ABI Research, advisory firm for the global technology market, has predicted that the upcoming decade will produce explosive growth in the robotics industry, resulting in a total market valuation of US$277 billion by 2030. This growth will reflect an industry shift toward mobile robotics, with mobile robots dominating traditional industrial robotics by 2022. While mobile robotics are currently concentrated in materials handling, this technology is expected to make waves throughout many sectors of the global economy in the coming decade, transforming automation and manufacturing.
“The automation of material handling will see huge segments of the global forklift, tow truck, and indoor vehicle market consumed by robotics vendors and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) that bring indoor autonomy," said Rian Whitton, a Senior Analyst at ABI Research (mmh.com). Whitton says that although the media tends to focus on autonomous passenger vehicles (AKA self driving cars), mobile automation is significantly more developed for use in industry and fulfillment.
Cyber Physical Systems: Driving the Future of Autonomous Vehicles
Roberto Sabella from Ericsson's Italian research division describes cyber physical systems as "an integration of systems with varying natures whose main purpose is to control a physical process and, through feedback, adapt itself to new conditions in real time," continuing by noting that these are "created at the intersection of physical processes, networking, and computation" (Ericsson). Physical objects refer to anything that can be perceived by human senses, and cyber describes the "virtual representation of the world in which the physical object belongs, while providing further details about the object – for example its make or model" (Ericsson).
Ericsson's "Port of the Future" connects VR, AR, AI, and autonomous vehicle tech
The low latency, high speeds, and expanded capacity of 5G networking technology will help drive the development of cyber-physical systems, such as autonomous vehicles and mobile robots, making them viable for use in the automation industry. One potential application of these intersecting technologies is Ericsson's experiments at Livorno Port in Italy, where the company is using image recognition techniques, AI, and augmented reality (AR) technologies in concert with human dock workers.
Key Players in Mobile Robotics
While Ericsson's application of mobile automation tech demonstrates what shipping ports may look like in the coming decade, larger corporations like Amazon continue to dominate the robotics market. Since acquiring Kiva Robotics in 2012, Amazon holds about 50% of the materials handling robotics market, and has deployed 256,000 automated guided vehicles (AGVs) for transport and delivery purposes (mmh.com). Geek, Quicktron, JD.com, and Grey Orange are other AGV companies to watch, having already implemented thousands of mobile robots into their operations. Brain Corp. is making waves in retail with it's deployment of 5000 Automated Mobile Robots (AMR) to date, while BlueBotics has deployed about 2,000 robots for supply chain intralogistics.
AVG vs. AMR
“Many new verticals, like hospitality, delivery, and infrastructure, will demand systems that do not require external physical infrastructure to move about. While AGVs will thrive in intralogistics for fulfillment, especially in greenfield warehouses, AMRs solve the challenges faced by many end-users by offering incremental automation that does not require a complete change of environmental infrastructure,” Rian Whitton said (mmh.com).
By 2030, 2.5 million AGVs are expected to ship, while AMR shipments will reach a whopping 2.9 million. The drive toward flexibility in the robotic workforce and the expectation of declining robotic navigation costs in the coming decade are two significant factors pushing AMRs into the spotlight. With the ability to self-navigate and a lack of dependence on external infrastructure, many predict that Automated Mobile Robots will outpace Autonomous Guided Vehicles in the 2020s.