Outdoor Mobile Robot Platforms and Applications

Mobile robots, whether autonomous or operated by a human, benefit enterprises and other organizations in many outdoor scenarios. Some of the most common use cases for outdoor mobile robots include agriculture, construction and mining, last-mile delivery, oil & gas, ports, and public safety. Mobile robotic systems can automate monotonous tasks that human workers are often assigned to—making these technologies a great way to overcome labor shortages, notably in China with the country’s prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns. Key to the magic of outdoor mobile robots is visual and laser Simultaneous Location and Mapping (SLAM) technology that enables the system to see its surroundings, sense nearby objects, avoid obstacles, navigate safely, and quickly make data-based decisions. Adding to this, marquee chipset suppliers like Intel, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm have developed robotics development platforms that are tailored to the developer’s Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) hardware of choice. Not only that, these robotics platforms are compatible with software developed with the often-used Robot Operating System (ROS) middleware and are fully integrated with simulation software for robotics development, fleet management, and path optimization.

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Market Overview

  • Growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 27%, ABI Research projects global outdoor mobile robot shipments to increase from 40,000 in 2021 to 344,000 by 2030.
  • Adoption of mobile robots in agriculture and construction will slow down considerably because of the fragmented nature of these sectors. While automation is highly sought after in farming and companies like John Deere are investing in AMRs, some companies, such as Ladybug Robotics, find the high manufacturing costs hard to justify in a split market.
  • The outdoor mobile robot software platform market will grow at a CAGR of 36.7% and hit US$11.8 billion by 2030, with delivery services still making up the largest chunk of the market.
  • The worldwide economic slowdown, including high interest rates and a looming recession, has led to layoffs by a number of well-known robotics vendors. Moreover, robotics startups are being more cautious and pivoting product portfolios/business models.
  • Demonstrating some of the pessimism in the outdoor AMR space, Amazon and FedEx have each put an end to their respective delivery robot projects.

“In the long run, robotics automation will continue to be a pivotal approach to alleviating supply chain crunches and promoting workplace safety in agriculture, construction, oil & gas, and seaports.”  – Lian Jye Su, Director at ABI Research

The chart below forecasts shipments for outdoor mobile robots by vertical between 2021 and 2030.

A chart forecasting the number of outdoor mobile robot shipments between 2021 and 2030 by vertical.

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The next sections provide strategic recommendations for the broader mobile robot market—for both robotics providers and for organizations that are thinking about investing in these technologies.

Key Decision Items

The Market Needs to Plan for the Future of 5G in Outdoor Mobile Robotics

Today, Wi-Fi and Long Term Evolution (LTE) are the de facto connectivity technologies that robotics vendors and software developers support. However, vendors should plan roadmaps to upgrade their mobile robot platforms to 5G given the benefits when applied to highly demanding AMR applications. As pointed out in our 5G in Robotics: Trials and Deployments report (PT-2356), enterprise users of 5G in mobile robot platforms will enjoy the benefits of lower latency, network slicing, edge computing, high bandwidth, and the ability to share mission-critical data in real time. Government-sponsored trials and pilot projects will be integral to the future of 5G in robotics and demonstrate the feasibility of new use cases in outdoor work environments.

Vendors Can Accommodate Inexperienced Enterprises with All-Inclusive Platforms

Despite being readily available, most outdoor mobile robotics end users are not yet well-versed in the deployment and management processes. With such unfamiliarity, robotics vendors and platform providers need to develop an End-to-End (E2E) solution that accounts for the totality of the evaluation, adoption, design, deployment, and management processes. Moreover, chipset processing, software packages, machine vision hardware, tools and libraries, simulation software, and reference design are other factors to consider offering for a better customer experience.

Continue Solving Safety and Security Issues in an Ever-Connected World

Safety, already a primary focus in the robotics industry, must continue to be a staple in product development. In addition to Functional Safety (FuSa) to keep employees from bodily harm, cybersecurity is an ever-pressing issue to address. Robots are becoming more connected than ever, which makes them more vulnerable to cyberattacks and unauthorized access. To counter these security risks to mobile robot platforms, vendors need to strongly consider the implementation of Real-Time Operating Systems (RTOSs) and hypervisors in outdoor AMR systems.

Put Profitability and Workplace Safety at the Center of Mobile Robot Platform Discussions

When weighing options about mobile robot platforms, enterprise decision makers should focus on finding outdoor AMR solutions that align with business outcomes. Return on Investment (ROI) must be the most important factor during the buying process. This means exploring which types of AMRs and software platforms will mesh well with the work environment surroundings and match the data analytics needs of the team.

Not every type of AMR or other robotic product is suited for every industry. For example, the construction & mining industries need robots that are resilient in harsh work environments and, in many cases, must be water-resistant. Or as another example, a two-wheeled AMR is ideal in environments with flat surfaces, such as for last-mile delivery, but not where the terrain is uneven. In the latter case, this is why quadrupeds are a popular choice for oil & gas industry platforms. A quadruped is able to maneuver beneath or sidestep obstacles and climb up the stairs. In the end, any robotics discussions being made must be propelled by the motivation to increase productivity and make the workplace safer.

Key Market Players to Watch

Dig Deeper for the Full Picture

Identify the market opportunities, challenges, applications, key players, strategies, and technological drivers in the outdoor mobile robots and platforms space by downloading ABI Research’s Outdoor Mobile Robots research report.

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This content is part of the company’s Industrial, Collaborative & Commercial Robotics Research Service.

Research report on outdoor mobile robots, including hardware, software platforms, challenges, strategies, and more.