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Comment: Here’s why you shouldn’t overlook the role of collaborative autonomous mobile robots

Over the past three years, automation has gone from the background to the forefront of everyday business across industries, observes Gavin Donley, Head of Marketing at Brain Corp.

Automation consists of many separate but related trends and sub-trends, but the burgeoning presence of collaborative autonomous mobile robots, or AMRs, stands as a defining force reshaping the relationship between technology and labour.

Recent estimations from Interact Analysis indicate that by 2030, the global autonomous mobile robot market is projected to reach $12.4 billion by 2030 compared to $2.7 billion in 2020.

This meteoric rise embodies a fundamental shift in attitude regarding how automation is conceptualised and deployed. Unlike their traditional counterparts, AMRs are purposefully designed to operate alongside human workers around the general public in environments like stores.

It’s a timely introduction: The “quit rate” in US retail is the highest among sectors, even after the ‘great resignation’, and is running ahead of the overall US quit rate by more than 70%, according to research carried out by McKinsey.

In this context, it is natural for retailers to bring in technology as labor availability falls behind demand.

But at the same time, retailers can also use technology to help solve the root cause of the problem by improving working conditions for floor staff.

This is especially important when 75% of retail workers report being bored at work according to a recent Waitwhile Survey and at a time when retailers regularly face the challenge of replacing more than half of their store staff every year.  


AMRs are defined by their deliberate ability to work in spaces with human workers.

This symbiotic relationship forms the cornerstone of a paradigm shift where humans and machines operate together, with robots taking on the more dull, dirty and dangerous tasks including cleaning and tracking inventory, while human workers can better serve customer needs.

Today’s robotic solutions are able to offer business leaders a real time view over their facilities, and within retail, their inventories as well.

With inventory scanning robots in play, retailers monitor stock more efficiently and accurately. Paired with advanced AI, images captured by these robots translate seamlessly into actionable insights for store associates, swiftly resolving on-shelf availability issues or pricing discrepancies. 

Mckinsey notes that the most innovative frontline retail employers are investing in technology to automate activities, freeing up time and energy for their teams to carry out more meaningful roles in the store.

Safety and adaptability 

In the realm of robotic automation, innovation extends beyond just improving efficiency and optimizing applications—it places paramount importance on safety.

Autonomous robots navigating public spaces must exhibit consistently safe behaviour. For instance, BrainOS, the world’s leading autonomy platform, employs advanced AI to ensure safe operation, adeptly perceiving and avoiding obstacles in dynamic, public environments.

The safety related software of the BrainOS platform is covered under the UL certification and software updates are validated and delivered within a carefully constructed framework to maintain the safety integrity while taking advantage of continuous improvement opportunities.

Advancements in safety protocols for robots have been a significant priority for the leading developers in the field.

These advancements, such as the cloud-connected safety perception, preventive functions, and diagnostics features found on the BrainOS platform are the result of a deliberate focus to ensure the well-being of human workforces.They require safety to be at the heart of automation.

Along with robust safety, simple and intuitive operability is integral to every successful AMR deployment.

Simply put, robots need to be quick and easy to use, not requiring high levels of specialist skill to operate. User-friendly interface and flexible route teaching methods enable easy interaction between human workers and the automated machines they’re expected to engage with daily.

This shift towards intuitive controls empowers employees to navigate and engage with automation technologies more naturally and regularly, fostering a sense of familiarity and collaboration within a working environment.

The future 

The true potential impact of AMRs remains largely underestimated, particularly within pivotal sectors that experience high staff turnover such as retail, logistics, education and healthcare. They are poised to play a significant role in the ongoing evolution of these sectors.

At the Baird 2023 Global Consumer, Technology & Services Conference, former Sam’s Club CEO and now Walmart International CEO, Kathryn Mclay, said when talking about their inventory management solution powered by Brain Corp,

“What we’ve been able to do is bring in an inventory scrubber, it scrubs the floor and reads the inventory. I think that we’re one of the first retailers in the world that actually gets a daily snapshot of exactly what our items are in what locations in the Club.”

“We’re using that to automate, at the moment 35% of inventory tasks, in the near – very near future, 70% of inventory tasks. So when you look at it, 43% increase in top line (revenue) over the last three years, and we’ve held our head count in the Club 100% flat.”

“The only way you can do that is by using automation and digital assets to enable you to be able to get the productivity of the associate base.” 

In defining the broader trend of automation, it’s important to recognise that the rise of AMRs isn’t just a technological evolution; it signals a transformative shift in how industries operate.

It also represents a change in how automation has been envisaged up until now: not merely about automating tasks, but about crafting more enjoyable, efficient, and safer workplaces.

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