Fleet Management System 101: Complete Guide

Fleet Management System

Fleet management systems have entirely revolutionised how many companies operate from top to bottom, providing ways to substantially lower operational costs while improving productivity. 

Today’s blog aims to deeply delve into how such systems work to impact business operational efficiency. 

What is fleet management?

Generally speaking, fleet management involves activities that minimise the risks associated with supply chain management, speed management, fuel management, health and safety management, accident management and subrogation, and telematics (tracking and diagnostics), to improve efficiency, productivity and reduce transportation and staff costs.

Fleet management has gradually transformed over the last decade. It now encompasses much more than procuring and maintaining vehicles. This includes warehouse and compliance management, operational efficiency and environmental impact attributes.

What are fleet managers responsible for?

For the most part, fleet managers are responsible for performing fleet inspections, scheduling maintenance, reporting, and paying attention to vital metrics that shed valuable insight into vehicle performance.

What does a fleet management system do?

A fleet management system is essentially an administrative tool that provides total control over a fleet via complex features like real-time tracking, reports, route history, geofence zones, and trip logs.

Fleet management systems facilitate a series of specific tasks related to fleets like tracking procurement costs, scheduling maintenance and servicing tasks, route optimisation, and measurement of fleet performance via reports and charts.

Previously, fleet managers employed spreadsheets to track fleet information. However, current fleet management systems provide a centralised technology-powered location with all fleet-related information. 

The two main types of fleet management systems that are currently prevalent today are AMR and vehicle tracking fleet management systems: 

AMR fleet management systems 

The last decade has seen a rise in robot-based industrial automation, with industrial robots proving comparatively inexpensive while capable of executing repeated tasks at high speed and great accuracy. 

Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) and Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) systems constitute robots designed to safely work collaboratively with humans in close proximity in industrial and commercial settings, without any protective fencing. 

In practice, AMRs can be intuitively programmed and controlled through dedicated AMR fleet management systems that optimise robots’ operational assignments, organise fleet movements, define and establish routes and monitor traffic. 

Additionally, fleet management systems help balance AGV and AMR battery life and manage charging activities while automating the intralogistics process.

DF Automation and Robotics offers affordable fleet management systems that help to regulate your fleet of AMRs and integrate them with third party systems to optimize delivery operations and productivity. DFleet, our in-house developed FMS System is designed specifically to manage the fleet of DF AGV and AMR systems. It comes with key features such as battery monitoring, location identification, traffic and task management between multiple AMRs at the same time.

Vehicle tracking system

Businesses with extensive fleets that consist of different vehicles all probably use fleet management systems. 

Whether haulier, courier, sales, service, utilities, or emergency services, different fleets require adequate management to control associated costs, remain competitive and meet customers’ expectations.

A key component of such fleet management systems is a vehicle tracking component that is typically GPS-based or sometimes based on GLONASS or cellular triangulation.

In practice, once the vehicle location, direction and speed are determined from the GPS components, extra tracking features transmit this information to a fleet management software application via both terrestrial and satellite means. 

However, satellite tracking, while more expensive, is vital if fleet tracking is required in remote environments, without interruption. 

Overall, fleet management systems aim to control the entire lifecycle of vehicles while also reducing associated risk, improving operational efficiency, productivity and ensuring compliance with legislation. 

AMR fleet management systems

DFleet-Fleet Management System for DF AMR

Benefits of fleet management

Fleet management systems help improve cost efficiency, safety, service delivery and visibility into operations. They also help to achieve regulatory compliance, automation and to streamline dispatching. 

So let’s comprehensively break down what these benefits mainly entail, shall we?

1. Cost efficiency

Expectedly, fleet managers constantly seek to reduce the costs throughout the fleet, which means identifying and eliminating unnecessary expenses to make fleets cost-efficient.

Without fleet management systems, fuel, maintenance, and operational costs would quickly get out of control for businesses. 

In practice, such systems can help fleet managers curate fuel efficiency programs to combat fluctuating fuel prices. They can even implement asset tracking mechanisms to reduce theft and misuse and increase productivity and profitability.

2. Vehicle tracking

Whether it’s a fleet of 10 or 1,000 vehicles, tracking each vehicle location can be highly complicated, challenging at best, and a nightmare at worst. 

Optimal fleet management systems constitute efficient GPS tracking and telematics mechanisms to locate vehicles and deliver better insight into fleet operations.

Furthermore, businesses contingent on a mobile workforce usually have high capital expenses that spiral out of control unless they are managed closely. 

Particularly, fleet managers can leverage telematics to reduce a fleet’s costs and increase profit margins by:

  • Lowering fuel costs by reducing fuel wastage throughout a fleet.
  • Increasing and optimising asset utilisation so a fleet can complete more jobs with fewer employees and vehicles.
  • Catching potential maintenance issues before they become more significant problems that cause vehicle breakdowns.
  • Reducing instances of personal use of vehicles or vehicle misuse with real-time tracking.

3. Safety and accident reduction

Road accidents always pose a severe risk for businesses dependent on drivers and vehicles. Additionally, accidents usually significantly impact businesses financially, even more when there is an injury. 

Since drivers represent one’s business, overly aggressive and dangerous driving can affect one’s brand’s reputation even if they do not get into an accident. 

Fleet management systems can be helpful to:

  • Determine the best and worst-performing drivers.
  • Curate driver coaching programs to correct aggressive and dangerous driving.
  • Monitor driving history to continually track improvement and offer additional training if needed.
  • Protect one’s business from litigation and exonerate drivers.

4. Improving customer service

Increasingly, fleet management systems are being adopted to augment the customer service experience by:

  • Optimising route planning with location data for on-time deliveries and service arrivals.
  • Providing accurate ETAs with real-time tracking so customers know exactly when to expect one’s team.

Industries using fleet management

Fleet management mechanisms are mainly deployed in the management of:

  • Commercial motor vehicles such as cars, vans, trucks, specialist vehicles (like mobile construction machinery), forklifts, and trailers
  • Private vehicles used for work purposes 
  • Aviation machinery like aircraft (planes and helicopters)
  • Ships
  • Rail cars
  • Non-powered assets like generators, tanks, gearboxes, dumpsters, shipping containers, trailers, excavators.

That being said, fleet management systems are currently being mainly employed by organisations that provide services like:

  • Transportation
  • Cargo
  • Vendors
  • Waste Management
  • School Transportation
  • OEM Companies
  • Construction Vehicles
  • Refrigerated Trucks
  • Logistics
  • Courier companies
  • Gas Delivery companies
  • Bank Cash Vans and many more
  • Fuel Monitoring
  • Fuel Theft

Fleet management software

Fleet management software systems basically deliver interfaces through which businesses can access all the relevant information pertaining to the performance of their fleets, whenever they desire it. 

In practice, the average fleet management software comprises an intricate database with multiple applications. These enable one to record and report the actionable attributes that can improve operational efficiencies and drive down costs This further helps in reducing downtime and improving productivity.

Fleet management software also helps fleet managers to obtain objective information into driver safety. This means, highlighting dangerous practices, like speeding or harsh braking, and distinguishing drivers who require more coaching. 

Such software is also integral to ensuring that a fleet remains compliant with local regulations while supporting proactive maintenance efforts. It enables fleet managers to get the most out of their assets with preventative maintenance schedules. 

Fleet management software

How does fleet management software work?

Fleet management software typically consists of small telematics devices that connect to a vehicle’s onboard diagnostics port. 

Though installation methods can widely differ, most solutions are “plug-and-play” and don’t require a mechanic for installation. 

