As we explored in the last blog, autonomous robots have the potential to deliver significant value in the warehouses crucial to the fulfillment of ecommerce. But, as Spatial AI – the capability to locate and navigate themselves in physical environments – improves, robots will be able to take on far more complex tasks and add exponential value. The combination of more accurate localization and mapping – down to millimetre level – with low-cost, proven and standardized solutions which work in a multitude of robots across industries, will accelerate the usefulness and ubiquity of robots.
Out of the warehouse
Until recently, the warehouse was the only place for robots in retail, but now we are also seeing rapid changes in retail ‘front-office, the shops themselves.
Robots are now to be found around stores – and not just cleaning floors or checking stock. Pioneers such as BotsandUs with its robot Bo, are investigating robots as customer service solutions, as well as ways of capturing data that can further improve the retail experience of customers. These applications require more than just effective localization and mapping of the environment; robots need to be able to perceive objects and understand what they are. Complex AI will allow them to approach and interact with people and objects in the correct way. The core technology to deliver these capabilities in a cost-effective and repeatable manner is just around the corner.
Down on the farm
In agriculture, machines have been used to help with preparing the land, nurturing and harvesting crops for centuries. Starting with human-powered, then horse-drawn ploughs right up to tractor-driven machinery, each wave of technological advance has increased the productivity of land and improved yields. Now, firms like Small Robot Company are using the best of robotics to take things still further. Its robots, christened Tom, Dick and Harry, will seed, feed and weed arable crops autonomously, with minimal waste; essential for the commercial as well as ecological viability of farming. Designing robots like these with precise, low-cost, navigational capabilities means that more farmers can use robots to tend more crops in efficient ways. This increases food production, while reducing waste and costs.
Next generation farms may be altogether different from the open fields we visualize now. Vertical farms are attracting significant attention and investment and present new opportunities and challenges for robots. Already ‘tech-enabled’ with AI and specialist operating systems, vertical farms could be home to hundreds of robots planting, tending and harvesting crops 24/7. With no GPS, and with the need for precise location and navigation, the need for Spatial AI systems for these robots is clear. Small, low-cost and low-power robots could take this emerging sector to the next level of productivity and commercial success.
Finally, in the home, we are poised to make the leap from robotic vacuuming and voice-activated smart-speakers, to robots that can navigate around us and our homes to make life easier and safer. Compared to warehouses, factories and most retail environments, homes are very chaotic. Things move around, lighting changes throughout the day as natural light plays through windows and internal lights are turned on and off. There are no defined areas for people to sit or stand. For a robot these are highly complex environments to manage. But, if they can, then the opportunities to aid the elderly, the infirm, the lonely and almost anyone in a domestic environment, are huge.
As they become more cost effective, medical robots could help with outpatient care and in-home mobility for elderly patients. Not only can they provide an enhanced level of safety and care, but allow people to remain living in their own homes instead of moving to a hospital or sheltered accommodation. As robots become more sophisticated and better able to negotiate the chaos of the average family home, they will be able to help out with more tasks, beyond basic fetch and carry and cleaning to accepting deliveries, security, monitoring appliances and energy efficiency.
With the power to safely move around complex and changing environments, robots will become more commonplace and be found helping out, or taking on an ever-widening range of tasks. Cracking the challenge of Spatial AI cost-effectively is the key to delivering this new generation of robots. At SLAMcore we are already working with developers around the world to bring Spatial AI to their robots accelerating progress to this new world. If you are interested in hearing more about our work please get in touch here. If you’d like to become a partner, or join our Early Access Programme, please leave your details here.