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Autonomous Mobile Robots: More Diversity Than First Meets the Eye Finds IDTechEx Research

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Autonomous Mobile Robots: More Diversity Than First Meets the Eye Finds IDTechEx Research

Autonomous mobility, in the general public’s eye, is now synonymous with cars. Whilst this might be the largest ultimate prize, it is by no means the only commercial manifestation of this technology. Indeed, as the IDTechEx Research report New Robotics and Drones 2018-2038: Technologies, Forecasts, Players demonstrates, numerous autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are being commercialized in applications where there is (a) a clear commercial purpose and (b) a more structured and predictable environment.

IDTechEx review this trend below, showing these autonomous mobile robots are automating tasks in areas as diverse as security, retail, warehouses, delivery, agriculture, and the home environment.

Warehouses: e-commerce is on the rise across the world. This requires faster delivery of multi-item packages to customers. Indeed, the push is to cut down delivery times to a point that the key advantages of bricks-and-mortar shops- the instant fulfilment- disappears. Mobile robots are helping here. Grid-based automated robots are very popular today. They operate in robot-only zones, follow printed regularly-spaced QR codes for navigation, and shuttle around special totes to human-staffed picking/packing station. They can regularly enable 300 picks per hour with some reporting even 500 picks per hour in special cases. They also enable more compact warehouses since shelves can be packed close together, given that robots slide underneath them. In this regard, the market has responded strongly to fill the gap when Kiva was taken off the market by Amazon. Today companies around the world, in the US, Europe, India and China, are reporting a rapid rise in installations.

In parallel to this, AMRs are also appearing. They offer more flexible, collaborative and hybrid work arrangements and cut the installation, and work flow modification, times. They are getting increasingly more adept and trust levels are rising to assign them increasingly heavier loads. To read more see the IDTechEx Research report Mobile Robots and Drones in Material Handling and Logistics 2018-2038.

Last mile delivery: The last mile of the delivery chain is its least productive. In contrast to other steps where large payloads traverse fixed routes, here small payloads are delivered to customized destinations. As such, this step represents more than 50% of the total cost. Today, this last step is accomplished by a man-in-a-van, a man-on-a-bike or a man-on-a-motorbike. Autonomous mobile robots now seek to automate this step and thus raise productivity. To this end, we are seeing the emergence of small AMRs. These travel at slow paces, carry small loads, and deliver only in fairly structured spaces with low congestion and/or under close supervision. As such, they offer poor conductivity. The secret, as IDTechEx have said before, however, lies in fleet-level productivity. Autonomy eliminates the driver overhead per vehicle thus enabling cost effective fleet operation. As such, even if individual units are less productive than current modes, the fleets can be more productive and cost competitive. For more visit http://www.IDTechEx.com/mobile.

Agriculture: Already agriculture is the leading adapter of autonomous mobility technology. For years, level-3 and level-4 autonomous tractors equipped with RTKLS GPS technology have been selling on the markets. Now these tractors are tending towards full autonomy. To this end, for several years now, we have seen working semi-commercial prototypes of fully autonomous (level 5) tractors with and without a cab. The technology is ready, but cost of sensor suites is still too high and behavioural resistance towards adoption exists. However, these barriers are only temporary as the march towards higher levels of productivity is unstoppable in the long term, and agriculture has shown that once a new technology is proven it will adopt it.

In parallel the rise of autonomy mobility can lead to a paradigm shift. Here, we can see the rise of fleets of autonomous, small, slow, and lightweight agricultural robots. These too will be less productive than a powerful tractor on an individual unit basis, but in some applications they will prove more productive on a fleet level. This is only made possible because autonomous mobility eliminates the driver overhead per vehicle. See the report Agricultural Robots and Drones 2018-2038: Technologies, Markets and Players for more.

Security: The provision of private security is a major business worldwide. In the US alone, 1.1 million are employed in this sector earning around $30k per annum each. AMRs are now seeking to enter into this market as security guards, both for indoor and outdoor applications, such as in data centres, utility and oil/gas centres, solar farms, shopping malls, offices, other forms of commercial property, plants, and so on. These are sensor laden robots. In typical arrangements, they include cameras, two-way audio system thermal sensors, gas sensors, and so on. For outdoor purposes, these security robots are more rugged and can reply on GPS, whereas for indoor they require GPS free autonomy together with sleeker designs. These robots will not fully replace human workers. Instead, they will mainly complement them by automating tedious tasks. As with many other forms of mobile robots, they will change the nature of the job, putting an emphasis on the remote control of fleets. To read more see the report New Robotics and Drones 2018-2038: Technologies, Forecasts, Players.

