Why Multi-Functional Robots Will Take Over Commercial Robotics

Single-task robots will soon make way for multi-application robots of the future

4 min read
Avidbots multi-application robot, Neo 2, and the Disinfection Add-On cleaning at Rochester Institute of Technology

By integrating new functional accessories like a disinfection module to its Neo 2 floor-scrubbing robot, Avidbots is transforming it into a multi-purpose robotic platform.

Avidbots

This is a sponsored article brought to you by Avidbots.

The days of having single-purpose robots for specific tasks are behind us. A robot must be multi-functional to solve today’s challenges, be cost-effective, and increase the productivity of an organization.

Yet, most indoor autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) today are specialized, often addressing a single application, service, or market. These robots are highly effective at completing the task at hand, however, they are limited to addressing a single use case. While this approach manages development costs and complexity for the developer, it may not be in the best interest of the customer.

To set the stage for increased growth, the commercial AMR market must evolve and challenge the status quo. A focus on integrating multiple applications and processes will increase overall productivity and efficiency of AMRs.


The market for autonomous mobile robots is expected to grow massively, and at Avidbots we see a unique opportunity to offer multi-application, highly effective robotic solutions.

Today, there are many application-specific AMRs solving problems for businesses. Common applications include indoor parcel delivery, security, inventory management, cleaning, and disinfection, to name a few.

The market for these types of AMRs is expected to grow into the tens of billions by 2025 as projected by Verified Market Research. This is a massive opportunity for growth for the AMR industry. It is also interesting to note that the sensor set and autonomous navigation capabilities of the various single application indoor AMRs today are similar.

Hence, there is an opportunity to combine useful functionalities into a single multi-application robot, and yet the industry as a whole has been slow to make such advancement.

Today's Robots Focus on Single Tasks

Four examples of autonomous mobile robots: Knightscope, Reeman, Savioke, and Simbe.

Examples of single application autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) include [clockwise from top left] Knightscope, a security robot; Reeman, an UV disinfection robot; Savioke, a delivery robot; and Simbe, a shelf-scanning robot.

Avidbots

There’s never been a better time for the AMR industry to take strategic steps given the changes we’ve had to embrace as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, there have been many robots brought to market recently that look to address disinfection, the majority of which have been single-purpose, including UVC robots.

With heightened standards of cleanliness in mind, let’s consider the potential of extending a cleaning robot from its single-use to performing both floor cleaning and high-touch surface disinfection.

In September 2021, Avidbots launched the Disinfection Add-On, expanding the functionality of the company’s fully autonomous floor-scrubbing robot, Neo. By simply adding a piece of hardware and pushing a software update, Avidbots' Neo, the floor-scrubbing robot, now serves multi-purposes.

Avidbots Neo 2 mobile robot with a disinfection add-on cleaning a hand railing at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Neo 2 is now in operation in multiple locations, including at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where it cleans floors and disinfects high-touch surfaces like hand railings.

Avidbots

The Future: Multi-Purpose Robots

Not only will multi-application robots like this example provide more value through additional convenience to end-customers; when compared to single application robots, the value derived also comes from the economic impact.

The economics of multi-application robots are simple. Combining two applications on one robot can deliver significant cost savings versus running two full single-use robots. For example, the price to rent a disinfection-only robot or a cleaning-only robot is in the neighborhood of US $2,000–3,000 per month per robot.

But Neo with its Disinfection Add-On extends beyond its primary function of floor cleaning to disinfect for a few hundred dollars per month. Disinfection is available at a cost that is around one-tenth of the price of a single-purpose disinfection robot or manual disinfection.

These savings can only be realized since the main cleaning function already pays for the AMR itself and the disinfection is merely a hardware and software extension.

There are other OEMs following this trend; Brain Corp. combines cleaning with shelf-scanning, leveraging existing autonomous floor-scrubbing robots as the platform. Similarly, Badger combines hazard analysis (spill detection, etc.) with a shelf-scanning robot as the platform.

Meet Neo 2, a Fully Autonomous Robotic Floor Cleaner

This video presents an overview of Neo 2, Avidbots' advanced robotic platform optimized for autonomous cleaning and sanitization. Neo is equipped with the Avidbots AI Platform featuring 10 sensors, resulting in 360° visibility and intelligent obstacle avoidance. Combined with integrated diagnostics and Avidbots Remote Assistance, Neo offers advanced autonomy, navigation, and safety capabilities.

Video: Avidbots

There are a few parallels between the current state of robotics today and the early computer industry of the 1970s. In the early '70s, when mainframes still dominated computer system sales, several manufacturers released low-cost desktop computers that were designed to support multiple applications, peripherals, and programming languages.

The low cost of desktop computers, the key “killer-apps,” and the large number of potential applications resulted in large growth and the proliferation of desktop computers worldwide, which eventually overtook mainframe sales in 1984.

As sales of AMRs increase and the cost of processing systems continue to drop, mass-produced AMR OEMs will likely be capable of delivering AMRs at a significantly lower price in the coming years. Computer systems like the NVIDIA Xavier NX, which are designed specifically for leading-edge robotic perception applications, paint a promising picture of the evolution of computer systems for indoor AMRs.

We look forward to a day in the near future when indoor AMRs will be sold at much less than US $10,000. Lowering the cost of AMRs is certainly a key to enabling larger and faster growth in the industry.

About Avidbots

Avidbots is a robotics company with a vision to bring robotic solutions into everyday life to increase organizational productivity and to do that better than any other company in the world.

Our groundbreaking product, the Neo autonomous floor scrubbing robot, is deployed around the world and trusted by leading facilities and building service companies. Headquartered in Kitchener, ON, Canada, Avidbots is offering comprehensive service and support to customers on five continents.

Learn more about Avidbots

There is the open question of the “killer-app” in AMRs for commercial spaces. What application can best serve as a platform for multi-application robots?

Cleaning is certainly a candidate given that it's a service needed in most indoor spaces and saves two to four hours per night of manual labor. However, there are other industries such as the hospitality and food-service industry where parcel delivery has seen large growth and success since it saves many hours daily. In the examples above, customers will still likely benefit from having multiple potential applications in their AMRs.

While only time will tell how the industry will evolve, it's clear that delivering several applications with a single robot and at a much lower cost than multiple robots (or manual counterparts) has the potential to make AMRs more attractive. We can take the industry to new heights by continuing to push the boundaries, including developing multi-application robots that can be used across industries and allow organizations to focus on revenue-generating activities.

Our industry-leading multi-application solution is growing and so is our team of Avidbotters, including robotics engineers. If you’re interested in learning more about Avidbots or exploring career opportunities visit Avidbots.

The Conversation (1)
Curtis Lucas 13 Jan, 2022
INDV

At the current prices, I agree the AMRs do need to be multi-functional.  Speaking with the staff at the local super market, their AMR from Brain Corp. cost $53,000.  As pointed out in your article, once AMRs are priced less than $10,000, a real robot revolution will begin making them affordable to mid-sized and small businesses.  I built my own commercial floor scrubbing robot for my commercial janitorial business due to cost to purchase one was not justified.  Other than the time required to research, build and test, the cost to build was around $2,000.  And with the multi-function idea, I added an attachment that allows my robot to dust mop prior to mopping.  I have built four types of robots to date, my most recent is a sanitizing robot for our medical clients.  The quote I received to purchase a similar robot was $95,000.  In the current economy, it is almost easier and less expensive to build single purpose robots than to find people to fill open positions.

Curtis Lucas

How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less