In practice, the telematics device continually collects data like real-time vehicle location; distance travelled, speed, vehicle fault codes, fuel usage, harsh braking, rapid acceleration, etc.

Subsequently, this data is sent to an online fleet management dashboard through a satellite, Bluetooth, USB, or cellular connection. Here, it is organised into a set of tools and reports that can be employed to track and manage one’s business.

Most state-of-the-art fleet management software solutions maintain a mobile application to facilitate driver productivity and allow fleet managers to manage fleet operations remotely.

In summary, fleet management software systems improve the management of:

  • Vehicles, assets and equipment
  • Maintenance and repair
  • Fuel and emissions
  • Parts and inventory
  • Accident and risk management
  • Drivers including driver licence checks
  • Workshops and scheduling
  • Inspections, defect reporting and audits
  • Regulatory and legal compliance
  • Budget and forecasting

Common features of advanced fleet management software

  1. Availability on mobile (for driver & employees) and web app (for transport admin) to make the usage easier.
  2. Real-time vehicle tracking to improve control over all fleet vehicles.
  3. Automated route generation, optimisation of employee configuration, estimation of travel time & route distance with smart roster planning.
  4. Customised/automated reports and analytics for future enhancements.
  5. Employees feedback mechanisms through an employee transportation management app, which enables driver performance analysis.
  6. Advanced safety solutions to facilitate safe rides for employees.
  7. Real-time instantaneous activity alerts and prompt notifications to admins.
  8. The ability to send SOS alerts to monitoring teams on any emergency, typically via IVR (Interactive voice response), safe reach calls for employees during commutes, with auto escalations to ensure prompt action.
  9. Streamlined communication with audit trails for conflict resolution.
  10. Automate scheduling of escorts to ensure the safety of female employees.
  11. The ability for an admin to receive alerts and notifications on rash driving or overspeeding, in order to make informed decisions.
  12. The ability for an admin to receive fleet health check alerts, including DL expiry alerts, vehicle registration expiry alerts, non-compliance alerts, etc.

The future

Fleet management revolves around a business efficiently managing its fleets and asset information. It starts from acquisition to disposal, reducing costs, improving efficiency and ensuring compliance across their fleet operations.

By using fleet management software tools, fleet managers can effectively plan for more efficient routes, lower the excess fuel usage, and eliminate risky driver behaviour or even reroute company vehicles to a customer in need. 

In the coming years, we expect fleet management systems to expand in capability. 

For example, in terms of data visibility as organisations increasingly adopt artificial intelligence to exploit and aggregate data in centralised systems. 

We also expect more organisations to benefit from 5G with increased coverage, instantaneous notifications to keep teams more connected and boost productivity. 

5G technology should also advance GPS and telematics tools to offer faster real-time vehicle updates regarding safety, health and performance. 

This means providing more comprehensive and actionable insight into maintenance needs and helping fleets to better combat downtime.

We hope to see more prototypes of autonomous vehicles as fleet trucks could drive themselves with the help of telematics programs that work in tandem with autonomous cars. 

Needless to say, this helps to keep an eye out for traffic obstructions and road issues in real-time or even send messages to vehicles to take different routes or quick detours.

Shortlisting a Company for Fleet Management System in Malaysia: Key Factors

fleet management system company in Malaysia

Today, complex tools like fleet management systems (FMS) minimise the time fleet operators spend on administrative tasks. These improve fleet efficiency and performance while helping manage compliance-related issues– all in a cost-effective manner. 

Despite all these benefits, many organisations in Malaysia still face challenges while choosing a dependable FMS provider. Today’s article aims to serve as a guide when engaged with the predicament of choosing reliable FMS providers.  

What is a Fleet Management System?

Generally, a fleet management system is a computerised system that manages fleet operations to ensure maximum operational efficiency, safety, compliance and productivity of all fleet vehicles. 

In practice, an FMS principally concerns itself with managing a group of vehicles (cars, trucks or even planes) to meet the goals and technical objectives obtained from an enterprise computer system.

Fundamentally, fleet management systems power the activities of today’s fleet managers, fleet operators and business owners.

What are AMR Fleet Management Systems?

An AMR Fleet Management System is essentially an FMS that helps manage and regulate a fleet of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) to optimise AMR delivery operations and maximise productivity. An AMR FMS optimises AMRs’ assignments, movements, manages battery life, establish travel routes and moderate traffic in real-time. 

Factors to consider before shortlisting an FMS company in Malaysia

As you seek out an FMS provider, you should carefully consider the factors below:

1. Industry experience 

In all honesty, fleet management is a very delicate business. Any small mistake, and one can find themselves on the wrong side of the law, or even subject to multiple lawsuits. As such, you need a dependable and experienced partner to help you manoeuvre this complex world. This is why experience is a vital factor you can never ignore. 

When evaluating FMS providers, it’s imperative to assess their history while working with clients across different industries like manufacturing and healthcare.

You can also establish their industry experience in dealing with disparate types of vehicles. This can help you judge if they have what it takes to deliver services that exceed client expectations.

2. Expertise in developing, manufacturing and supplying FMS products

When searching for an FMS provider, ensure to judge and research their expertise with handling FMS products. Ask yourself if their catalogue includes a diverse range of FMS products.

For example, you might be a business that seeks an FMS for real-time GPS services but could find that you later need an AMR system for your warehouse. 

Your chosen provider should be able to show expertise and flexibly cater to different client needs with diverse products for efficient routing and vehicle diagnostics, or to maximise fleet utilisation and productivity.

Expertise in developing, manufacturing and supplying FMS products

3. Provides integrated AGV/AMR solutions

Investigate if your shortlist of FMS providers maintains complete AGV/AMR integrated solutions to automate intralogistics processes. 

Overall, your ideal solution should include AGV/AMR programming, complete FMS setup, and hardware & software customisation capabilities for specific material handling. 

Additionally, they should have the ability to integrate with building facilities (such as doors, lifts, lights), third-party systems or software, and handshaking features with other machines, etc.

4. Capability to integrate third-party software for automation

Ensure to check whether your potential FMS integrates with specific existing or new systems, or not. 

Also, check if the provider’s FMS enables data sharing with CRMs and maintenance systems. 

The ideal FMS should be able to integrate with accounting, finances, and inventory departments to enable seamless operations.

An advanced FMS also typically has pre-built integrations that provide entry points to help businesses to build custom integrations. Additionally, ask if the FMS vendor periodically rolls out software updates that could impact integrations and interrupt operations as well.

5. After sales support

Customer service and sales support play vital roles in the success of any business. How a FMS provider relates with its partners speaks volumes of their efficiency and values. 

If communication is terrible, you will be left in the dark when you require timely delivery of crucial information and updates, or inquiries replied to. Therefore, ensure to choose an FMS that demonstrates quick emergency response, and has reliable communication channels and infrastructures. 

6. Customer Reviews

A reputable FMS company will have a solid reputation online as customer reviews speak for themselves. Ensure to research and seek out testimonials or previous clients’ reviews to learn more about their quality of service and how they handle their clients.

Takeaway 

As we have established in this article, the ideal FMS provider will have a good online reputation, optimal service delivery, available customer support and vast industry experience and expertise. 

When selecting a potential FMS provider, do ensure to take your time considering all the factors shared in this piece, as fleet management can be quite delicate. 

The article is a part of our comprehensive series on “Fleet management system”.

What Is An Open-Source Fleet Management System (+Examples)

Open Source Fleet Management System

Fleet management activities allow companies to organise, manage and coordinate their vehicles to increase efficiency, monitor driver behaviour, reduce costs and adhere to legislative compliance measures. 