Retail: Autonomous mobile robots are beginning to be used in retail environments on the shop floor too. While initially humanoid robots have been used at store entrances, particularly in Japan, to entice people to the store and ask questions, more recently many companies are developing AMRs. Their uses include: mapping the store, monitoring stock levels and offering data analytics to help with product positioning and placement, guiding or walking the customers to their required item, monitoring regulation and health/safety compliance and so on. Today these robots are being employed in apparel stores and supermarkets in very small numbers. These are still very much the early days, but the fact that big supermarket operates are running notable nationwide trials in the US is in itself promising. Here too, if safety is ensured, the long-term march towards high productivity with increased automation in retail environments will be inevitable. For more see New Robotics and Drones 2018-2038: Technologies, Forecasts, Players.

Home: The home environment has long been a market for autonomous mobile robots. Indeed, they have been around since the early 1990s. Today, they are in the market proliferation phase particularly in Asia markets including China. Indeed, the number of companies is multiplying with many seeking to challenge the dominance of iRobot, the market leader. This market has also entered its commoditization phase, with products often looking similar and competition shifting primarily towards price (although differentiate on features such as suction power remains). Technology wise, these robots are mature. The navigation has largely shifted from random movement to intelligence path planning, and the robot is being given connectivity capabilities to position it as the centre of the emerging smart home ecosystem. In parallel, attention is shifting towards larger-sized autonomous cleaning units aimed at commercial spaces such as hotels and shopping centres, whilst suppliers are doubling their effort to offer wet cleaners, window cleaners, and so on. To read more visit http://www.IDTechEx.com/robotics.

To learn more about emerging AMRs please see the IDTechEx Research report New Robotics and Drones 2018-2038: Technologies, Forecasts, Players. Here, IDTechEx explain a variety of markets in detail and offer our insights into future market developments including potential for commoditization of the hardware and software as well as the risk of business scene consolidation. The report identifies and profiles all the key companies worldwide working on AMRs. Finally, it offers short-, medium- and long-term market projections in market value and unit numbers.

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UK might need negative rates if recovery disappoints – BoE’s Vlieghe

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UK might need negative rates if recovery disappoints - BoE's Vlieghe 1

By David Milliken and William Schomberg

LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England might need to cut interest rates below zero later this year or in 2022 if a recovery in the economy disappoints, especially if there is persistent unemployment, policymaker Gertjan Vlieghe said on Friday.

Vlieghe said he thought the likeliest scenario was that the economy would recover strongly as forecast by the central bank earlier this month, meaning a further loosening of monetary policy would not be needed.

Data published on Friday suggested the economy had stabilised after a new COVID-19 lockdown hit retailers last month, while businesses and consumers are hopeful a fast vaccination campaign will spur a recovery.

Vlieghe said in a speech published by the BoE that there was a risk of lasting job market weakness hurting wages and prices.

“In such a scenario, I judge more monetary stimulus would be appropriate, and I would favour a negative Bank Rate as the tool to implement the stimulus,” he said.

“The time to implement it would be whenever the data, or the balance of risks around it, suggest that the recovery is falling short of fully eliminating economic slack, which might be later this year or into next year,” he added.

Vlieghe’s comments are similar to those of fellow policymaker Michael Saunders, who said on Thursday negative rates could be the BoE’s best tool in future.

Earlier this month the BoE gave British financial institutions six months to get ready for the possible introduction of negative interest rates, though it stressed that no decision had been taken on whether to implement them.

Investors saw the move as reducing the likelihood of the BoE following other central banks and adopting negative rates.

Some senior BoE policymakers, such as Deputy Governor Dave Ramsden, believe that adding to the central bank’s 875 billion pounds ($1.22 trillion) of government bond purchases remains the best way of boosting the economy if needed.

Vlieghe underscored the scale of the hit to Britain’s economy and said it was clear the country was not experiencing a V-shaped recovery, adding it was more like “something between a swoosh-shaped recovery and a W-shaped recovery.”

“I want to emphasise how far we still have to travel in this recovery,” he said, adding that it was “highly uncertain” how much of the pent-up savings amassed by households during the lockdowns would be spent.

By contrast, last week the BoE’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, likened the economy to a “coiled spring.”

Vlieghe also warned against raising interest rates if the economy appeared to be outperforming expectations.

“It is perfectly possible that we have a short period of pent up demand, after which demand eases back again,” he said.

Higher interest rates were unlikely to be appropriate until 2023 or 2024, he said.

($1 = 0.7146 pounds)

(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by William Schomberg)

 

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UK economy shows signs of stabilisation after new lockdown hit

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UK economy shows signs of stabilisation after new lockdown hit 2

By William Schomberg and David Milliken

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s economy has stabilised after a new COVID-19 lockdown last month hit retailers, and business and consumers are hopeful the vaccination campaign will spur a recovery, data showed on Friday.

The IHS Markit/CIPS flash composite Purchasing Managers’ Index, a survey of businesses, suggested the economy was barely shrinking in the first half of February as companies adjusted to the latest restrictions.

