If you ever worked for a company that invested in automated guided vehicles, or AGVs, you know that the firm invested in the future. Although there are some applications that demand an AGV, you might be interested in the great influx of AMRs—autonomous mobile robots.

You might be wondering about the differences between the two. After all, both AGVs and AMRs are designed to scoot around warehouse floors, doing jobs from delivering parts to machines, to picking orders, to retrieving all manner of items in the “back” to bring out to the “front.” Or they might be assigned only to shipping and receiving.

The main difference is right in the name of the AMR: autonomous. AGVs require an outside guidance system built into the floor—maybe a wire, a magnetic or reflective strip—something permanent must be installed to serve as a guide to the AGV’s world. On the other hand, AMRs do just what you think they might do. For example, if AMRs follow a “usual” path, but at this moment another AMR or a fork lift or even a real-life mule is in the way, a new and best path is created on the fly. How did it know about the mule in the way? Its navigation system is likely based on lasers. It knows where its universe of operation lies. It responds to changes in the environment much in the way a human with a wheelbarrow might: steer clear of the impediment, and keep moving on the new path.

The AGV does not navigate. It follows the wire. If there is an obstruction, it knows enough to stop, but not to take a new path. It cannot.

The laser-based system in many AMRs is called LIDAR, and if it sounds vaguely military, it is. In fact, it is still used for battlefield mapping and other defense applications. But LIDAR has gone from the arcane to the pedestrian, being built into your iPhone 12 or 13. LIDAR allows the AMR to create a new and safe path to proceed.

If you are wondering which solution—AGVs or AMRs—is best for your application, there are several things you can weigh. If your warehouse or factory floor plan is laid out to enable the AGV operation to dominate everything, and it only has a couple of simple but important tasks to do, then AGVs remain a great option because a) they would not require great flexibility in this case; b) even with the requirement for an imbedded navigation system, AGVs are less expensive. They do not need the intelligence of an AMR.

The AMR is smart enough to a) avoid the obstruction; and b) create a new, unique path on the spot that ends at the intended destination. Deployment is possible in the same day, and in some cases within the same hour as unboxing. And, there is no need to cut a slot into the floor or adhere a strip to it. You do not even need the yellow tape to block people or objects from its path.

One other advantage is in redeployment or changes. Changing paths for an AGV means doing everything from scratch again. For an AMR, it means just setting new destinations or rerouting. It takes a few minutes and the only cost is someone’s time to make the changes.

If you want to mobilize your warehouse or manufacturing floor, be sure you look into AMRs.