One of the biggest challenges employers face is how to provide a work environment safer from COVID-19 while not disrupting productivity or adding staff. COVID-19 has placed significant pressure on some companies to grow with limited ability to add staff. For example, e-commerce companies are experiencing a dramatic increase in orders and must increase productivity. Many companies are turning to autonomous mobile robots to automate processes, enable social distancing, and help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Wireless autonomous charging from WiBotic helps keep those robots running reliably.
1: Telepresence for social distancing
While telepresence robots have been available for many years, the COVID-19 crisis has quickly demonstrated their enhanced value in certain applications. For instance, rather than exposing medical staff to highly contagious environments, telepresence robots can bring medical expertise to any bedside – especially for smaller hospitals that may lack specialists. Even for more common administrative jobs, it has become clear that audio/video-conferencing applications aren’t always a good fit. A robot capable of moving throughout a facility creates a “conference room” anywhere it is needed.
But telepresence robots, especially in the medical field, need charging systems that are not only reliable, but also simple to use and easy to clean. Floor based charging systems (typically contact-based) get dirty and can trap germs while fully sealed wireless wall mounted systems are unobtrusive and easy to sanitize.
2: Fewer workers on the warehouse floor
COVID-19 has accelerated warehouse operations for ecommerce. Rather than add staff and increase the risk of COVID-19 exposure, e-commerce companies are turning to autonomous mobile robots to augment and support the workforce. For instance, efficiencies are gained with robots meeting employees at specific locations in a warehouse to expedite order fulfillment. This allows employees to remain in a relatively confined area rather than walking throughout the facility, making it easier to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
To be truly valuable, though, robots need to operate with as little human intervention as possible. While any autonomous charging mechanism can remove humans from the charging process, some systems are more reliable than others. With contact-based charging, if a robot stops short or approaches the charging station at the wrong angle, charging often fails and re-docking must be attempted – wasting valuable time. Conversely, WiBotic’s wireless charging system offers several centimeters of positional flexibility, ensuring a full power charge even if the robot is off target.
Wireless systems are also 100% contact free, allowing for an unlimited number to charging cycles with little or no charging station maintenance. A key benefit of this feature is the ability to employ “opportunity charging”. Opportunity charging is the use of wireless charging stations placed strategically throughout the facility to charge robots as they operate in their workspace. Rather than taking time to visit a remote charging wall or room, robots can be charged more frequently, but for shorter periods of time, anywhere they would naturally pause (i.e. conveyor loading zones, human picking stations, aisle end-caps). Adding energy to the robot’s battery throughout the day allows for maximum runtime and productivity without an increase the number of robots or people on the floor.
3: Cleaning and disinfection with autonomous robots
In addition to maintaining social distancing and helping smaller teams do more, wireless charging is particularly useful for disinfection and cleaning robots. Often operating overnight when humans are not present, these robots must have the ability to reliably dock and recharge on their own. For the same reasons mentioned before, contact based systems can fail and lead to incomplete or missed disinfection cycles.
Further, charging stations for these robots can be relatively bulky, taking up floor space in warehouses and retail locations where every square foot counts. If several different types of robots are used in the same facility, the issues are compounded since each robot will have a different proprietary charging station. WiBotic’s programmable wireless system solves this problem. A single transmitter can charge many different battery chemistries and voltages, and at charge rates (amps) that are configurable on a charge cycle-by-cycle basis if desired. Wireless systems can also be installed in floors or in walls, completely flush with surrounding surfaces, to eliminate tripping hazards. Because there are no protruding contact points, there is also no opportunity for contacts to become damp, dirty, or corroded from regular janitorial activities such as mopping.
4: Food & Pharmacy Delivery
Robotic delivery of food and medicine is a growing segment of the autonomous robot industry. This fall, for example, universities plan to deliver hundreds of meals per day to students using refrigerated cases on robots. Robots limit the number of hands touching the product and improve social distancing by taking items directly to people in their dorm rooms, offices, or homes. Wireless charging extends the range of robots and can be used opportunistically to provide a reliable charge between deliveries. It also removes the risks of dirt and water in outdoor operations because wireless charging ports aren’t impeded by grime, dust, water, or other layers.
Robots and wireless charging can help employees return to work safely by growing teams’ capabilities, limiting unnecessary exposure, enabling disinfection, and allowing workers to clean the workplace more safely. For consumers, they offer access to specialized resources and fewer opportunities for coronavirus exposure. The combination of autonomous mobile robots and wireless charging enables businesses a way to address these needs with reliable technology that supports continuous autonomous operations without human intervention.
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