A separate survey of households showed consumers at their most confident since the pandemic began.

Britain’s economy had its biggest slump in 300 years in 2020, when it contracted by 10%, and will shrink by 4% in the first three months of 2021, the Bank of England predicts.

The central bank expects a strong subsequent recovery because of the COVID-19 vaccination programme – though policymaker Gertjan Vlieghe said in a speech on Friday that the BoE could need to cut interest rates below zero later this year if unemployment stayed high.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due on Monday to announce the next steps in England’s lockdown but has said any easing of restrictions will be gradual.

Official data for January underscored the impact of the latest lockdown on retailers.

Retail sales volumes slumped by 8.2% from December, a much bigger fall than the 2.5% decrease forecast in a Reuters poll of economists, and the second largest on record.

“The only good thing about the current lockdown is that it’s no way near as bad for the economy as the first one,” Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics, said.

The smaller fall in retail sales than last April’s 18% plunge reflected growth in online shopping.

BORROWING SURGE SLOWED IN JANUARY

There was some better news for finance minister Rishi Sunak as he prepares to announce Britain’s next annual budget on March 3.

Though public sector borrowing of 8.8 billion pounds ($12.3 billion) was the first January deficit in a decade, it was much less than the 24.5 billion pounds forecast in a Reuters poll.

That took borrowing since the start of the financial year in April to 270.6 billion pounds, reflecting a surge in spending and tax cuts ordered by Sunak.

The figure does not count losses on government-backed loans which could add 30 billion pounds to the shortfall this year, but the deficit is likely to be smaller than official forecasts, the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank said.

Sunak is expected to extend a costly wage subsidy programme, at least for the hardest-hit sectors, but he said the time for a reckoning would come.

“It’s right that once our economy begins to recover, we should look to return the public finances to a more sustainable footing and I’ll always be honest with the British people about how we will do this,” he said.

Some economists expect higher taxes sooner rather than later.

“Big tax rises eventually will have to be announced, with 2022 likely to be the worst year, so that they will be far from voters’ minds by the time of the next general election in May 2024,” Samuel Tombs, at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said.

Public debt rose to 2.115 trillion pounds, or 97.9% of gross domestic product – a percentage not seen since the early 1960s.

The PMI survey and a separate measure of manufacturing from the Confederation of British Industry, showing factory orders suffering the smallest hit in a year, gave Sunak some cause for optimism.

IHS Markit’s chief business economist, Chris Williamson, said the improvement in business expectations suggested the economy was “poised for recovery.”

However the PMI survey showed factory output in February grew at its slowest rate in nine months. Many firms reported extra costs and disruption to supply chains from new post-Brexit barriers to trade with the European Union since Jan. 1.

Vlieghe warned against over-interpreting any early signs of growth. “It is perfectly possible that we have a short period of pent up demand, after which demand eases back again,” he said.

“We are experiencing something between a swoosh-shaped recovery and a W-shaped recovery. We are clearly not experiencing a V-shaped recovery.”

($1 = 0.7160 pounds)

(Editing by Angus MacSwan and Timothy Heritage)

 

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Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output

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Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output 3

By Devika Krishna Kumar

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell for a second day on Friday, retreating further from recent highs as Texas energy companies began preparations to restart oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather.

Brent crude futures were down 33 cents, or 0.5%, at $63.60 a barrel by 11:06 a.m. (1606 GMT) U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 60 cents, or 1%, to $59.92.

This week, both benchmarks had climbed to the highest in more than a year.

“Price pullback thus far appears corrective and is slight within the context of this month’s major upside price acceleration,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates.

Unusually cold weather in Texas and the Plains states curtailed up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude production and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas, analysts estimated.

Texas refiners halted about a fifth of the nation’s oil processing amid power outages and severe cold.

Companies were expected to prepare for production restarts on Friday as electric power and water services slowly resume, sources said.

“While much of the selling relates to a gradual resumption of power in the Gulf coast region ahead of a significant temperature warmup, the magnitude of this week’s loss of supply may require further discounting given much uncertainty regarding the extent and possible duration of lost output,” Ritterbusch said.

Oil fell despite a surprise drop in U.S. crude stockpiles in the week to Feb. 12, before the big freeze. Inventories fell by 7.3 million barrels to 461.8 million barrels, their lowest since March, the Energy Information Administration reported on Thursday. [EIA/S]

The United States on Thursday said it was ready to talk to Iran about returning to a 2015 agreement that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Still, analysts did not expect near-term reversal of sanctions on Iran that were imposed by the previous U.S. administration.

“This breakthrough increases the probability that we may see Iran returning to the oil market soon, although there is much to be discussed and a new deal will not be a carbon-copy of the 2015 nuclear deal,” said StoneX analyst Kevin Solomon.

(Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar in London and Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Jason Neely, David Goodman and David Gregorio)

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