How Mobile Robotics Can Impact The Logistics Industry


Mobile robotics can be used to automate a range of logistics operations, including material handling, material picking, long-haul distribution, and last mile delivery

Automation in the warehousing and logistics chain is a growing market. A particularly exciting subset of this is the use of mobile robots, autonomous vehicles, and drones for automation of movement-based tasks.

The mobile robotics industry has grown quickly in recent years, spurred on by advances in robotics technology, autonomous navigation, and artificial intelligence (AI). Mobile robots can alleviate many of the labour issues that are currently threatening the global logistics industry. Mobile robotics can be used to automate a range of logistics operations, including material handling, material picking, long-haul distribution, and last mile delivery.

IDTechEx has recently released Mobile Robotics in Logistics, Warehousing and Delivery 2022-2042, a report exploring the technical, regulatory, and market factors that are shaping the emerging industry around logistics mobile robotics.

Some applications of mobile robotics, including material transporting using automated guided vehicles (AGVs), are already mature industries attracting billions of dollars in annual revenue, whereas others, such as fully autonomous drone delivery, are still emerging and may only reach a large scale of commercialisation after this decade.

Despite the market stage, mature or emerging, each market attracts investments every year. In addition, recently a number of mobile robotic startups have been acquired by technology or engineering giants; notable examples include the acquisitions by Toyota, Amazon, Teradyne, Apple and ABB, indicating their further steps towards entering the logistic mobile robotic industry.

The latest IDTechEx report examines the key forms of products used in different logistics operations. These include AGVs (forklifts, tow tractors, unit load carts, and others), “goods-to-person” grid-based automated guided carts (AGCs), autonomous mobile robots(AMRs), heavy-load autonomous mobile vehicles (AMVs), case-picking robots, mobile manipulators, heavy-duty autonomous trucks, autonomous last mile delivery vans, robots, and drones. Automation in the warehousing encompasses all mobile robotic devices used in logistics, such as robotic carts/vehicles, on-road autonomous trucks, and drones, which help goods in their journey from origin to destination.

This report finds that the market for mobile robots (including trucks and drones) in logistics, delivery and warehousing is likely to reach a staggering $83 and $334 billion in 2032 and 2042, respectively.

Furthermore, the report has detailed analysis about key technologies used in mobile robotics (navigation), typically used sensors and predictions of technological trends. In addition, it includes the most recent regulatory changes on autonomous driving-related products  autonomous trucks, autonomous delivery vans) and anticipates the key timepoints and trends for deregulations.

Intralogistics mobile robots

For a long time, automated guided carts and vehicles (AGC and AGV) have been in use. They are infrastructure dependent, their installation is time-consuming, and their workflow is difficult to adapt. Consequently, as a technology, they are on relatively shaky ground, because the technology is evolving towards more autonomous and infrastructure-independent navigation. But they are more reliable in terms of transporting heavy loads for a long distance.

Therefore, the forecast is for their healthy growth in the following years but will start to decrease between 2032-2037 (depending on product forms). They will increasingly become confined to ever narrower market niches.

One very bright spot for automated robots is in goods-to-person grid-based automated carts (grid-based AGCs) for fulfilment centres and large warehouses. Special robot-only zones are created within warehouses in which these robot fleets move racks at high speeds to a manned picking station, leading to clear and proven productivity gains. This will be a fast-growing market space by 2030.

The navigation technology is transitioning from automated to autonomous, enabled by better SLAM algorithms. With no additional requirements on building infrastructure or changing the environment, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) can save more cost and time, being easier to scale the fleet and to be adopted flexibly.

The report assesses that the market for such will continuously grow by 2042. There have also been more prominent investments and acquisitions on this technology in recent years.

Mobile picking robots

Picking technology is an essential component of logistics automation. Today, many companies focus on multi-layer case picking robots that pick and handle multiple regularly shaped boxes or totes with their telescopic forks or vacuum grippers for “carton-to-person” working mode. The similarities and differences between this mode and “shelf-to-person” one of grid-based AGCs have been thoroughly discussed in the report. There are a few companies that integrate robotic manipulators on mobile platforms for picking irregularly shaped complex items, but the picking performance is very limited. The forecast is case-picking robots will dominate the market for a long time and the market growth speed for mobile manipulators will only accelerate after 2035.

Heavy-duty level-4 trucking

The major pain points nowadays in the trucking industry, and especially long-haul trucking, include high operation cost, driver management and safety. Implementing high-level autonomous heavy-duty trucks can well address those pain points, and potentially can improve the safety during driving. According to recent regulatory changes and information about level-4 autonomous truck pre-orders, IDTechEx anticipates the market revenue will start to be largely generated in 2025.

 Autonomous last mile delivery robotic products

Autonomous last mile delivery is also an emerging market. There are mainly three forms of products – autonomous delivery vans, sidewalk robots and autonomous delivery drones. Last mile delivery is the most expensive part of delivering a parcel. Autonomous last mile delivery solutions, however, can hugely save the cost and improve the delivery efficiency in a more ecological way. It is estimated that implementing autonomous last mile delivery solutions can potentially save 55 per cent of current costs in the short-term, and may save over 80 per cent in the long-term future.

Autonomous delivery vans and sidewalk robots are both ground-based delivery solutions. Most of them are electrically powered and drive at a relatively slow speed in limited known neighbourhood areas, which ease the technological burden of perceiving in a long range and constructing maps in real time.

Compared to sidewalk robots, the vans have large room and longer battery life, able to deliver to multiple locations with more and heavier items; while sidewalk robots can be more easily formed to a larger fleet size and deliver to various customers simultaneously because the robot has a lower unit cost.

Drone delivery, as a faster autonomous delivery option, now however faces more obstacles on technologies, regulations and infrastructure support.

Based on analysis and forecast,  the report mentions that the autonomous delivery vans will be the mainstream product in last mile delivery, accounting for over 75 per cent of ground-based solutions in 2042; on the other hand, drone delivery will have a smaller market and a later market take-off point.

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