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A robotics revolution is underway. Computer vision and edge hardware advancements are driving a shift from automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to autonomous mobile robots (AMRs)—and the change will transform the way we work.
Here’s why: AGVs and AMRs may be superficially similar, but they differ enormously in their capabilities. AGVs can follow only fixed paths and require the installation of magnetic tapes and tracks to function. They’re useful for simple transportation tasks in a warehouse—but not much else. AMRs, on the other hand, can operate independently in complex environments, process large amounts of sensor data at the edge, and make real-time decisions about what actions to take. These advanced capabilities mean AMRs will find use cases in multiple industries.
For example, logistics robots will be able to move pallets on their own, operate as forklifts, and perform complex picking tasks. In agriculture, AMRs can be used for precision seeding, irrigation and spraying, and fully automated harvesting. They will also be useful in heavy-duty applications like construction and mining, as they can handle jobs as varied as excavation, earthworks construction, demolition, paving, and roadwork.
The potential benefits to businesses and workers can’t be overstated. “AMRs offer all of the well-known advantages of automation: efficiency, accuracy, and the ability to perform repetitive tasks so humans don’t have to,” says Brandon Sokol, Marketing Specialist at Axiomtek, an industrial computing specialist that provides an all-in-one AMR development kit for SIs and OEMs. “In addition, their mobility makes them a rich source of real-time data for business intelligence and process optimization—and they will improve safety by keeping workers away from hazardous areas and taking over strenuous physical tasks that can cause injuries.”
In short, the market for AMRs is extremely promising. And the good news for SIs, OEMs, and systems architects is that they now can reach that market faster thanks to development kits offered by industrial computing specialists.
AMR Builder Kit Fast-Tracks Development
Axiomtek’s collaboration with a large manufacturer demonstrates how these builder kits can fast-track AMR solution development—even when extensive customization is required.
A prominent single-board computer (SBC) and industrial PC (IPC) manufacturer wanted to use autonomous mobile robots to transport materials between storage and production areas at its manufacturing facility. But several technical challenges had to be overcome. The manufacturer needed a solution that could support multiple high-resolution, low-latency camera sensors to improve obstacle detection and ensure safety and efficiency. The AMR also needed to be able to carry heavy payloads through extremely narrow spaces. And it had to be highly reliable because it would play a critical role in the production process.
Axiomtek worked with the manufacturer to design, test, and deploy a customized solution based on its AMR Builder Package. The vehicle body was equipped with LiDAR, ultrasonic sensors, and high-bandwidth stereo cameras. The company’s development support team designed in additional high-resolution video channels and upgraded the system’s main processor unit to handle the additional video-processing workload and ensure fast, reliable performance at the edge.
Axiomtek’s engineers also included a Wi-Fi / LTE / 5G module so the AMR could connect to the site’s IT network and provide real-time status updates. And private 5G high speed, low latency, and large-scale transmission of images enables precise positioning—allowing data analysis and remote operation more easily. Finally, they custom-designed a vehicle body with an ultra-compact form factor—but still rugged enough to carry loads more than 100kg and perform reliably in a harsh manufacturing environment. The AMR specs include:
- Anti-vibration 5 GMS with storage (5 to 500Hz, X/Y/Z direction; random, operating)
- -20C to +70C degrees operating temperature for outdoor applications
- Telematics for wireless communication and remote/fleet management
The AMR solution was rolled out successfully at the manufacturer’s facility and has met all expectations for performance in the challenging physical environment—navigating effectively through spaces as narrow as 5cm on either side of the unit.
“By using an AMR builder solution that packages these elements together from the outset, developers and #SIs can reduce their design and integration efforts significantly and go to market faster” – Jerry Huang, @Axiomtek via @insightdottech
“AMR design tends to be difficult because of the sheer complexity involved: You have multiple sensors and components, AI computer vision and edge processing software, and of course the need to integrate and control all of that,” says Jerry Huang, Product Solutions Manager at Axiomtek. “By using an AMR builder solution that packages these elements together from the outset, developers and SIs can reduce their design and integration efforts significantly and go to market faster.” (Video 1)
Axiomtek credits its technology partnership with Intel for helping to streamline the development process. “Intel makes cutting-edge hardware that is ideal for AMR applications,” says Ryan Chen, Axiomtek’s Director of Engineering. “Their processors excel at computer vision and edge processing tasks, and Intel® RealSense™ cameras are an integral part of our solution because they offer exactly the type of high-resolution, low-latency video that AMRs need for object detection.”
“Intel offers powerful software development toolkits for use in AMR development, in particular OpenVINO and Edge Insights for Autonomous Mobile Robots (EI for AMR),” says Cynric Chiu, AMR Product Manager at Axiomtek. “These software tools have been essential in helping us bring our solution to market and in shortening development time for our customers.”
AMRs of the Future
In the years ahead, SIs, OEMs, and systems architects will be able to take advantage of simplified AMR development to bring a greater number of customized solutions to market. But AMRs will not become just more prevalent—they will also evolve, says Chiu:
“Tomorrow’s autonomous mobile robots will be far more proactive than the ones we have now. We expect to see the next generation of AMRs include features like AI-driven learning and predictive maintenance. Those AMRs won’t exist in isolation, either. They will be part of an increasingly connected mesh of AIoT technologies that is already beginning to develop—a synergy that will add even greater value wherever AMRs are deployed.”
“The interconnectedness of AMRs with a wider AIoT ecosystem will help to optimize logistics, improve traffic management in smart cities, and enhance overall system efficiency across numerous industries,” says Chiu. “AMRs will become versatile tools adaptable to multiple sectors, from agriculture to healthcare, facilitating broader adoption and delivering safety, efficiency, and productivity benefits all over the world.”