Over the last two decades, fleet management has evolved with more companies adopting technology to better manage their fleets. This article aims to discuss ‘open-source’ fleet management technologies, their characteristics, and their benefits to organisations. 

What is a Fleet Management System?

A fleet management system is essentially a computerised administrative tool that provides a company total control over business operations that involve vehicle fleets. For example, ordinary cars, aircraft (planes, helicopters), ships, vans and trucks, and even rail cars.  

Because companies with vehicle fleets need an organised infrastructure to help them with their daily activities, a fleet management system avails centralised access to an array of technological tools that help as real-time tracking, and with reporting, telematics (route history), geofencing zones, speed management, fuel management and trip logs. 

What is an Open-Source Fleet Management System?

Traditionally, open-source systems are software systems that are publicly available for others to use, modify and share. As such, they are community-focused, with publicly available documentation. 

That being said, an open-source fleet management system is essentially a free version of an advanced fleet management software that gives users basic features necessary for ordinary fleet management. 

In practice, such systems are modelled after premium fleet management systems but do not have as many features as a complete fleet management software. However, they do give a taste of what full premium software has to offer. 

Benefits of using an Open Source Fleet Management System

  1. Available Community: Because open-source systems are created, modified, and maintained by a community, one can easily find solutions since others have a shared interest in the software. This allows for faster problem solving, development and troubleshooting.
  2. Transparency: Open-source software provides transparent access to its codebase. This means users can see new developments, changes, and bug fixes.
  3. Lower upfront costs: While most open-source software is not always free, there are no licensing fees. This means the upfront cost is lower.
  4. Merit-based solutions: Since profits aren’t a big deal, every decision is made to make the product the best it can be since there is no bottom line. 
  5. No contracts: Because of their community-based nature, open-source fleet management systems have no contracts.

Cons of an Open Source Fleet Management System

  1. Poor Compatibility: In some instances, proprietary hardware requires specialised software/drivers to function properly. Unfortunately, such software drivers are only available from specific manufacturers, which introduces some risks when using open source systems. 
  2. No Warranties: Open-source software licenses typically have limited or no warranty. 
  3. Hidden Costs: Open-source software is not always free, and can sometimes have hidden costs.
  4. Support Shortage: There can sometimes be a lack of support services as a company can be at the mercy of the community. This can become stressful if the community is slow to respond and not reliable.  

Main features within an Open Source Fleet Management System

  1. Tracking and management tools enable businesses to manage their fleets efficiently. 
  2. Live reporting capabilities like the ability to forecast, track and manage all your resources in real-time—from people, vehicles or equipment.
  3. Tyre management capabilities like the ability to track tyre stocks and performance based on various factors like NSD and wear & tear.
  4. Fuel management tools to keep a check on the mileage of each vehicle. For example, to know how far a vehicle has travelled, or to identify vehicles that aren’t getting the required mileage.
  5. Renewals management features to keep updated with compliance dates, or to send specific notifications to users/vendors.
  6. Driver management functions to keep track of drivers’ documents, performance, and KPIs.
  7. Inventory management tools that track purchase dates, transfer or assign spare parts, raise and receive PO, or check vendor payments for multiple workshops.
  8. Job card functions to assign proactive and reactive services, and designate spare parts from the warehouse.
  9. Vehicle inspection tools that enables companies to schedule an inspection of vehicles and notify drivers when the investigation is due. 
  10. Advanced quality and performance analysis feature that check the performance of a vehicle based on transit time, routes used, and journey conducted.
  11. Maintenance features that give maintenance trends reports 
  12. Dispatch management tools to assign jobs to drivers, track where they precisely are, and see their job status.

For more on how fleet management systems work, check out this video

Best Open-Source Fleet Management System

  • FleetcoFleetco is an open-source web-based fleet management system built with the PHP programming language and a MySQL database. It’s easy to use and very intuitive, without needing any installation or network configuration.
  • Everlance: Everlance is a fleet management software solution with features like GPS fleet tracking, route optimisation, dispatch management, automatic mileage tracking, and expense management. Its free version allows for 30 automatic trips per month and unlimited receipt uploads.
  • Odoo: Odoo is a popular open-source ERP that has a fleet management module that allows users to save service vehicle records, contracts, and tags. Additionally, it can be extended to perform GPS tracking, fuel management and dispatch management. 

Final Remarks

Open source fleet management systems can enable cash-strapped organisations to improve their business operations and lower their operational costs substantially while improving their productivity. Later on, if they desire more advanced features, they can always upgrade to premium fleet management solutions.

The article is a part of our comprehensive series on “Fleet management system”.

What Are Forklift Automated Guided Vehicles?

forklift AGVs

Technology continues to progress at extraordinarily fast rates to improve the lives of people across the globe. One of the testaments of technological advancement is automated guided vehicles and robots that are deployed in manufacturing facilities and distribution centre operations. 

What are Automated Guided Vehicles?

An automated guided vehicle (AGV) is essentially a mobile robot with transportation capabilities that reads path information via magnetic strips, QR codes, or simultaneous localization and mapping technology (SLAM), for directional guidance.

Overall, these unique machines are used to perform highly standardised and repetitive tasks, without the need for human management.

AGVs are usually deployed to industrial settings to transport materials around buildings like factories or warehouses. They are often utilised to transport raw materials like metal, plastic, rubber or paper. For instance, AGVs can transport materials from receiving areas to the main warehouse, or even directly to production lines.

Read our comprehensive post on “Automated Guided Vehicles” for more information. 

What are Forklift Automated Guided Vehicles?

Forklift automated guided vehicles, also sometimes referred to as self-driving computer-controlled forklifts, are AGVs that consist of a forklift for moving around and transporting goods, without human intervention. Simply put, they are ‘driverless’ forklifts.  

Advantages of Forklift Automated Guided Vehicles

  • Reduces the cost of labour 
  • Help with labour shortages
  • Increase overall productivity
  • Improves personnel safety
  • Better optimised flow of goods
  • Increase energy efficiency

Features of Forklift Automated Guided Vehicles

Forklift AGVs typically constitute sophisticated robotic components, dedicated forklift management system software, and electronic peripherals. 

In practice, forklift AGVs are modelled after traditional human-manned forklifts and designed to provide horizontal and vertical movements of loads. 

Typically, they consist of safety features like safety lasers to ensure safe conditions when travelling at high speeds, detect suspended loads, guide backward operations like unit load deposit or removal.

Generally, forklift AGVs have:

  • High-manoeuvrability
  • 360⁰ obstacle detection
  • The ability to interface and communicate with conveyors, racking, and other plant equipment
  • Ability to work with double deep, flow, and push back racks
  • Intelligent design that is sturdy and compact

Types of Forklift Automated Guided Vehicles  

Pallet mover AGV

Also called a Fork-over AGV or Automated Pallet Jack, the pallet mover AGV is used to transport palletized loads in manufacturing facilities.    

Inspired by the traditional pallet jack, the pallet mover AGV allows limited vertical movement of a load to reach pallets on high racks, or shelves at low heights for floor-to-floor operations.

Furthermore, AGV pallet movers have stabilizers beneath the forks to allow reduced AGV dimensions, weight, and a tight turning radius that ensures great manoeuvrability.

Pallet mover AGV

 

Counterbalanced AGV fork truck

The counterbalanced AGV forklift truck is basically a forklift that counterbalances the weight of a load with a firm weight, typically a cast iron, or the battery, in the rear of the truck.

