explosion in the number of robots working in warehouses and DCs as e-commerce fulfillment growth continues to rise. Even before the pandemic and resulting consumer behavior changes, robotics implementation and automation were expected to expand as companies sought a competitive edge.

Once considered futuristic, autonomous mobile robots are quickly becoming the go-to technology for logistics. AMRs are robotic solutions designed to increase efficiencies, provide significant cost savings, and mitigate risks associated with human resources. A variety of AMRs are running in warehouse right now. Some are considered collaborative — designed to work with and around people — and others non-collaborative. They’re typically designed to perform one or more specialized tasks for e-commerce:

An autonomous mobile robot deployment test.

  • Moving product and other material
  • Assisting in the picking process
  • Facilitating sortation
  • Increasing inventory visibility

Why Are AMRs So Popular?

AMR popularity is exploding because businesses need the benefits they provide — perks other automation solutions and manual labor don’t and can’t offer:

  • Low barrier to entry – AMRs lower the barrier and risk to automation investment with their affordability and flexibility.
  • Small autonomous mobility – Standard conveyor systems bolted to the floor impede workflow and efficiency compared to the small, quick mobility AMRs provide.
  • Collaborative AMRs work well with people and other robots – Collaborative AMRs are designed to work with and around human workers and existing automation systems.
  • Mitigate disease risk – AMRs allow you to have fewer workers on the warehouse floor (and in close proximity to one another), mitigating disease spread.
  • Quick deployment – While traditional automation systems can take months (or years!) to fully deploy, AMRs can be working in a matter of weeks, so businesses can quickly reap benefits.

Introducing Bolt™

Bolt with Dual Conveyor TopsThe newest innovation from IAM Robotics is Bolt, a fully collaborative AMR designed to work in the same space as people to provide flexible mobile conveyance of product and material. Bolt offers unmatched flexibility with multiple interchangeable top modules to fit nearly any application, and perfectly integrates pickup and drop off tasks with existing automation and people-based workstations. Customized top modules provide endless possibilities — even beyond material handling — and our partnership with TREW Automation brings conveyance expertise to our collaborative solution.

Bolt’s payload capacity is impressive at 300 kg, it offers pick up and drop off (P&D) material transfers in five seconds, and it’s no slowpoke as it moves up to two meters per second. Its powerful hot-swappable battery provides a 20-hour maximum runtime on a single charge and 24/7 operation with its quick and easy 10-second battery swap. Plus, Bolt offers autonomous battery charging capabilities.

Moreover, Bolt provides for quick fleet deployment, allowing businesses to get their automation up and running in a matter of weeks. Our collaborative AMR reduces the need for other resources–both equipment and people–and offers the most advanced AMR safety features available.  

Experience the Bolt Difference

Bolt is tough, and it’s built to provide years of reliable service in industrial applications. With this level of innovation and next-generation technology, IAM Robotics and Bolt can address the growing demand for collaborative mobile robotics in an entirely different and better way than anyone else in the industry. Get in touch to learn how we’re changing the AMR game with Bolt.

Learn more about how Bolt can work for you!