The market for robotics is rapidly growing, which is leading to the emergence, and subsequent maturity, of mobile service robots across a broad range of industries, applications, and use cases. Mobile service robots are gaining ground in areas such as manufacturing, logistics and distribution, hospitality, healthcare, retail, and more. As the market for these robots continues to evolve and these devices are being used in new ways, it becomes important to take a look at what it means to be an autonomous mobile service robot and evaluate the differences relative to the term “autonomous and mobile.”
The fact is, not all autonomous mobile robots are the same and as more and more innovative robots emerge, it becomes important to have a model for comparing the functionality across different devices. Much in the same way as there is a maturity model for autonomous cars, IDC has developed a maturity framework for evaluating the maturity of indoor autonomous mobile robots. The model looks at several attributes including:
- Navigation - The way in which an autonomous mobile robot navigates its environment as well as the freedom to move throughout a facility.
- Materials Handling - The capability to handle and move material throughout a facility.
- Facility Systems Integration - The ability for a robot to interact with the environment within which it operates.
- Machine-to-Machine Communication (M2M) - The ability for the robot to communicate with and interact with other connected devices within its operating environment.
- Unattended Management - The degree to which a robotic fleet can operate autonomously, yet when circumstances require it take external support to address any issues it is not capable of resolving on its own.
The maturity model looks at each of the listed elements and defines the characteristics required for a robot be classified on a scale from L0 to L4 based on its capabilities across each functional area. The model classifies a robots maturity based on the lowest maturity level that robot meets across any of the five maturity classification areas. For example, a robot that has L3 functionality across Navigation, Facility Systems Integration, M2M Communication, and Unattended Management, but only L1 for Material Handling would be classified as an L1 robot. Characteristics of each level across each of the classification areas can be seen in the following table:
|Level||Navigation||Material Handling||Facility System Integration||M2M Communication||Unattended Management|
|0*||Mobile, but no autonomous navigation capabilities||Not capable of handling material||No integration into facility systems||No connection to other devices||No capacity for remote management or error signalling|
|1||Guided by markers, beacons, floor grids, etc. Not capable of autonomous obstacle avoidance, unsafe to operate in the same space as humans||No capability for automatic material handling. Only capable of handling material that meets specific design characteristics||Sensors read navigational markers, but no interaction with other aspects of the physical facility||Robotic command-and-control system provides a central management platform that manages the robotic fleet, individual devices do not communicate directly with other devices||No capacity for remote management, but can provide visual signals to human operators when encountering an error|
|2||Autonomous operation within a defined area, capable of identifying obstacles but requiring human intervention to resume operation when faced with an obstacle||Can handle various shapes and sizes of material, requires human intervention to load and unload, may require positioning specificity, requires human intervention to resume movement when stopped to load or unload material||No capability to interact with facilities systems such as doors and elevators. At times of need, can signal a human operator when it is in position and provides visual alerts via on-board beacons or touchscreen display when operating around facility characteristics||Integration with operational systems allows for data sharing about job status, robots can communicate with other robots on the same command-and-control system, but cannot communicate with any other connected devices||Robot can send a digital signal that it has encountered an obstacle but requires onsite manual intervention to correct any issue|
|3||Autonomous operation within a defined area, capable of safely avoiding obstacles and human operators, and can autonomously optimize its path||Can be configured to handle a variety of shapes and sizes of material, requires human intervention to load and unload, recognizes when it is loaded/unloaded and autonomously resumes movement||Restricted integration with facility systems, capable of interacting with authorized doors to enable freedom of movement within its defined area of operation||Integration with IT systems enable system-driven direction to the devices and communication of task-related data, robots communicate with other robots in the fleet to optimize robotic tasks based on location and current situation||Robot can send a digital error signal and be remotely operated by a human operator onsite, but there is no capacity for off-site remote operation. There is no active status monitoring via computer algorithms.|
|4||Autonomous operation throughout a facility, capable of safely avoiding obstacles and humans, and can optimize its path throughout the facility||Capable of autonomously loading, unloading, and transporting of materials, can manage a variety of different sizes, shapes, forms of material||Fully integrated with facility systems enabling movement throughout a facility, capable of interacting with facility characteristics, such as doors and elevators, and other equipment to enable freedom of movement throughout the facility||Fully integrated with IT systems and other connected operational equipment, receives and performs tasks without human intervention, communication is enabled across a fleet of robots and other connected devices to optimize end-to-end processes, captures and communicates information enabling advanced analytics and robotic systems optimization||Robot fleet is connected to a self-monitoring system to detect operation anomalies. Robots are equipped with the capability for off-site remote management to take over in the instance that an unresolvable obstacle is encountered|
|0* - No robot will meet all L0 characteristics, if it did it would not be a robot. However, any robot that meets any L0 characteristics is classified as an L0 robot.|
There is tremendous benefits to be gained through the application of robotics across many industries. Indeed, we have been hearing quite a bit about the impact of robotics and automation in the manufacturing industry and how this is transforming the jobs landscape. Robots are meant to be tools that enable us to improve our business process and either provide additional value to the business process or take on tasks that enable human workers to provide additional value. Regardless, the value and opportunity of robotics in industry is tremendous and we see no signs of the increased proliferation of robotics slowing down.
The recently published report "Indoor Autonomous Mobile Robots - A Maturity Model" provides a deeper look into this maturity model.