It is employed whenever it’s impossible to use a fork-over AGV and whenever a factory is dealing with a high payload and stacking height capacity. However, counterbalanced AGVs need more space for their turning radius in contrast to fork-over AGVs.

Furthermore, counterbalanced AGVs are mainly used for shipping and receiving loads as they are ideal for moving pallets to and from storage.

Counterbalanced AGV fork truck

Reach truck AGVs

Reach truck AGVs are robot forklifts mainly designed to work in narrow aisle warehousing spaces. In practice, they consist of two outer legs that distribute the load weight with a mast that extends the forks outside the vehicle footprint to improve vehicle manoeuvrability. 

As such, reach truck AGVs are capable of reaching outside of the footprint of the vehicle to pick and drop loads.

Reach truck AGVs

Straddle AGVs

Also known as outrigger AGVs, straddle AGVs are equipped with two horizontal stabilising legs that are positioned out of the load width.   

As a result, straddle AGVs need less manoeuvring space than counterbalanced AGVs, thus are more stable during lifting and travelling.  

Very narrow aisles AGVs

Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) AGVs are the most efficient forklift AGV type for performing transportation tasks in large and high warehouses. However, they’re very expensive but performant vehicles for moving material in racks.

How do Forklift Automated Guided Vehicles work?

Overall, forklift AGVs employ advanced computer technology and are programmed to monitor their surroundings while tracking and imitating the actions of human workers. In practice, they are trained to navigate their surroundings and operate in the safest and most efficient way possible. 

This is achieved via laser navigation as each vehicle is typically equipped with forklift telematics tools and navigation laser components. These navigational lasers are usually positioned on top of a mast that interfaces with targets positioned in the AGVs’ working area.

In practice, the laser device sends rotating laser arrays around a 360-degree radius that interact with several reflector targets like reflective tapes or cylinders which send the laser arrays back to the laser navigation device. 

The forklift AGV needs a minimum of three of these laser feedback signals to calculate its positioning with the help of sophisticated algorithms powered by a forklift management system.

Conclusion

In summary, forklift automated guided vehicle technologies play an intricate role in improving industrial efficiency. 

Because pallet handling involves repetitive movement, forklift AGVs are fast becoming integral solutions for material handling operations in distribution and manufacturing facilities. So, consider adopting them for your bulk handling needs, or for even transporting hazardous materials.

The blog is a part of our comprehensive article on “Automated Guided Vehicles”.

Robots: Their Uses and Applications

applications of robots

The concept of autonomous mechanical machines dates back to classical times when science fiction seemed out of reach. However, inventors, engineers, and technicians predicted that robots would one day mimic human behaviour and manage tasks in a human-like fashion.

According to Statista, the international robotics market is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 26%, and will reach $210 billion by 2025. 

Today, this is more than a reality, as robotics has become a rapidly advancing field, with robots serving various practical purposes domestically, commercially, or militarily.

What are Robots?

Simply put, a robot is a reprogrammable mechanical device that coordinates perception and action in a dynamic physical environment. Robots are designed to perform specific repetitive tasks and interact with their environments, without human interaction.

In practice, robots mainly constitute unique sensors (to perceive the environment), actuators (to interact with the environment) and computerised processing units that allow them to close the loop. Therefore, it enables robots to decide what actions should be performed based on the current perceived context.

Generally, most robots take on any form though some are made to resemble humans in appearance. This helps in the acceptance of robots in specific replicative behaviours typically performed by humans. Usually, such robots are designed to replicate human activities like walking, lifting, speech, and cognition. 

About Robotics

Generally speaking, robotics is an interdisciplinary engineering branch that overlaps with electronics, mechatronics, computer science, artificial intelligence, computer vision, nanotechnology and bioengineering.

Fundamentally, robotics focuses on the design, construction, operation, and utilisation of robots.

For example, engineering a robot’s computer systems for control, sensory feedback, and information processing.

Overall, robotics seeks to develop specialised machines to replicate human actions. For example, to perform actions in dangerous environments (like bomb detection and deactivation), or to execute complex manufacturing processes. Others even operate in environments where humans cannot survive (for example, in space or underwater).

That being said, in today’s advanced technological landscape, in any field where a purely mechanical job is too dangerous, heavy or tedious for humans to perform, robots are used. Furthermore, wherever mechanisation can augment productivity significantly, robots are used.

Robotics is governed by Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, namely:

  1. Robots must never harm human beings.
  2. Robots must follow designated instructions from humans, without violating rule 1.
  3. Robots must protect themselves without violating the other rules.

Uses of Robots

Manufacturing Industries

Robots are very popular in the manufacturing facilities like automobile and Solar PV manufacturing plants. In these industrial applications, robotic arms help to save time, increase production output and save manpower.

Logistics and Fleet Management

Robots are adopted in logistics and fleet management as Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRS). For example, an AMR can be used to locate a pallet and autonomously transport it to its intended destination in an efficient manner.

Healthcare

Robots are being deployed in the healthcare sector for applications like robotic delivery, surgery, remote patient surveillance, medicine transportation, and even UV disinfection.

We have also seen the advancement of bionics, where a region of the human body that is disabled is medically replaced by a robotic one, controlled by muscle stimulation. Furthermore, with the arrival of nanorobotics, we could see microscopic robots that can be injected into the human body to fight disease.

Travel and Tourism

Currently, we are seeing humanoid robots like the Honda Asimo being employed in hotels to welcome guests, as information kiosks, or for voice assistance etc. Additionally, some humanoid robots are being used to sing and dance like humans or to even play football with them.

Military Applications

Robots have been leveraged in military applications for the last two decades for several tasks such as transportation of weapons and demolition services.

Agriculture 

Agricultural robots are used to automate slow, repetitive and dull tasks to allow farmers to focus more on enhancing overall production yields. For example, harvesting, picking, and even weed control.

Space Exploration

Robots have been used in space exploration since the 70s. For example, all the advanced equipment on the International Space Station (ISS) is essentially robotic in nature. Furthermore, the interplanetary rovers and landers, and even the MARS helicopter (right now in the development phase), are all robots.

Delivery

Robots are being trialled to deliver food in restaurants. Furthermore, several large warehouses like Amazon’s, leverage robots to achieve faster package transportation and processing.

Uses of Robots in Daily Life

Overall, robots in our daily lives are being used for many repetitive tasks. Furthermore, robots now perform jobs that are hazardous to humans, like defusing bombs, finding human survivors in unstable ruins, or even exploring mines and shipwrecks. 

Conclusion

Currently, robots are integrated into the daily human experience as they are vital in making cars, semiconductors, and even food processing. In essence, robots will increasingly be adapted to perform tasks that seem too dull, dirty and dangerous for humans. As such, we expect them to further reshape businesses with efficiency and effectiveness.

The article is a part of our comprehensive series on Robotics.

The Growth of Robotic Process Automation Industry in Malaysia

RPA industry in Malaysia

According to marketsandmarkets.com, the global robotic process automation (RPA) market is predicted to reach $2.46 Billion by 2022. Therefore growing at a CAGR of 30.14% between 2017 and 2022. 

This market growth is attributed to the merging of RPA with traditional business process industries. 

Particularly, the banking, financial services, and insurance industries have been exploiting RPA to improve competence, efficiency, and speed up business processes since 2010.

In Malaysia, RPA is offering new technological salvation for organisations seeking to enhance business productivity and efficiency. Furthermore, when merged with conventional business solutions, RPA stimulates digital transformation. This is by enabling enterprises to better control end-to-end business processes.

