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The Need for 100% Uptime for Mobile Robots

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Cutting-edge mobile robots cost tens of thousands of dollars per unit, if not more, which is a steep price tag that requires operators to always be looking to put them to use and maximize ROI. But mobile robots such as those found in many warehouses and factory floors need to recharge every few hours. And with a battery lifespan of a few years, they demand continuous investment. Indeed, while robots are now a critical asset for many businesses, they are also among the most expensive items to purchase and maintain, and excessive downtime continues to drive up the total cost of ownership.

As charging technology evolves, wireless solutions have proven to be popular and are often more efficient than connected charging, but it doesn’t mitigate the downtime that inhibits continuous operations – all but a necessity for companies to stay cost-efficient and competitive.

Standard Power Supply Can’t Keep Up

Workforce shortages, rising labor costs, and the explosive growth of e-commerce and fulfillment needs have all led to rapid growth in the mobile robotics industry. The annual market for mobile robotics in logistics and delivery is predicted to reach $150 billion over the next two decades.

Even with this surge, most wirelessly charging mobile robots struggle to keep up with operational demands. Although wireless charging is advantageous for eliminating wear and tear and safety issues, robots still need to pause operations and remain inactive to recharge.

For industries that rely on non-stop operations, any downtime is a significant drawback, necessitating costly investment in faster wireless charging technologies, supplementary power management, or even a second robotic fleet to enable overlapping, ongoing shifts. With enough resources, operating an inflated fleet can support continuous operations, but the issue of added space requirements arises alongside the steep cost.

Considering how valuable every square foot is in a warehouse or industrial setting, the amount of space needed to integrate wireless charging can be a serious setback for storage efficiency. Charging stations not only need their own dedicated area but also require clear access lanes for robots to reach them, leading to workspace reconfiguration that can impact the overall flow of operations.

Other limitations are more technical in nature such as “distance from object” which refers to the distance over which power can be transferred. The efficiency of wireless charging typically decreases as the distance between the charger and the device increases, so robots must be positioned within a few centimeters of a charging station to receive optimal energy.

Misalignment is a similar concern – for the charging process to be effective, a robot must be properly aligned with the docking station. Even minor misalignments can significantly inhibit charging efficiency, prolonging the process or resulting in incomplete charging. This necessitates precise positioning mechanisms and sensors to ensure correct alignment, adding costs, complexity, and potential points of failure to warehouse systems.

Dynamic Power Delivery Eliminates Downtime

The recent emergence of dynamic power delivery solutions is an exciting development for robotic power delivery.

These innovative systems work to continuously power operation robots and phase out charging downtime entirely. This approach allows robots to recharge while in motion as they perform their tasks, eliminating the need to take them off the floor for dedicated charging sessions.

By facilitating round-the-clock operation, dynamic power delivery elevates operational management and efficiency – a significant improvement for industries where continuous operation is crucial. Constant uptime will lead to increased productivity and fleet efficiency, as well as reduced waste and spending.

If wireless charging was an opening salvo for robot downtime, dynamic power delivery may just be the magic bullet.

Reducing Battery Reliance

Wireless charging technology often requires highly specialized batteries and charging systems – a dependency that ties robot manufacturers and users to a specific set of products and providers for power solutions.

This monopoly limits flexibility in terms of sourcing and maintaining charging systems. For instance, in situations where a charging tech provider faces supply chain issues, discontinues a product, or fails to keep up with advancing technology, users will be stuck with obsolete or unsupported systems. Additionally, batteries in mobile robots are often made from lithium, a  hazardous material that needs to be swapped out every few years and requires specific storage temperatures and handling procedures. The result is even more inflated costs and fewer options for competitive pricing, as the market for compatible wireless charging solutions is limited to a few key players.

As with the issue of downtime, new and upcoming advancements could render traditional batteries in mobile robots obsolete. Research is already underway regarding alternative power sources, such as supercapacitors, fuel cells, or even eco-friendly renewable sources.

Without the need for large, heavy batteries, robots will be smaller, more agile, and more efficient. Moreover, by leveraging renewable energy sources, these future power solutions will help make the robotic technology landscape more sustainable.

A Continuously Powered Future

With continuous, efficient, and sustainable power delivery, the limitations of current robotic systems will fade, ushering in a new era of automated efficiency. These developments stand to fundamentally change the design and operation of mobile robots (and perhaps even the warehouses and factories they serve), resulting in smaller, more agile, and more cost- and time-efficient fleets across the globe.