Revolutionizing Warehouse Automation with Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

In the rapidly evolving world of warehouse management, achieving efficiency, accuracy, and scalability is no longer an option but a critical necessity. Traditional warehouse operations often struggle to keep up with the increasing demands of today’s fast-paced eCommerce environment. Enter Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) – a game-changing technology that’s revolutionizing warehouse automation.

What Are AMRs (Autonomous Mobile Robots)?

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are a type of robot that can move and operate independently within its environment without the need for specific predefined paths or wire guidance. They rely on technologies such as sensors, cameras, lidar, and artificial intelligence to navigate through their surroundings, avoid obstacles, and complete tasks.

The key difference between AMRs and other mobile robots is their level of autonomy. While traditional mobile robots such as AGVs follow preset routes, AMRs are much more flexible and intelligent in how they navigate the warehouse. This makes them more adaptable to different environments.

AMRs are used in various industries for material handling, delivery, cleaning, security surveillance, and more. In warehouses, AMRs are primarily used for order picking, sorting, replenishment, and transporting goods around,  increasing efficiency and reducing the need for human labor.

AMR Robots Retrieving Goods In Modern Warehouse

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) Source: inVia Robotics

How AMRs Work?


Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are complex machines that use advanced technologies and systems to perform their tasks. Here’s how they work:

Sensing and Perception

A key feature of an Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) is its sensing and perception capabilities. This entails employing a combination of sensors, cameras, and LiDAR technology to collect comprehensive data about the robot’s surroundings. This data encompasses vital information such as obstacle locations, environment layout, and object status for manipulation. By leveraging this acquired information, the AMR can generate a detailed and up-to-date map of its operating environment.

While robotic vision often involves sophisticated technologies, using cost-effective solutions and components helps make automation accessible to businesses of all sizes. For instance, inVia Picker robots use machine vision paired with fiducial markers so they can “see” and differentiate landmarks. They can detect the position and orientation of a fiducial sticker with ultra-precision. Machine vision hardware is more affordable and reliable, providing a robust solution with less downtime and fewer errors.

AMR Robots Retrieving Goods In Modern Warehouse

Data Processing and Decision Making

AMRs use a variety of sensors to collect data about their surroundings in real-time. In a warehouse setting, once the robot has gathered data about its environment, it sends it to the Warehouse Execution System (WES), an intelligent software that guides the robots. WES software uses path planning, task allocation, and scheduling algorithms to plan routes, navigate, and make choices based on the information gathered from robotic sensors and maps.

AMRs are in constant contact with the Warehouse Execution System (WES). They operate in a continuous feedback loop, where they constantly assess their environment and update the WES. The WES instructs the AMR where to go next and the AMR updates the WES on its activities.

Action Execution

After data processing and decision-making, WES guides the AMR to execute the corresponding action. The AMR management system handles robot behavior, which means the individual movements of the robot and its actuators, in addition to determining its place in the world.

For instance, the inVia Picker robot uses Command, a management system that handles the robot coordination, under the direction of intelligent WES software, inVia Logic. inVia Logic tells Command the items that need to be picked or moved around, while Command handles action execution of the robot.

Learning and Adaptation

As autonomous robots perform their tasks, they collect data about their performance and the outcomes of their actions. This allows WES software to use this data to learn and adapt over time.

In the case of inVia Picker robots, the data they collect is used by inVia Logic to update algorithms, improving decision-making and action execution over time. This allows the system to continuously improve its performance, adapt to new situations, and handle a wide variety of tasks.

Types of AMRs Used In Warehouse Automation

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) come in various forms, each designed to perform specific tasks within the warehouse environment. Here’s a look at some of the different types of AMRs and the roles they play:

Robots Used for Picking, Replenishment and Transportation

The primary use of AMRs in the warehouse is moving goods around a warehouse or distribution center. These robots assist in order picking, replenishment or simply transporting products from one location to another. This could involve moving items from picking stations to packing areas or transporting goods from storage areas to loading docks. By automating these tasks, transport robots can increase efficiency and reduce the need for manual handling.

Picking products off shelves to assemble an order is one of the most labor-intensive tasks in modern warehousing. AMRs are often used in order fulfillment processes, where they can significantly speed up the picking process and reduce errors. Currently, there are many mobile robotic picking systems available that can improve productivity by 2 to 5 times or more than traditional picking methods. 

As an example, inVia Robotics uses a unique “Goods-to-Person” automation approach, where inVia Picker robots navigate the warehouse and autonomously remove inventory containers from the racks and deliver them to the inVia PickerWall, a dynamic high-density pick/put wall. This highly efficient system can deliver 10x increase in picking productivity. (Read SICK Sensor Intelligence case study to learn more.)