In terms of RPA adoption, Malaysia is quickly gaining momentum as more companies seek to increase their RPA investment in the next 2-4 years. 

Government Support for RPA Adoption in Malaysia

RPA  has been identified as one of the core enabling technologies in Malaysia’s National Policy on IR 4.0

Additionally, as a critical part of the Digital Investments Future 5 Strategy, Malaysia’s Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) plans to increase efforts to grow the digital global business services, by encouraging the adoption of RPA.

The industries that RPA can serve in Malaysia 

  • Banking, financial services, and insurance
  • Healthcare and pharmaceutical
  • Telecom and IT
  • Retail and consumer goods
  • Travel, hospitality, and transportation
  • Manufacturing and logistics
  • Energy and utility, government, and academics
energy and utility

Photo by ETA+ on Unsplash

RPA benefits for Malaysian companies 

  • Productivity: In contrast to humans, RPA bots complete tasks about five times faster. Furthermore, they can work non-stop, 24/7. This, in turn, translates into higher productivity as they get more done, which creates capacity for more businesses.
  • Accuracy: Robots are more accurate, consistent, and compliant with policies than humans. Robots are also less prone to clerical errors and eliminate the small mistakes humans make that can have a cumulative impact on customer satisfaction.
  • Security: Robotic process automation functions on a granular level. This means that as an RPA bot executes only single tasks, there is less risk of information leakage.

Therefore, the data access is well controlled and documented, resulting in significant security benefits.

  • Resource Utilisation: Leaving mundane tasks to RPA robots frees up teams to execute tasks that add the most value to a business. Furthermore, RPA technology is fully scalable, enabling businesses to respond to any spike in demand.
  • Return on investment (ROI): RPA technology can pay for itself. Its return on investment is measurable as operating costs tend to drop quickly once it’s adopted. Though some IT expenditures take years to demonstrate ROI, with RPA, you’ll start seeing ROI in weeks.

Potential applications of RPA in Malaysia

RPA technology promises positive effects on business productivity in Malaysia. Sectors like insurance, banking, and financial services in Malaysia are already experiencing the benefits of RPA.  To illustrate the applications of RPA, let’s see some potential real-world use cases.

In the utility sector, oil-and-gas companies can handle 15,000 change-of-address requests every month. Robots can be used for creating new accounts in a CRM system. And as a result, dramatically reduce the average time for a change request to drop.

In the financial sector, lenders can use RPA technology to help ensure that their agents remain compliant with regulations. 

Where is Malaysia on its RPA journey?

Generally speaking, RPA adoption is still in its infancy in Malaysia. However, operational efficiency, resilience, cost-cutting, and error reduction are still major drivers of RPA adoption in the nation. 

Currently, more organisations in Malaysia are scaling up their digital workforces and are seeking ways of delivering more connected customer experiences. This is in addition to new differentiated products, rather than focusing only on cost efficiency.

This means that Malaysia has an unrivaled opportunity to accelerate RPA adoption. 

 

However, there are still some hurdles to overcome, namely: 

  • Lack of management buy-in.
  • Use of legacy systems.
  • Organisations still being unsure of how and where to start.
  • Difficulties in selecting the right RPA vendor.
  • Challenges convincing and upskilling employees.

Because RPA technology can pay for itself in the first year, many more organisations are jumping on the train. Currently, the main vendors in the robotic process automation space are: 

  • Automation Anywhere 
  • Blue Prism 
  • UiPath 
  • Celaton Ltd 
  • IPSoft 
  • and Xerox Corporation 

Conclusion

In summary, the future of RPA looks more promising than ever before. Today, multiple sectors in Malaysia like banking and finance, human resources, insurance agencies, marketing and sales, and customer relationship management are ready to deploy RPA technology.

The key driver for RPA adoption is its ability to improve process quality, speed, and productivity. As a result, businesses in Malaysia should consider its adoption to reduce costs during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Fundamentally, automation has been a major driving force in reshaping work long before the advent of the pandemic. However, now, RPA is taking on a new sense of urgency for more Malaysian companies. 

Therefore, companies that choose to adopt RPA solutions will have a better insight into what their primary business goals are. 

Overall, RPA automation is a user-friendly tool to meet any organisation’s automation objectives. Even if its processes, platforms, and software applications are outdated, RPA can still solve its issues. 

The article is a part of our comprehensive guide on “The A to Z of robotic process automation”.

8 Noteworthy Robotic Process Automation Examples

Robotic Process Automation Examples

Robotic process automation (RPA) is essentially technology that automates structured and repetitive business processes. Organisations can utilise RPA tools to connect with other digital systems, retrieve information, capture data, process transactions, etc. 

In that context, we can say that RPAs are “robots” programmed to complete particular business processes. Fundamentally, RPA handles mundane and repetitive tasks to free humans to focus on higher-level activities.

Examples of Robotic Process Automation

Financial institutions were the first organisations to adopt RPA. However, nowadays, there are numerous entities across different industries, like healthcare, retail, manufacturing, and fleet management that use RPA technology. 

With continual pressure to reduce inefficiencies and costs, many more sectors are turning to robotic process automation as a solution. 

However, it is best suited to clearly defined and well-documented processes, which are rule-based. Based on these criteria, many companies across numerous industries can adopt RPA for a wide variety of tasks.

Furthermore, it is predicted that spending on RPA technology will reach $2.4 billion by 2022, according to Gartner. This spells good things for RPA adoption as it reduces labour costs and prevents human error. 

To show RPA’s usefulness (and why many are investing in it), we have compiled a list of real-life examples. Take a look at how RPA technology helps organisations reduce costs, save time, and stay competitive.

1. Hiring & Onboarding

Hiring an employee can take multiple weeks and can be costly. Since the process consists of numerous repetitive and rule-based tasks, RPA can be helpful.

For example, an RPA bot can process applicants with more accuracy and no bias. After finding applicants, the same bot can also screen resumes and candidates.

2. Inventory management

The retail space has multiple labour-intensive activities that are well suited for automation. One particular activity is inventory management, as retailers seek to keep track of various disparate products across multiple regions.

With the new e-Commerce wave, retailers need to ensure sufficient stock to fulfill demand. 

Additionally, they need to gain insights from inventory management concerning demand and other market trends. RPA solves these challenges through a variety of automation like:

  • Automating notifications of low inventory.
  • Automated ordering processes.
  • Optimisation of inventory levels to maximise working capital.

3. Call centre operations

Call centres prefer to have all information about customers on a single screen. Rather than looking into multiple apps to gain access to different kinds of details, RPA can be used for website scraping. This makes it easier to display all intended information on a single interface. 

Additionally, customer requests received by call centres can also be supported with RPA technology. For example, whenever an issue is escalated to a human customer service agent, RPA can be used to centrally consolidate all the information about a customer.

4. Data migration

Legacy systems still perform vital functions at some companies. 

For example, legacy billing systems still interface with newer systems, but cannot pull relevant data from APIs. 

In such cases, employees are at times asked to extract relevant information from legacy systems to have the data available for newer systems. 

RPA can take over this manual process and successfully complete it without introducing clerical human error. For instance, transferring paper forms to a digital format, then getting the data into the new system. This helps in freeing up humans to do other business tasks.

Additionally, RPA systems can keep data updated to improve analysis and decision-making. 

data migration

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

5. Scheduling systems

Scheduling of patients for health appointments can be enhanced online with RPA technology. For example, bots can gather patient details like insurance information, appointment requests, location preferences to make appointment scheduling more streamlined and efficient.

