Autonomous robots hold tremendous promise for enterprise. Already, you can see businesses beginning to introduce robots into offices, airspace, hotels, large retail stores, malls, and even on public streets.
Progressing further into these new markets businesses are targeting, though—such as delivering goods and services to consumers—requires a higher level of flexibility in navigation. In the “real world,” robots have to deal with moving obstacles and handle interactions with untrained users. Picture a human running across a robot in the hallway for the first time: He or she may not to know how to respond to it. Do they stop walking? Move out of the way? Tell the robot to stop? That’s already a lot of uncertainty. If the robot doesn’t know how to respond either, the interaction won’t be seamless.
Fortunately, technological advancements over the past decade have increased robots’ navigation flexibility, allowing businesses to deploy them in new and increasingly unstructured environments. At Accenture Labs, we’re using Freight robots from Fetch Robotics to experiment with the latest in commercially available autonomous navigation and explore its potential uses for our clients.
Making the most of flexible navigation
We’ve been looking at many environments that will benefit from the expanding capabilities of robots. One of these environments is datacenters.
Technicians within datacenters are highly skilled, but they can spend hours of their shift performing low-skill tasks like moving components from place to place.
Just walking between regions in large datacenter campuses can take more than 20 minutes in each direction. Autonomous robots that transport parts and server blades can save valuable technician time. What’s more, they can also offer a digital “chain of custody” for equipment, adding a layer of security. From deployment all the way through to decommissioning and destruction of datacenter hardware, robots can generate an automated record as they go.
Turning potential use cases like this one into real-word success presents a number of challenges. Overall performance depends on a number of variables, some unrelated to the robots themselves. Results can change based on sensor configurations, moving and static obstacles, and even lighting conditions. We have been working to understand these nuances.
We’re also considering factors outside of the purely technical realm. To successfully deploy robots among people, whether they’re warehouse workers or retail shoppers, companies need to ensure that their robots will behave in a way that people understand and accept. Will the robots follow social conventions? Will they be able to understand when people try to communicate with them? Will the robots signal their intent in a way that’s obvious to humans, even on the very first time they encounter one? Even given a robot with a perfect out-of-the-box capability for navigating between two points, companies must properly address these challenges to succeed.
At an industry level, we’re developing solutions and expertise for integrating mobile robots with existing enterprise structures, such as warehouse management systems. By combining expertise from our Accenture client and account teams with cutting-edge autonomous navigation technology, we’re developing more holistic and feature-rich autonomous systems. That’s the approach that will help our clients use robots to deliver value in exciting new spaces.
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