January 26, 2021

Robots 101: What do Autonomous Mobile Robots do?

Gavin Donley
Gavin Donley

This is the second piece in our Robots 101 series. In our first post, we defined different types of robots, and specifically highlighted what autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are. Now, we want to break down the range of tasks AMRs can perform in public spaces, outside of traditional environments such as warehouse and industrial locations.

As the presence of AMRs grows in commercial public settings, such as retail stores, offices, airports, and beyond, their range of capabilities is also rapidly increasing. AMRs now regularly work alongside humans as collaborative robots, also known as ‘cobots’. They improve quality of cleaning and sanitation, enhance customer service, provide better operational insights, and assist workers with other manual tasks. In this blog post, we’ll identify three main types of AMR applications, and break down specific use cases.

Cleaning: Floor Scrubbers & Vacuums

Autonomous robots that complete cleaning duties are the most commonly used cobots at this time. According to ABI Research, annual shipments of autonomous cleaning equipment will rise to 250,000 by the year 2025. Robotic cleaners come in two main forms: floor scrubbers and vacuum cleaners.

Robotic floor scrubbers are adaptations of traditional ride-on machines, and operate autonomously. Brain Corp provides an AI software platform to power robotic scrubbers, and other applications, known as BrainOS. BrainOS®-enabled scrubbers utilize a teach-and-repeat methodology, in which an operator will first “train” the robot by riding it through the store. Those routes are then programmed into the machine and can be selected (and adjusted) at any time. Longtime major cleaning machine manufacturers, such as Tennant, Nilfisk, and Minuteman, build their autonomous machines using BrainOS software. The scrubbers clean the floors just as a person manually cleaning, or riding a scrubber would, but frees up human employees to focus on other, higher value tasks, such as sanitizing high-contact surfaces.

Autonomous vacuum cleaners are some of the most easily identifiable robots on the market today. Most people are familiar with small, personal-sized vacuum cleaners that autonomously navigate through homes. Robotic vacuums designed for commercial spaces, such as office buildings, hospitals, retail and other public settings, operate in a similar manner, but are able to clean much larger areas, and have advanced AI and professional grade sensors to help avoid obstacles and ensure maximum safety. Whiz, a robotic vacuum sweeper created by Softbank Robotics and powered by BrainOS, is capable of cleaning 5,000 to 8,000 square feet per hour, and provides advanced performance and usage data to operators.

Data Collection and Inventory Insights

While most public-facing AMRs collect usage and operational data for the tasks they complete, the sole purpose of some robots is to collect environmental data and deliver key insights to help improve things like customer experience. A great example of this is shelf-scanning robots that help retailers better manage inventory, confirm planogram compliance, and deliver better in-store experiences.

Brain Corp is working with major retailers such as Sam’s Club on pilots for a unique, dual-function shelf-scanning apparatus that can be attached to a BrainOS-powered robotic floor scrubber. The idea is that this scanner can scan inventory as the scrubber follows its route, simultaneously cleaning the floors and gathering important inventory and compliance data. This application allows retailers to see what products need to be restocked, whether or not items are accurately priced, and if things are in the right locations.

Outside of the retail realm, other information-driven AMRs assist humans with critical, often dangerous, jobs, including public safety. For example, Knightscope’s autonomous security robots operate both inside and outdoors, recording information and helping prevent and stop crime. Both private sector businesses and law enforcement agencies have begun to use these security robots to increase safety and reduce illegal activity.

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