Similarly, RPA can be utilised for scheduling operations in other industries and the corporate sectors. 

6. Payroll processing

Payroll processing typically requires manual intervention on a monthly basis. An RPA solution can be leveraged instead to extract details from timesheets to automatically calculate workers’ pay.

Because payroll processing is a repetitive and time-consuming task, RPA can prove useful. This is especially critical when large data volumes are involved as errors and inaccuracies can creep up. These can cause reworks that can lead to delays in payment. 

Additionally, an RPA bot can also automatically administer taxable benefits and other applicable employee reimbursements.

7. Underwriting processing

Insurance companies keep details of all the customers who engage them or request details about their insurance products. These records are stored as underwriting records until prospects are converted into customers of the insurance company. 

The process of converting prospects to actual customers can be fully automated with an RPA solution. However, all the details are required to be provided to the RPA solution so that they can be processed without any human intervention.

8. Compliance reporting

Compliance reporting is key in some sectors like fleet management. Unfortunately, when companies grow in size, it gets tougher to closely monitor compliance requisites.

RPA tools can be used to ensure software compliance where individuals try to install private software not recommended by the company. Based on different requirements, different kinds of compliance-based RPA software robots can be used. 

The article is a part of our comprehensive guide on “The A to Z of robotic process automation”. 

The A to Z of Robotic Process Automation

robotic process automation

Unfortunately, many businesses still execute high-volume repetitive tasks manually. For instance, order processing, approvals, request confirmation, processing claims, and document fulfillment. 

While it is vital to keep businesses running, such mundane tasks typically slow part of the overall business workflow. This causes financial loss and hinders productivity. 

This is where the cardinal question comes in: if a task has a relatively straightforward flow, why not automate it with RPA?

What is Robotic Process Automation? 

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is essentially a technology solution for automating mundane business tasks. Practically, RPA involves specialised software robots running on a computer to execute a defined set of instructions for business, at high volume and speed.

Unlike autonomous robots, RPA bots focus on repetitive computer-based tasks and everyday workplace processes. For example, copy-paste tasks, or moving files from one location to another.

Types of Robotic Process Automation

RPA bots are basically lines of code that automate business processes by emulating humans who execute manual, repetitive tasks, based on predefined rules. These processes don’t require human judgment, thus enabling employees to focus on more intricate, higher-value tasks.

There are four main types of RPA robots that are prevalent across different industries, namely:

1. Data entry robots

Data entry robots take existing electronic data, then automatically feed it from one system to another. They execute tasks like a human would, for example, logging into and out of systems or copying and pasting information. This also means they do not require complex integrations.

‘Copy and paste’ processes are typically slow, error-prone, and expensive when humans perform them. Data entry bots, on the other hand, offer a less expensive path that involves simple software logic.

2. System integration robots

System integration bots are employed to “patch” a connection between systems that don’t speak to each other but are too sophisticated or labour-intensive to integrate.

Unfortunately, most businesses still maintain legacy systems that have been continually customised over the years. 

And when organisations merge or are acquired, legacy systems from each business can operate in silos. This creates a lot of manual work that can be handled by system integration bots. 

3. Scheduled/trigger robots

Scheduled/triggered bots handle tasks that are simple by nature, but can’t be performed until a specific event takes place. For example, a date on the calendar, or a predecessor task. 

4. Validation and verification robots

Fundamentally, validation robots execute real-time calls to internal or third-party systems to validate the accuracy or authenticity of the information. They essentially convert reactive and unreliable processes into proactive and automated ones.

For example, when handling a verification issue, a bot can escalate the problem to a human ‘co-worker’, best equipped to handle it. In financial institutions, such bots trawl internal systems and databases to verify a customer’s identity and ascertain if they are a risk for an organisation. 

 

Types of Robotic Process Automation

Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

What processes are suitable for RPA?

RPA is best suited to automate particular processes to ensure a high ROI on any automation efforts. Such processes share a common set of characteristics, namely:

  • Rule-based: RPA is suitable for processes that can be described with a flowchart. Particularly those that involve human judgment and discretion when performing them
  • High transaction volumes: RPA can also be adapted to tasks that take specified amounts of time. For example, requiring at least Y minutes per day to be executed. In essence, the more the time savings, the better the Return on Investment (ROI). 
  • Low exceptions: RPA can handle situations where multiple edge scenarios can be handled by a bot. Fundamentally, the less exception or error handling necessitated, the better it is.
  • Stable and well-defined processes: RPA can be deployed to scenarios that involve up-to-date standard operating procedures (SOPs). 
  • Structured data and readable electronic inputs: RPA is typically used to handle scenarios involving input and output data in a fixed, digital format. Especially, if the data is readily available for training and testing purposes.

How does Robotic Process Automation work?

Without complicating things, typical RPA can be broken down into three core steps.

  • Training– After installing the RPA bot on your computer/server, it must receive instructions to execute tasks. These instructions are called training, and most of the time, do not require programming skills or intricate software configurations. The most popular RPA training method is a screen capture. This involves completing a task once, then the robot can capture steps and file directories. After that, the RPA bot can reproduce the steps you executed.
  • Operation– After the bot is trained, there are two main ways it can operate, namely: 
  • Attended RPA: Here, the software needs a user to trigger the robot to start or stop in order to complete its task. Such bots also require minor modifications to accurately execute tasks when the flow changes. For instance, a file destination change.
  • Unattended RPA: This type of RPA operates without human involvement. Most often, these RPA bots are installed on a virtual machine or a server and run in the background. Instead of being manually launched, unattended RPA utilises “trigger events” to complete tasks.
  • Orchestration: When multiple bots are required to perform different tasks, orchestration is needed. Orchestration essentially involves a control panel that allows a user to install bots, prescribe tasks for them, launch or stop them, and monitor performance.

 

Key benefits of RPA technology

  • Increased productivity as robots work 24/7 and perform repetitive tasks faster, without errors.
  • Increased revenue growth as freed up human capacity allows for exploration of new growth areas and new revenue streams.
  • Reduced compliance costs and risks as RPA bots repeat tasks perfectly, thus reducing human errors.
  • Better employee engagement as RPA frees up humans from tedious, unpleasant work so that they have the capacity for creative, interactive work.
  • Increased productivity and better-engaged employees result in a better customer experience.
  • Reduced reliance on a human workforce safeguards business continuity in times of crises, like the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

Sector applications of Robotic Process Automation

As we have already established, RPA can automate mundane tasks, supply the same information to multiple systems, and even bridge poorly integrated software systems. 

However, to contextualise how RPA alleviates labour-intensive tasks, let’s see some sector-specific examples.  

Healthcare sector

Since the healthcare sector involves substantial paperwork, for example, patient forms on appointments, RPA can help with data ingestion. For instance, transferring information from paper to electronic health record systems.

Furthermore, RPA can help automate appointment scheduling by sending notifications to the patients and synchronising with other patient scheduling software.

​e-Commerce sector

RPA can help in returns processing, which is one of the most tedious tasks for e-Commerce businesses involving inventory checks, billing, customer data, and validation. 

RPA can aid in product categorisation as bots can be trained to categorise, label, and upload products. Essentially, since manual inventory upload is always a pain, RPA can dramatically reduce the error rates and speed up the process.

Banking sector

RPA can be employed to automate the manual operations pertaining to the opening and closing of clients’ bank accounts. Furthermore, RPA bots can be trained to initiate direct salary credits for credit card holders, or even validate client data via specific parameters.

Insurance sector 

The insurance space is one of the most regulated domains, and RPA is a gamechanger. 

