What you’ll learn:
- New applications of wireless power for robotics in multiple settings, including healthcare, clean energy, retail, and agriculture.
- How wireless power in autonomous robots can boost operational efficiencies and reduce labor costs for companies.
- Why are autonomous mobile robots the key to Industry 4.0?
The market for autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) is exploding. Valued at $ 1.61 billion in 2021, this market is expected to reach $ 22.15 billion by 2030. Thus far, much of the demand has been driven by the uptick in e-commerce and proliferation of automation technologies on the factory floor in the manufacturing and logistics sector as a part of Industry 4.0 and Supply Chain 4.0 initiatives. These areas served as proving grounds for AMRs.
With technology such as artificial intelligence and computer vision becoming more advanced, robots are now moving beyond the factory floor. Industries such as retail, healthcare, energy, hospitality, and agriculture are turning to robots to overcome labor shortages and improve productivity and safety. As a result, wireless charging will become an essential component.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these exciting new applications and how wireless charging helps AMR users enhance operational efficiency and maximize the return on their investment.
While robotics has been applied in surgery rooms for decades, AMRs are more recent additions, entering hospitals to support health workers and enhance patient care. Providing hospitals with more ways to improve operational efficiencies and reduce risks has become critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many facilities still struggle with staffing shortages and virus containment.
For example, Aethon’s TUG mobile robots are being used to securely deliver pharmacy medications and laboratory specimens autonomously (Fig. 1). They can also handle heavier loads to deliver meals and linens to patients, as well as transport waste for disposal. This frees up staff to focus on patient care and ensures important tasks are performed automatically when needed. The efficiency gains translate to cost savings: Aethon promises up to 80% reduction in cost-per-delivery with TUG deployment. Another recent robotic application is sterilization.
Akara has a germ-killing robot called Violet that travels throughout healthcare facilities eliminating bacteria and viruses including COVID-19, influenza and MRSA using ultraviolet technology. Violet is lab-verified to offer more effective cleaning capabilities than human labor alone. It can service more areas in a shorter amount of time, including difficult-to-clean areas like radiology rooms. Hospitals benefit with reduced labor costs and lowered levels of infections.
Clean Energy Robots
Solar installations are at an all-time high, which is great for meeting renewable-energy goals and curbing climate change. To work effectively and produce high electricity outputs, the panels need to be regularly cleaned and maintained. The traditional method of cleaning them by hand is an expensive, time-intensive task and can cost companies anywhere from $ 100,000 to $ 500,000 per year.
Jetsons Robotics addresses this issue by providing cleaning robots designed specifically for solar panels. What’s more, they don’t use water, which is more sustainable, and they can be programmed to automatically clean on a set schedule. The benefits of robotics helps incentivize more organizations to install solar now that they don’t have to worry about high maintenance costs or low-performing panels.
In the case of Jetsons Robotics, wireless power is a key selling point for the company’s solar cleaning robots’ ability to be fully autonomous and operate at maximum efficiency. They clean roughly 1.7 MW of solar installations on a daily basis.
In the retail industry, where margins are low and competition is high, robots present retail companies with new ways to drive efficiencies, cut down on costs, and improve the customer experience. AMRs can move about stores to help with inventory, scanning shelves to log stock levels while collecting data on consumer preferences and action. These robots can also provide customer service.
For example, Lowe’s, the large American home-improvement chain, has deployed “LoweBots” in select stores to assist customers in locating items while helping maintain inventory monitoring. Anyone who’s ever shopped inside a massive home-improvement store knows how frustrating it can be to find what you’re looking for and that staff are often widely spread out. And when you do finally spot someone on staff, they’re deep in conversation with a customer about using a product. It’s easy to see how LoweBots would make you want to shop at Lowe’s more often!
Food producers are under pressure to meet rising demand for supply as the world’s population multiplies. In fact, global food demand is expected to increase by 60% over the next three decades. Sustainability practices are also more important than ever in the face of climate change, as well as shifting consumer attitudes around health and the environment.
Meanwhile, many agricultural industries are struggling with a shrinking labor force as farmers retire and young people move away from rural communities. As a result, autonomous robots are being used from everything to harvesting and weeding to milking cows.
In the case of weeding, it’s a costly and labor-intensive task, and the method of spraying chemicals is expensive and negatively impacts the environment. Dino by Naïo Technologies is being used on large-scale vegetable farms in Europe and the US, employing advanced GPS navigation to help farmers manage weeding without herbicides (Fig. 2).
The system can detect crop rows and adjust the tools to weed as close to the plants as possible, clearing up to 10 acres in just one day. When it comes to charging each robot once the battery runs out, though, they have yet to adopt an autonomous charging technology that enables the systems to recharge and operate autonomously.
Wireless Freedom for Fully Autonomous Robots
As discussed in the aforementioned examples, more companies are adopting robots to boost operational efficiencies and reduce labor costs. Still, charging and battery-life issues can diminish these benefits and chip away at ROI.
Many mobile robots with self-charging capabilities have trouble docking properly or require costly alignment mechanisms, leading to high cost of ownership, inefficiencies, increased downtime, and additional human intervention and repairs. Downtime is particularly costly in an operation that relies on carefully coordinated logistics, so optimizing charging times and speeds based on operational needs is very advantageous.
Ideal service robots should always be able to complete their task autonomously and recharge quickly by themselves. That’s where wireless charging comes in. Advanced wireless-charging technology drastically simplifies the docking process. Robots no longer need to dock precisely at a charging station. Less human interference means staff can stay focused on higher-priority tasks.
Wireless power is also safer because it eliminates pogo pins and other components associated with conventional galvanized connections, which are prone to electrical sparks and other hazards that can cause fires. Many of the use cases described above involve dynamic or even outdoor environments exposed to water, mud, dust, and chemicals. Wireless-charging technology is now incredibly powerful and capable of working even in the most adverse conditions.
Owners of distributed robot fleets would be well-served to look for wireless platforms that monitor battery health and optimize the charging process to ensure each device is fully powered when needed. This capability also helps prolong battery life and avoid costly battery replacements. With wireless charging, robotics users never have to worry about interruptions to their operations due to robots not properly charging or parts failing. Thus, they can enjoy better productivity gains without incurring unexpected costs.
Fortunately, it’s becoming easier and more cost-effective than ever before to implement wireless-charging capabilities. Moving forward, wireless-charging technology will give robotics manufacturers a competitive edge and help accelerate adoption across a broader range of industries