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Within the last decade, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) have undergone a significant transformation. The automated guided vehicle of yesteryear was relatively inflexible and inefficient compared to today’s Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs). 

Since time immemorial, warehouse operations have relied on manual labor to transport materials. Many warehouses and distribution centers still rely on forklifts or pallet jacks to transport products across warehouses and factories. However, with advancements made in the automation industry, a new generation of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) is now revolutionizing material handling. By leveraging the latest in self-driving technology, next-gen AMRs offer greater efficiency and accuracy while reducing labor costs and workplace risks associated with human-operated equipment.  

The differences between early AGVs and today’s AMRs are striking.  

Fixed Routes Versus Flexible Pathways 

The Automated Guided Vehicles of the recent past—and many still today—follow a fixed, prescribed pathway, similar to trains. Various techniques are used to define the paths for AGVs, including tape on—or wires embedded into—the floor. Other methods of prescribing the pathway are possible, such as QR codes or other visual markers attached to the walls, columns, or fixed equipment, including recent advancements utilizing infrastructure-free methods such as lidar. 

However, like a train, the AGV cannot deviate from its predetermined path. If an obstacle blocks the route of an AGV, it is programmed to stop and wait for its path to be cleared. And if any adjustments are needed, the entire route must be recommissioned.  

An illustration of an AMR robot compared to an AGV robot

In contrast, modern Autonomous Mobile Robots store the map of a facility in their memory. If something blocks an AMR’s pathway, they can stop and wait for the blockage to clear, but can also simply swerve around the problem. Using advanced sensors and onboard artificial intelligence, the AMR can intelligently determine if there is enough space available and that it would be safe to perform this maneuver, or can autonomously plan and travel via an alternate path to its assigned destination.  

AMRs Make Sense of Their Environment 

Advanced algorithms give robots the ability not just to sense their environment, but also to make sense of it. For example, modern automated material handling vehicles can distinguish between a human and a shelf or even different pallet types. Such contextual understanding of its environment is crucial for an automated vehicle’s safe collaboration with people. 

Modern autonomous mobile robots use a variety of sensors and then combine the information into an integrated three-dimensional model. This capability, called sensor fusion, allows today’s material handling equipment to employ laser-based computer vision systems, optical cameras, and proximity sensors to increase operational safety and functionality. 

Today’s Robots Are More Effective Than Yesterday’s AGVs 

How important is the intelligent obstacle avoidance capability of the AMR? Statistics gathered by Vecna Robotics show their AMRs use obstacle avoidance at least once during 80% of their assigned trips. That means if the automated vehicle could not circumvent roadblocks, either the vehicle would have to wait until the blockage cleared, or someone would have to travel to the site of the problem and remove the impediment. In either case, an automated vehicle’s efficiency suffers if it cannot handle obstructions.  

Mobile Robots Excel in Flexibility and Ease of Reconfiguration 

When business conditions change, sometimes it becomes necessary to change the route an AGV will take. Because traditional automated guided vehicles travel an assigned path, a change in their course requires modifying the guidance markers or whatever infrastructure was used to define the pathways. These alterations take time and can be disruptive. 

Modern autonomous mobile robots do not need such infrastructure because AMRs carry a facility map in their onboard computer storage. If the facility map changes, a new map can be easily and quickly installed.  

Once one robot “learns” the map of a facility and its assigned pick-up and drop-off locations, this knowledge can be transferred to other AMRs. Therefore, augmenting operations with additional robots is simple and fast and does not require physical infrastructure modification. 

Extending Safety Benefits into More Areas 

Safety remains a top concern in warehousing and transportation. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 34,000 people are seriously injured annually in the U.S. due to accidents involving forklifts. While the AGVs of a decade ago were already safer than manual forklifts, AMRs bring safety to a new level. AMRs can sense their environment far better than AGVs, making them inherently safer. And because AMRs can handle a broader range of workflows, their safety benefits can be extended into more use cases than AGVs. 

Statistic that 34k+ people are injured in forklift accidents annually

Robot Collaboration and Interoperability 

Modern AMRs can be used in ways previous generations of AGVs could not. Today’s AMRs have acquired the ability to cooperate with other types of automation equipment. For example, an AMR forklift from Vecna Robotics can lift pallets to and from conveyors and wrappers. Such flexibility enhances the return on investment from AMRs by expanding the range of tasks they can accomplish. 

AMR: A Robot for All Seasons 

When you bring it all together, AMRs are built to be more flexible to changes in their environment. Automated Guide Vehicles expect that a warehouse is always exactly the same as it was when they were first mapped. Because most environments are in constant flux, AGV performance will degrade over time. Cloud-driven AMRs, on the other hand, are more perceptive by design. They have the ability to dynamically plan an optimal path during each mission. And AMRs have the potential to constantly improve their performance during their useful life.  

Consult our AGV vs. AMR guide for more information on the evolution of Automation Guided Vehicles and how they differ from modern AMRs. Or, contact Vecna Robotics today to speak with an experienced automation expert who can help you on your automation journey.