23 Jul 2024


Slam paves the way for new autonomous industrial robots

The Pick-It system uses a 3D localisation technology to help identify items

More than 15 million industrial and commercial robots that can navigate their paths autonomously will be in operation by 2030, according to a new analysis by ABI research. They will rely on a technology known as Slam – simultaneous localisation and mapping – to map their environment while positioning themselves accurately. ABI predicts that Slam will be a crucial driver for robotics over the coming decade and will enable the transition from AGVs (automated guided vehicles) to AMRs (autonomous mobile robots).

AMRs can optimise their paths, react to unexpected situations, and navigate around obstacles. To avoid collisions, they need to pinpoint their location in real time. “In these first years of Industry 4.0, few factories will have a Real-Time Location System (RTLS) established, making it essential that AMRs can dynamically map their immediate environment using Slam,” suggests Andrew Zignani, ABI’s principal analyst for location technologies. “Still, factories which already have a RTLS system deployed, can use RTLS and Slam together to provide valuable IoT data to a digital platform that can be used to optimise processes and make factories even leaner, thereby driving much faster ROI.”

ABI predicts that intelligent, reprogrammable AMRs will account for 80% of all commercial robot shipments by 2027. They will need mapping and localisation capabilities to react to changing factory environments and to avoid collisions with humans and other machines. Most industrial robots will therefore have Slam capabilities within a decade, ABI believes. Data generated by these Slam capabilities could be integrated into a centralised digital factory platforms to be analysed for KPIs.

Slam relies on sophisticated algorithms to work smoothly and accurately. The large amount of data generated by sensors on-board AMRs will require efficient, low-latency processing. Software companies including Intermodalics, Kudan, and Accuware, have identified a market opportunity for Slam algorithms and are partnering up with AMR integrators to deploy their software.

For example, Belgian-based Pick-It – a spinout from Intermodalics – has developed a 3D vision localisation technology that allows robots to identify and pick items in containers and on shelves. The plug-and-play technology can be used by AMRs in warehouses and the retail sector, and does not need deep technical expertise to operate.

“The 2020s are going to kick off with drastic changes in industrial environments,” Zignani concludes. “AI, IoT, RTLS and connectivity technologies such as 5G, will interact and improve each other in complex ways. Not all levels of the robotics value chain are ready for it. There are great opportunities in software development yet to be explored, Slam being a big part of it.”