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July 08, 2022

What are Autonomous Robots?  8 Applications for Today’s AMRs

Author Icon Jason Walker, Vice President, Market Development

What constitutes autonomy? Autonomy in the context of people lets humans do things like walk, talk, wave, open doors, push buttons, and change light bulbs.

What does autonomous mean in the context of robots? Autonomy robots are no different. Below, we will explore the concept of robot autonomy in greater detail.

Autonomous Robot Definition

What does autonomous mean in the context of robotics?

Waypoint Robotics defines autonomous robots as an intelligent machine capable of performing tasks and operating in an environment independently, without human control or intervention.

Autonomous robots, just like humans, can also make their own decisions and then perform an action accordingly. A truly automated robot can:

  1. Perceive its environment
  2. Make decisions based on the above
  3. Actuate a movement or interact within that environment.

These actions involve making decisions such as starting, stopping, and navigating around obstacles. 

First, let's clear up a common misunderstanding about mobile robots before discussing what truly makes a robot autonomous. 

What are Autonomous Robots - An Introduction to autonomous mobile robots

Autonomous robots are smart machines that can do tasks and work on their own without needing humans to control them.

This level of autonomy gives the workforce the ability to delegate dull, dangerous, or dirty tasks to the robot. This frees up humans to spend more time doing the interesting, engaging, and valuable parts of their job. 

People have frequently used robots with cameras in the last 15-20 years. People often use them to reach high places or perform simple jobs in factories and warehouses.

For instance, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) move materials in factories and warehouses. Drones help with disaster response, and underwater robots find shipwrecks in the ocean's depths. Robots have been effective, but these examples do not show truly autonomous robots.

Companies often use the term "robot" to make their products seem like advanced Artificial Intelligence. The definition of autonomous robot is often confused with pre-programmed machines or robotic arms. The true definition is more complex and involves robots that can make decisions and operate independently. 

Robots and Autonomous Systems

An autonomous system can reach goals in a changing environment, gather information, and work without human help for a long time. In the context of warehouses, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are a prime example of robotics and autonomous systems. Automated robotic systems can benefit warehouses in many ways.

The Worst Example of an Autonomous Robot 

Often, the machines on a car assembly line are mistakenly called robots. Although they may seem like robots, they are actually more similar to milling machines controlled by computers, known as CNC machines. 

Unlike a truly autonomous robot, these industrial machines are pre-programmed to perform a repetitive movement. They are not able to react.

For example, what would happen if one of these so-called robots responsible for installing spare tires in the trunk of a car encountered a random situation in which the trunk was shut. Would the “robot” know not to install the tire?

Probably not. Instead, this machine would continue to perform its programmed task and would most likely end up smashing the tire right through the trunk lid. If the machine was a real autonomous robot, it would not install the tire and would know the trunk was closed.

Why the Roomba is a Real Autonomous Robot 

To fully understand autonomous mobile robots, it helps to see them in action. One of the most famous autonomous robots available today is the Roomba, known for its independence and productivity. The Roomba has capabilities that are useful in warehouses and industrial spaces, making AMRs more accessible technology. 

The Roomba can make decisions, avoid obstacles and act based on what it perceives in its environment. The bot is alone in a room and does its job without human operators.

Sensors help Roomba understand its surroundings, make decisions, and take action accordingly. Warehouse robots follow the same rules.

Warehouse robots have the same rules. If they encounter an obstacle, such as a pallet, they will navigate around it. The automation solutions continue working without assistance from humans.

Simply put, an autonomous robot is one that decides the action it should take on its own based on information it has perceived to increase productivity. If you would like to learn more about autonomous robots or their endless possible applications, contact us today. If you're unsure how robotics technology could help you, here are 8 great autonomous robot examples.