RPA can be exploited to reduce the human error associated with high-volume insurance tasks that demand accuracy and strict adherence to regulations. 

Furthermore, RPA can handle new policy issuance and update existing ones by automating the gathering and validating large amounts of data. Or even creating payment IDs and matching them with associated policies. 

Additionally, since many players in the insurance sector still rely on legacy systems for business process management, RPA can ease integration between disparate systems. 

For example, ERPs or Business Process Management (BPM) software.

Are AI and RPA related?

As more companies adopt RPA technology, there is still some confusion regarding the relationship between artificial intelligence (AI) and RPA.

To clear the air, despite similarities, AI augments and mimics human judgment and behaviour in computer systems. On the other hand, RPA technology replicates rule-based human actions. 

That being said, the two technologies are more or less complementary in driving productivity for organisations. So, we can say that AI technology basically augments RPA by handling more sophisticated data and emulating human decision making.

Practical examples of Robotic Process Automation

RPA focuses on improving productivity across users, customers, employees, business people, accountants, sales and marketing people, legal and financial analysts.

Practically, RPA helps accountants to create rules to send invoices for approval automatically. Thus, enabling them to focus on the outliers. It also helps automate the matching process to signal any errors for review before submitting payments.

Similarly, in human resource environments, RPA bots are being used to source applicants with more accuracy and no bias. After applicant sourcing, RPA bots also screen resumes and candidates.

Read here for a more comprehensive list of practical RPA examples

Conclusion 

In summary, RPA is essentially an advanced vertical of business process automation that mimics repetitive tasks typically performed by humans. 

Then proceeds to execute the same tasks without human intervention. Fundamentally, serving as a virtual robot copycat that is taught a basic workflow with several steps and applications.

In the coming years, RPA technology will continuously improve to complement humans, not take their jobs. Robots will not create unemployment and shouldn’t be feared but embraced to free employees for more meaningful work. Thus, advancing organisations’ digital transformation efforts.

Employed on a large scale, RPA can significantly improve the general workflow of a company and provide impressive ROI. To exemplify this, an IBM study reported that companies using RPA for accounting tasks, processed invoices twice as fast as non-users, 43% faster, and with 40% less cost.

Will Robots Eliminate Jobs Completely in Malaysia?

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In today’s world, automation and robotic technologies are very common in our daily life. From the tips of your fingers on your smartphone, to performing surgery on a human body. 

We use technology every single day whether we realize or not. Technology ease our life as compared to decades ago. Speaking to loved ones across the globe, ordering your favourite shoes from different country in different timezone, or even with the simple task of unlocking your home door by using your thumbprint. According to Statista, as of 2020, the percentage of population in Malaysia using a smartphone is 87.61%. We used automation technologies to do all sorts of tasks. What else are robots used for? 

We see robots were used in restaurants and cafes as waiters taking orders and serving your food. Today, even a vending machines can offer cooked food like ramen, set lunch and cotton candy! It’s especially useful during pandemic when people is looking for less human contact and social distancing in the process of food preparations. Other than that, robots assembling our day to day home appliances, such as phones, laptops, LED TV and automotive vehicles. Robots are also creating breakthrough in modern medicine technology. There are robots being deployed in hospital to perform micro-surgeries by artificial intelligence (AI). So how far is too far?

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Fairfax, Virginia, USA – January 29, 2019: Close-up view of a newly operational delivery robot enroute to customers on George Mason University’s main campus. The autonomous robots are operated by Starship Technologies and use artificial intelligence technologies to securely deliver food.

With all this technologies and robots in place to automate our daily tasks by machine, do we still need human labour at all in the next 20 or 30 years? As what described by Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, “AI is far more dangerous than nukes.” How real is it?

It’s undeniable that robots will disrupt the jobs market and have taken away jobs opportunities from human.

However, we do see that the automation and robotics technologies does bring in new job opportunities for the country. One of the very good example is e-commerce. During pandemic when most of the people were required to stay at home and reduce outdoor’s activities, buying things online has made shopping become the new normal. According to a recent publication from the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), E-commerce marks a growing of 30% year-on-year to RM256.6 million in the first quarter of 2021. 

In this sector alone, different types of robots and AI are being used for various jobs and responsibilities. In China, the giant online shopping platform, Alibaba have started to use automatic guided vehicles (AGV) in their smart warehouses to have more efficiency and less error in goods transferring. AGVs have advanced technology with a combination of software and sensor-based guidance systems to automate the sorting and transferring operation. In Malaysia, AGV from DF Automation and Robotics are being used for restaurant, hospitals, factories to automate in-house logistic transfer.

Not only in E-commerce, robots are used for surgery far and wide globally. In Malaysia, hospitals like Sunway Medical Centre and UiTM Private Specialist Centre  acquired Da Vinci Robotic surgical systems that offer robotic surgeries and also robotic assisted procedures. The da Vinci was first introduced in 1999 and to date has more than 3,000 systems installed worldwide and millions of surgeries have been successfully done in many fields including general surgery, Gynaecology and also paediatric surgery. Just from this alone we can expect more advancements in robotic surgery in Malaysia. 

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 In a nutshell, automation and robotics have changed the life style of human being, not only limited to shopping, leisures, enjoyments and etc. It also changed our business practices, jobs market, education focus and etc. Robots have replaced job opportunities, especially those routines and repetitive works. However, it does also provide new opportunities to the market such as Artificial Intelligent, Computer Technologies, Big Data Analysis and etc.

In a century ago when the train was invented, there may have some noises concerning about the lost of job opportunities for coachman. But very soon this worries were replaced by the benefits and advancement brought by the installation of the railways. Back to today’s scenario, the robots are going to change our life. Now the real question is, how fast can we adapt to it? And how much benefit we can earn out of it?

Autonomous Mobile Robots: Types and Applications

Autonomous Mobile Robots

Robotics is one of the fastest advancing fields of technology as it has the potential to substitute human input in many fields. 

These include surveillance, emergency rescue operations, planetary exploration, patrolling, reconnaissance, entertainment, petrochemical applications, industrial automation, construction, personal services, transportation, medical care, etc.

To unpack some aspects of robotics, today’s blog post shall focus on dissecting the specific vertical of autonomous mobile robots. 

What are autonomous robots?

Autonomous robots are essentially robots with the ability to intelligently think and navigate like humans.  As such, they don’t need human drivers but their software and the entire system self-pilots. 

In layman’s language, this means that such robots can ‘automatically’ make their own decisions and complete specific missions without human intervention via machine learning or AI mechanisms, such as delivering packages, inspecting an area, or manufacturing. 

However, not all robots are ‘automatic’ as some need manual intervention either via controls, manoeuvring or decision making. 

What are autonomous mobile robots?

Generally speaking, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) can move without assistance from external human operators in an industrial plant,  laboratory, planetary surface, or on a fixed predetermined path. 

Such robots possess the ability to determine the actions to be taken to perform a specific task, using an intelligently programmed perception system. AMRs also require a cognition unit or a control system to coordinate all the subsystems that constitute the mobile robot.

Overall, AMRs maintain an array of complex sensors that enable them to comprehend and interpret their environment, which helps them to perform intricate or repetitive tasks in the most efficient manner and path possible, for instance, navigating around fixed obstructions in buildings, or variable obstructions like people, lift trucks, and debris.

Read our article on “AMR: The new look of AGV

AGV

Features of autonomous mobile robots

The mechanics of autonomous mobile robotics primarily revolve around four principles.

