Other Voices: Mobile robots in the time of Coronavirus

No matter the current economic conditions, efficiency, quick deployment, and getting the most ROI will remain top priorities for those considering robotics and automation.

Editor’s note: The following column by Jason Walker, CEO and co-founder Waypoint Robotics, is part of Modern’s Other Voices column, a series featuring ideas, opinions and insights from end-users, analysts, systems integrators and OEMs. Click here to learn about submitting a column for consideration.

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The world as we know it has changed, perhaps forever. Businesses and industries of all sizes are pivoting their production, operation strategies, and protocols to reduce health risks and adjust to new demands in their markets. The need for robotics and automation including autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) has been growing and is now accelerating in the midst of this global pandemic.

The good news is that AMRs and robotics are more accessible than ever, but finding a solution that can be deployed quickly and do the valuable work needed to keep workers safe can be a challenge. To help companies looking to immediately add industrial and manufacturing robotics solutions to their operations, here are the must-have features for future-proof mobile robot platforms.

Must-Have Features for Industrial Mobile Robots

1. Quick and Easy Setup
Having a robot that can be set up and put to work quickly is extremely important now and going forward. Robotics can help pivot operations, but no one has weeks (or even days) to set up robot navigation systems and they shouldn’t have to readjust their entire operation to accommodate the automation.

So, what should you look for in a mobile robot to ensure it is easy to deploy, and intuitive to use for workers on the job today?

● Superior Navigation: The optimal AMR for an industrial or manufacturing operation will employ user-friendly, straightforward navigation that enables it to operate within your current operation and does not require complicated or expensive add-on equipment. Look for features like long range 3D LiDAR and Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) that allow you to quickly add autonomous mobile robots to your factory with minimal disruption.

● Fast Set-Up : No one has the time to stop operations for days at a time to get an AMR set up and doing real work. High-quality mobile robots designed for workers on the job today can be unboxed and moving materials in 15 minutes or less.

● Intuitive Software: An AMR’s software must be easy to use, intuitive, and flexible. This allows you to increase utilization as your facility grows or changes over time. This is particularly important with the uncertainty of what your operations may look like a month or year from now.

● Power: Many manufacturing operations don’t have downtime, so neither should their AMR. Look for a mobile robot that offers the ability to automatically manage its own charge cycles and autonomously charge itself when needed. A truly wireless power transmission option without charging contacts that can get damaged or wear over time is ideal for reliable charging essential to battery management

2. Unparalleled Flexibility
As the pandemic is proving, a company’s ability to pivot at a moment’s notice could make or break their business. Therefore, investing in a robotics platform that is too specialized to a certain task, product, or environment and is difficult to reconfigure, could be detrimental if the company finds they need flexibility to readjust how or where they want the robot to function in their workflow.

An AMR is an investment, and manufacturers should invest in a flexible platform that can grow and evolve with their operations. This also means that AMRs need to be easy to integrate and communicate with existing machines or any equipment you plan to add in the near future.

3. Multi-Functional and Extensible
No matter the current economic conditions, efficiency, quick deployment, and getting the most ROI will remain top priorities for those considering robotics and automation. AMRs that have the ability to adapt to changing needs and serve multiple purposes over time will be highly sought after, if not required. This is especially true for businesses who are not only changing the way they operate, but also for those who are doing so on a tight budget.

It’s best to buy mobile robots that can automate a variety of difficult, dangerous, or backbreaking tasks within current operations and ones that offer attachments to perform specific functions as required. For example, accessories like robotic arms, conveyor systems, lift tables, and the ability to connect to carts can help AMRs serve a multitude of purposes over the course of their use. Furthermore, options like auxiliary power, wireless charging, remote updates, and accessible connections for simple system integration allows an AMRs’ capabilities to grow as a company expands its operations.

How Robotics is Helping During the Coronavirus Pandemic
There are many examples of how robots are being used on the front lines to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, companies are accelerating projects to autonomously clean facilities with ultraviolet-C (UV-C) light or hydrogen peroxide vapor (HPV) using robots. And AMRs are being used to help collect data for the Private Automated Contact Tracing PACT project that brings together top minds from prestigious organizations around the world to develop enhanced tracing techniques.

In the healthcare field, robots are being called on to fill a variety of roles. Robots are being used to deliver food or paperwork to patient rooms, leaving nurses to do more essential tasks while also protecting them and patients from sharing germs. And some like Boston Dynamics Spot Mini are helping doctors remotely treat COVID-19 patients.

For industrial manufacturers or warehouse operations, robots can help ensure that social distancing measures are upheld to help protect their workforce. Robots, specifically AMRs, can transport materials throughout the facility allowing essential workers to maintain social distancing standards.

As we move into our “new normal,” robots will increasingly be used to empower and protect the workforce.


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