AMR Robots Retrieving Goods In Modern Warehouse

inVia PickerWall, Goods-to-Person Automation

Robots Used for Sortation

In addition to their roles in picking, replenishment, and transportation, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) have also found a valuable place in warehouse sortation processes. Sortation is a crucial step in the warehouse workflow, ensuring that products are accurately organized and directed to their respective destinations, whether that’s outbound shipping, storage locations, or specific order consolidation points.

Warehouse sortation can involve handling a wide variety of items. This complexity often challenges traditional manual sorting methods. AMRs equipped with advanced vision systems and artificial intelligence algorithms can quickly and accurately identify products and determine their appropriate sorting destinations.

Robots Used for Inventory Visibility

Inventory robots are designed to assist with stock management tasks. They can move around a warehouse, scanning barcodes or using RFID technology to track inventory levels. This provides real-time inventory data, helping to prevent stockouts and overstock situations. Some inventory robots can also identify misplaced items or detect other issues that could impact inventory accuracy. 

Each type of AMR plays a vital role in modern warehouse operations, helping to increase efficiency, reduce errors, and improve overall operational effectiveness. By choosing the right mix of robots for your needs, you can create a highly automated, flexible, and scalable solution that can adapt and grow with your business.

Benefits of Using AMRs in Warehouses


Increased Productivity: One of the most significant benefits of implementing AMRs in warehouses is the dramatic increase in productivity. Unlike manual labor, AMRs can work around the clock without breaks, significantly reducing downtime and exponentially increasing output.


Enhanced Accuracy: AMRs are programmed to perform tasks with precision, which drastically reduces the chances of errors. With sophisticated sensors and AI algorithms, they can accurately pick, pack, and transport items, leading to fewer mistakes and higher customer satisfaction.


Improved Safety: Warehouses can be hazardous environments with risks of accidents and injuries. AMRs are equipped with advanced sensors and intelligent navigation systems that enable them to detect and respond to obstacles, humans, and other potential hazards in real-time. By prioritizing safety, AMRs minimize the risk of collisions, reduce workplace accidents, and create a more secure environment for both human workers and themselves. Many AMRs perform tasks in isolated robot zones, enhancing overall safety in the warehouse.


Scalability: AMRs provide a scalable solution for warehouse operations. As your business grows, you can add more robots to meet increased demand without significant changes to infrastructure or processes.


Cost Efficiency: AMRs reduce labor costs, minimize errors (and associated costs), and increase output, providing a robust return on investment over time. inVia Robotics unique “Pay-Per-Productivity” robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) model leads to a rapid payback period, compared to traditional systems that take years to realize a positive ROI. 


Flexibility: Unlike traditional automation systems, AMRs do not require fixed routes or wire guidance infrastructure. This flexibility allows them to adapt to changes in the warehouse layout or operations, providing a highly versatile solution for dynamic warehouse environments.


Real-time Data Collection: AMRs continuously collect data as they work, providing valuable insights into warehouse operations. This real-time data can be used to identify bottlenecks, optimize processes, and make informed decisions for improved efficiency.


Collaboration: Some AMRs like inVia Picker robots are designed to work collaboratively in teams or swarms, effectively communicating and cooperating to enhance task efficiency. This swarm robotics approach facilitates the coordination of large numbers of AMRs for complex tasks.

AMR Robots Retrieving Goods In Modern Warehouse

The Future of AMRs in Warehouses

The following anticipated advancements will make AMRs more efficient, versatile, and user-friendly, thereby unlocking new possibilities for their utilization in warehouse automation.


Increased Intelligence and Autonomy: Advancements in AI and machine learning are expected to equip future AMRs with improved perception, decision-making capabilities, and adaptability. They will possess the ability to learn from experiences, quickly adapt to new tasks and environments, and make complex decisions autonomously.


Versatility: The next generation of AMRs is likely to be more versatile, with the ability to perform multiple tasks such as picking, transportation, and inventory tracking. This versatility eliminates the need for different types of robots, streamlining operations.


Improved Human-Robot Interaction: As AMRs become increasingly prevalent in the workplace, enhancing their interaction with humans becomes a key focus. Future AMRs are expected to possess advanced features for recognizing and responding to human behaviors and instructions.


Enhanced Navigation Systems: Future AMRs are anticipated to have more sophisticated navigation systems, enabling them to navigate complex environments effortlessly. Technologies like LIDAR or computer vision could be employed to create detailed maps of their surroundings and avoid obstacles.

 

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) revolutionize warehouse automation by significantly enhancing productivity, precision, safety, scalability, and cost-efficiency. They enable real-time data collection, optimizing processes and facilitating well-informed decision-making. AMRs exhibit remarkable versatility, seamlessly adapting to dynamic warehouse environments and effectively meeting evolving operational requirements. Consequently, AMRs continue to reshape warehouse automation, offering substantial long-term benefits that far outweigh the initial investment. With their introduction, a new era of autonomy, efficiency, and adaptability dawns upon warehouse operations.

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