A recap of the ProMAT and Automate 2010 shows
The ProMAT 2019 and Automate 2019 shows earlier this month, were an opportunity to see the latest in autonomous mobile robot (AMR) technology from a record number of AMR providers. This article summarizes what we learned, and what we saw at the event in Chicago. In-depth articles on each of the vendors will follow in the coming weeks.
1. Invasion of the large AMR platforms
Most of the AMR news during show week involved the announcement of several new, heavy payload vehicles. All of these new platforms can carry more than 500 kg (1000 lbs). The following new products where announced and demonstrated at the shows:
In addition to the above new product announcements, the following companies also demonstrated their large payload AMRs at the show:
There are also rumors of yet-to-be-announced large payload format AMR’s coming from other suppliers later this year. Stay tuned!
2. The carts are moving in
Autonomous mobile carts and/or cart moving applications are hot this year! Several vendors demonstrated their cart moving solutions at the show. This included Fetch Robotics with their Cart Connect solution and OTTO Motors with their cart base. We also interviewed the management team at Snap Fulfill regarding the announcement and upcoming launch of their SmartCart AMR.
3. Mobile manipulation is real
Staubli announced the Helmo AMR on August 23, 2018, and they brought Helmo to the Automate show where they demo’d mobile manipulation for the first time in North America. Staubli is an industrial automation company and their priority is to sell robotics manipulators. Helmo opens up new applications, especially in the machine tending arena. Helmo can move a collaborative arm around the facility and accurately relocate it to operate where manipulation is required. KUKA also had their KMR iiwa running in their booth. The KMR iiwa is a mobile base, with holonomic drive and a COBOT mounted on top. IAM Robotics is emerging as a leader in mobile manipulation for the logistics market. Their robot can identify and pull objects off of the shelf in the warehouse and complete order picking. Magazino, a German company, demonstrated their Toru robot for the first time in the US. The Toru is capable of also pulling items off of a shelf and they are currently deployed for a show company.
4. The Chinese arrive in North America
Several of the large Chinese AMR companies had booths at Automate this year. This represents the first time that these vendors presented their solutions in North America at a major show.
5. Sortation is a key application
Tompkins Robotics demonstrated their sortation solution which uses smaller mobile robots constrained to a dual-level table system. The T-Sort robots are an innovative solution for sortation and they are finding success in parcel handling and in e-commerce and omni-channel applications.
6. Platforms are dead, long live solutions
One thing that is clear from this years show is that mobile robotic platforms are dead. That is to say that successful applications for mobile robots now focus on solution selling of an AMR plus a payload. The days of trying to sell the so called "Deck AMRs” (i.e. Fetch, Adept/OMRON, MiR and OTTO Motors) are gone. All of the vendors are now pitching their AMRs with some type of active payload on top of the AMR, whether that is a conveyor solution, a pallet/tote lifting solution, a cart-moving solution or some other innovative deck attachment. We believe that the AMR market has now moved beyond the early adopter and with the various AMR solutions, crossing the chasm to specific vertical applications. With that, there were several third parties at the show selling payload attachments for the various AMR platforms. One of the early success stories here is ROEQ, who are building a growing business for the MiR robot ecosystem.
7. It’s all about the software, stupid
The other trend that we’ve noted is that the hardware part of AMRs is becoming commoditized. There is very little innovation to be seen in the hardware, beyond cost reduction and quality/volume manufacturing advantages. With the entrance of Chinese manufacturers to North America, and a number of new suppliers, the existing vendors are beginning to see cost competitive hardware clones of mature solutions enter the market.
The competition is now turning to the real differentiation, which is in the software layers for running an AMR deployment. This includes not only advancements in sensor fusion on the individual vehicles themselves, but also at the fleet management, WMS integration and cloud robotics layers. We expect the introduction of 5G communication on board the vehicles in the next 2-3 years. This will bring a new level of innovation at the software level, which will open up new capabilities for the systems as a whole.
8. Wireless charging is a reality
Wireless charging startup, Wibotic was at the show this year, on start up row, in their own booth. They now have a complete line up of wireless charging solutions which they are offering to help improve the charging options for AMRs. Every AMR vendor provides some form of battery charging option with their platform. Most AMR vendors offer autonomous recharging with a physical docking station (some still require manual connection). Wireless offers the benefit of easier recharging since no physical docking station is required, and there are fewer things that can go wrong during the autonomous recharging process.
9. Can’t find the Handle
With the announcement of the Boston Dynamics Handle mobile robot the week prior to the show, we were excited to see this new live robot in operation at the Boston Dynamics booth. The Handle, however, was a no show at the event.
10. Goods to person is now mainstream
eCommerce sales are projected to reach $530.6 billion by 2020. The impact of this growth is being felt at the fulfillment step, in the warehouse, as companies struggle to keep up with the promise of quick delivery. There were multiple AMR vendors at the show with some form of warehouse, goods-to-person (G2P) fulfillment capability. Here’s a list of the G2P AMR vendors that we saw at the show:
This year was an epic year for autonomous mobile robots at both the Automate 2019 and ProMAT 2019 shows. There were 40 + mobile robot vendors at the combined shows and there were likely more than 100 autonomous vehicles seen running around the show. Automate had a specific presentation track dedicated to mobile robots. All in all, it was great to see the explosion of attention given to mobile robots. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we release individual stories from each of the mobile robot vendors that we interviewed during the show.