8 Applications of Autonomous Systems Robotics

  1. Autonomous Mobile Robots for Logistics 

While the capabilities of AMRs continue to advance, the most basic and widely used application for these machines is for material transport. AMRs can transport orders across a warehouse or through a shipping facility countless times a day. Transport is a labor-intensive supply chain job and utilizing robots for these tasks is one of the easiest ways to free up human workers for more important jobs without disrupting workflows.

  1. Mobile Autonomous Robots for E-Commerce 

AMRs for e-commerce applications can come in many forms, from moving carts to mobile manipulation and more. Because AMR platforms can include multiple accessories, their flexibility makes them ideal for a number of applications, even within specific applications like transport and sortation.

Today we see AMRs utilized in tasks like:

  • Order fulfillment
  • Returns handling & material handling
  • Raw materials transport and sorting
  • Parcel sortation
  • Inventory management
  1. AMRs for Warehousing

Warehouses and distribution centers today are massive, with some spanning more than 1 million square feet. AMRs are great for automating warehouse tasks like moving heavy items around. Using AMRs for basic warehouse operations helps workers spend less time traveling and focus on more important tasks.

One feature of note for AMRs is their ability to “see” and localize in open spaces. AMRs use vision systems such as lasers to scan their environment and their embedded systems analyze the sensor data, enabling them to see obstacles and navigate safely. However, enormous warehouses lack the walls, posts, and other fixed features that many AMRs need to effectively navigate. This environment requires an AMR that has a navigation system specifically designed for warehouse operation.

Another important task in warehousing and distribution is palletizing, a monotonous, repetitive process that is well suited for automation. To speed up this task and empower workers to do other jobs, AMRs are now being applied to palletizing. With AMR platforms, lift plates, and robotic arms, palletizing can be almost completely automated. Palletizing robots can complete every step of the process – loading, transport, and unloading – autonomously, efficiently, and accurately.

  1. AMRs and Mobile Manipulators for Manufacturing

The versatility of AMRs makes them ideal for the ever-changing, dynamic world of manufacturing. AMRs that are designed to be easily set up and used by workers within existing factories allow companies of any size to leverage AMRs’ capabilities for an endless variety of tasks.

Beyond transporting in-process parts and finished goods, AMRs integrated with accessories such as conveyors or robotic arms, can assist in the production process. For example, AMRs with robotic arms can sort, pick, and pack products with the added ability to dynamically move to multiple locations.

Static conveyors have long been used in line work, as they help speed up production and sorting. Adding a conveyor onto an AMR means that conveyor capabilities can now be flexible and mobile. AMRs with built-in conveyors can connect to static conveyors to move products more effectively throughout a facility.

AMRs with attachments that can lift loads and connect to carts allow the robots to load and unload payloads and, in some cases, connect to carts without human intervention. This combination of the cart transport and loading/unloading in one AMR is a relatively new capability, but one that will create more potential applications for autonomous robots.

  1. AMRs for Data Centers

Secure autonomous transport is an integral part of operations at data centers and research facilities, which has created a new application for AMRs. Autonomous robots outfitted with lock boxes and cabinets can be used to safely transport high value materials and ensure that the proper chain of custody protocol is followed. This also enables instant, accurate, and easily accessible documentation of the process.

  1. AMRs in Healthcare

As the capabilities and ease-of-use improves for AMRs, many industries are finding innovative applications for robots. Today we are seeing more autonomous robots being utilized in the healthcare field for a variety of tasks.

First and foremost, AMRs are a useful tool to streamline transport of supplies and medicine throughout a healthcare facility. This is even more important in infectious disease units as it prevents nurses from coming into frequent contact with potential contaminants, but still ensures that patients receive proper treatment. Secondly, medical AMRs can also be used in sanitation—robots can be outfitted with virus-killing UV lights or decontamination sprays that clean up a room or space without exposing people to potential harm.