Locomotion 

The locomotive aspect of robotics relates to physical mechanics and kinematics, dynamics, and control theory. While humans haveactuatorscalled muscles, that come in different shapes and perform unique functions, like grabbing a cup of coffee or pumping blood. 

Autonomous robots are no different from mechanical actuators and motors that convert energy into movement, for example, wheels, linear actuators, or hydraulic ram, etc. 

Perception 

This feature leverages signal analysis and specialised fields like computer vision and sensor technologies. For humans, perception is mainly performed by our five senses, namely: eyes, ears, skin, hair, and other biological mechanisms that facilitate the process. 

For autonomous robots, perception is guided by sensors like laser scanners, stereo vision cameras, bump sensors, force-torque sensors, and even spectrometers that serve as ‘information’ input devices. 

These information inputs provide an endless supply of data acting as an ‘Internet of Things’ with a sea of sensors with very long wires reaching back to the mobile robots that might use them.

Cognition

This feature is responsible for intelligently analysing the input data from sensors and ingesting the corresponding actions to accomplish the technical objectives of the autonomous robot. 

Cognition features are basically in charge of the control system scheme, which is the “brain” or ‘computer’ of the robot that makes decisions based on its designated mission and any information it receives along the way. 

So cognitive mechanisms serve in a manner similar to the neurological system in humans. However, in robots, this ‘neurological’ system is called an embedded system, and operates faster and with higher authority than the computer executing a mission plan and parsing data. 

In practice, this is how autonomous mobile robots can decide to halt if they notice an obstacle in their way, or detect a problem.

Navigation

Navigation features help a robot to move in a known or unknown environment while taking into account the technical values of the sensors to achieve the set targets.

This means that the autonomous robot must rely on other elements, like perception (the robot must employ its sensors to obtain valuable data), localisation (the robot must know its present position and configuration), cognition (the robot must basically decide what to do to accomplish its goals), and motion control (the robot calculates its input forces on the actuators to achieve the sought trajectory). 

As such, developing navigation mechanisms necessitate knowledge of planning algorithms, information theory, and artificial intelligence.

Advantages of autonomous mobile robots

The main advantages of autonomous mobile robots are:

  • Increased productivity.
  • Lower labour costs and increased efficiency.
  • Increased flexibility and fast implementation as it isn’t necessary to predefine the routes robots machines need to follow, hence the deployment phase is significantly shortened. 
  • Advanced task accuracy also increases the safety and dexterity of robots when performing tasks.
  • Enhanced connectivity improves operation capabilities and serves as an additional source of actionable data of the inner workings of a facility. 

Types of autonomous mobile robots

Generally, in the context of industries and distribution centres, AMRs are split into three main categories:

  • AMRs that operate inventory within a facility. For instance, autonomous robots can transport orders across a warehouse or in a shipping facility countless times in a day, in different cycles.Transportation is a labour-intensive task, and employing robots for these tasks is one of the fastest ways to free up humans for more mission-critical tasks without disrupting workflows.
  • AMRs that assist in monotonous, repetitive processes. Many AMRs are designed specifically to reduce travel time associated with picking processes, thus empowering workers to do other jobs.With such AMRs, lift plates, and robotic arms can be almost completely automated, completing every step of the palletising process –from loading, transport, to unloading – all performed autonomously, efficiently, and accurately.
  • Sortation AMRs. These come in multiple forms like moving carts and mobile manipulation tools. These AMRs handle tasks like returns handling, raw materials transport, inventory management and sorting, and parcel sortation.

Applications of autonomous mobile robots

As has been noted, in warehousing and distribution centres, autonomous mobile robots essentially make processes and workflows more efficient and productive by performing non-value-added tasks like transporting, picking up, and dropping off products. 

As a result,  freeing up humans to perform other tasks that add value to a company’s operations, such as picking, or checking orders. Applications of AMRs cut across different spheres too. 

Fleet Management Systems (Warehouse Management) 

In fleet management systems (warehouse application), AMRs can be used in loading, unloading, stacking and retrieving palletised and large loads. They add greater flexibility in carrying out such tasks, which are touted as some of the costliest of fleet management operations.  

fleet management systems

Industry & Manufacturing  

AMRs can be used for cleaning and disinfection (can be used for in-house logistic and goods transfer automation) at manufacturing premises that need to keep hygienically clean. Essentially, autonomous robots offer a cost-effective way of accomplishing this by deploying automated cleaning and disinfection equipment wherever needed.

Considering the intricate shapes of such facilities, and the likelihood that potential obstacles can suddenly appear, the autonomous navigation of an AMR is crucially important in these applications. Additionally, AMRs guarantee that every square inch of the targeted area is well treated, especially in times of COVID-19. 

Additionally, AMRs combined with robotic arms can be employed to control valuable process inputs, perform regular monitoring tasks, and safely manage waste removal from the production line.

Check out this video to understand how AGVs work within an industry.

Hospitality 

AMRs offer hospitality businesses like conference venues and restaurants a way to automate servicing activities while also enabling safe and socially distanced customer service. 

For example, front-of-house hotel robots can deliver food, drinks and goods to guests in their rooms. Customers can then be sent a PIN code via text message to open up the robot and access their orders. 

The same principle is applicable to waiter services to deliver refreshments in any venue. Similarly, hotel housekeeping can employ AMRs as laundry trolleys which tend to clutter the corridors. 

Autonomous Security Robots 

Fitted with camera equipment, AMRs can provide a constant stream of video and data to a control centre. Furthermore, if necessary, the AMRs can be switched from autonomous to remote control mode so a security officer can critically observe anything suspicious. 

With their autonomous navigation abilities, AMRs can carry out extensive patrols without the need for human intervention whilst circumventing obstacles or changes in the environment. Additionally, those fitted with artificial intelligence capabilities can respond appropriately to a variety of events.

Not forgetting, AMRs tend to have superior sensory advantages over humans with low-light infrared vision and thermal vision capabilities, which detect activity invisible to human eyes. Furthermore, some advanced AMRs possess functions like facial and license plate recognition.

Hospitals & Healthcare

Hospitals can utilise AMRs to transport items like meals, linen, drugs, sterile supplies, cleaning equipment and waste. One key advantage of AMRs over trolleys pushed by humans is that they reduce human movements between areas. 

Hence, the potential for human-borne spread of viruses and bacteria, which is helpful, especially in times of COVID-19.

Read our article on: “How an AMR can help to fight COVID-19?

Relatedly, AMRs help address the traceability of materials and equipment as data collected by the AMR on its locations and activities can be sent to the AMR management system, and linked to scanned data on the labelled containers it transports.

For biopharmaceutical companies who need to comply with strongly regulated production processes (which are often labour intensive tasks), AMRs can be employed to sample and maintain cell culture processes that require constant monitoring on a 24/7 basis. 

As a result, with AMRs satisfactorily handling the repetitive tasks, medical professionals can focus on other vital steps of the biopharmaceutical manufacturing process like tracking of growth parameters, continuous testing, and making crucial scientific adjustments as development progresses.

Conclusion 

Overall, the mobile robotics space will continue to evolve in the next few years with significant advances in cognitive architecture, artificial intelligence, speech communication, and human-robot interaction.

Particularly, we should also be able to see increased applications of AMRs in defence and security, medicine, agriculture, health care, underwater exploration, domestic service, surveillance, space exploration etc. 

Overall, autonomous mobile robots will continue becoming more state-of-the-art with their groundbreaking applications in the logistics and distribution space, food industry, food processing, pick and place applications, autonomous driverless cars, and smart factories. 

As a result, having a profound effect on the way modern industries function. So, the future is bright!