  1. AMRs in Biotech 

While facing a fast-growing market for biopharmaceuticals, biotech companies need to comply with strongly regulated production processes, which can mean labor-intensive tasks. For example, sampling and maintenance of cell culture processes are labor-intensive and require constant monitoring on a 24/7 basis. Autonomous mobile robots combined with robotic arms can be used to control valuable process inputs, perform regular monitoring tasks, and safely manage waste removal from the production line.

With AMRs handling the repetitive tasks, workers can focus on critical steps in the biopharmaceutical manufacturing process such as tracking of growth parameters, continuous testing, and making necessary adjustments as development progresses.

  1. AMRs for Research and Development

For research and development, AMRs are used to minimize tedious transport tasks involved in repetitive testing or other engineering requirements. In addition, AMRs are increasingly becoming a part of the research itself.

For example, one hot area of innovation is the development of sensors and robotic manipulation technology. As these studies advance, researchers are looking for ways to mobilize the technology, but many organizations don’t have the time or funding to build their own platforms. With a flexible AMR, the sensors and manipulators used for research can be easily integrated into the mobile platform, providing easy to use, autonomous mobility to these developing technologies and saving companies and research institutions considerable time and money in the development process.

Crucial Components of an Autonomous Bots

The key components to the autonomous action mentioned above include these three key concepts: perception, decision, and actuation.


For people, perception is almost entirely performed by our five senses. Eyes, ears, skin, hair, and many other biological mechanisms are used to perceive the world. For a robot, perception means sensors. Laser scanners, stereo vision cameras (eyes), bump sensors (skin and hair), force-torque sensors (muscle strain), and even spectrometers (smell) are used as input devices for a robot to help it “see” and perceive its environment. And with both people and robots alike, we can now think of other kinds of information inputs, like the endless supply of data from the internet; in fact, one might think of the Internet of Things as an endless sea of sensors with very long wires reaching back to the robots that might use them.


For humans, it’s our brain that makes most of our decisions; or in some cases our “gut” or even our neural system. Our brains make higher level decisions, like where we want to walk, for example. But sometimes our biology supersedes our brains, and our bodies react to things before our brains even know what’s happening. Those reflexive behaviors, like eyelids closing to block a flying piece of debris, are operating faster and without the permission of our brains for the purpose of keeping us safe.

Autonomous robots have a similar decision-making structure. The “brain” of a robot is usually a computer, and it makes decisions based on what its mission is and what information it receives along the way. But robots also have a capability that is like the neurological system in humans, where their safety systems operate faster and without the permission of the brain; in fact, in robots, the brain operates with the permission of the safety system. In an autonomous robot, we call that “neurological” system an embedded system; it operates faster and with higher authority than the computer that is executing a mission plan and parsing data. This is how the robot can decide to stop if it notices an obstacle in its way, if it detects a problem with itself, or if its emergency-stop button is pressed.


People have actuators called muscles. They come in all kinds of shapes and perform all kinds of functions, from grabbing a cup of coffee to beating our hearts and pumping blood. Robots can have all kinds of actuators, too, and a motor of some kind is usually at the heart of the actuator. Whether it’s a wheel, linear actuator, or hydraulic ram, there’s always a motor converting energy into movement.

Our full fleet of autonomous mobile robots have perception (through their LiDAR and vision technology); decision-making; and actuation in the form of wheels. They are able to work in any part of your warehouse and move material around the warehouse, eliminating unproductive walking time for humans to significantly improve productivity and lower cycle times.

Interested? Let’s talk!

About the Author

Jason has over 20 years of robotics leadership roles that range from managing QA and testing for iRobot’s Roomba to co-founding CyPhy Works, a revolutionary tethered drone company. Most recently, Jason was Co-founder and CEO of Waypoint Robotics, a leading provider of heavy payload capacity, omnidirectional AMRs, that was acquired by Locus in 2021. Jason is a life-long roboticist and has won many awards, accolades, and patents for various robot-related technologies. Jason is using his vast knowledge and experience to propel Locus into new opportunities.

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