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At a keynote during its Amazon Web Services (AWS) re:Invent 2021 conference today, Amazon launched AWS IoT RoboRunner, a new robotics service designed to make it easier for enterprises to build and deploy apps that enable fleets of robots to work together. Alongside IoT RoboRunner, Amazon announced the AWS Robotics Startup Accelerator, an incubator program in collaboration with nonprofit MassRobotics to tackle challenges in automation, robotics, and industrial internet of things (IoT) technologies.
The adoption of robotics — and automation more broadly — in enterprises has accelerated as the pandemic prompts digital transformations. A recent report from Automation World found that the bulk of companies that embraced robotics in the past year did so to decrease labor costs, increase capacity, and navigate a lack of available workers. The same survey found that 44.9% of companies now consider the robots in their assembly and manufacturing facilities to be an integral part of daily operations.
Amazon — a heavy investor in robotics itself — hasn’t been shy about its intent to capture a larger part of a robotics software market that is anticipated to be worth over $7.52 billion by 2022. In 2018, the company unveiled AWS RoboMaker, a product to assist developers with deploying robotics applications with AI and machine learning capabilities. And Amazon earlier this year rolled out SageMaker Reinforcement Learning Kubeflow Components, a toolkit supporting the RoboMaker service for orchestrating robotics workflows.
IoT RoboRunner, currently in preview, builds on the technology already in use at Amazon warehouses for robotics management. It allows AWS customers to connect robots and existing automation software to orchestrate work across operations, combining data from each type of robot in a fleet and standardizing data types like facility, location, and robotic task data in a central repository.
The goal of IoT RoboRunner is to simplify the process of building management apps for fleets of robots, according to Amazon. As enterprises increasingly rely on robotics to automate their operations, they’re choosing different types of robots, making it more difficult to organize their robots efficiently. Each robot vendor and work management system has its own, often incompatible control software, data format, and data repository. And when a new robot is added to a fleet, programming is required to connect the control software to work management systems and program the logic for management apps.
Developers can use IoT RoboRunner to access the data required to build robotics management apps and leverage prebuilt software libraries to create apps for tasks like work allocation. Beyond this, IoT RoboRunner can be used to deliver metrics and KPIs via APIs to administrative dashboards.
IoT RoboRunner competes with robotics management systems from Freedom Robotics, Exotec, and others. But Amazon makes the case that IoT RoboRunner’s integration with AWS — including services like SageMaker, Greengrass, and SiteWise — gives it an advantage over rivals on the market.
“Using AWS IoT RoboRunner, robotics developers no longer need to manage robots in silos and can more effectively automate tasks across a facility with centralized control,” Amazon wrote in a blog post. “As we look to the future, we see more companies adding more robots of more types. Harnessing the power of all those robots is complex, but we are dedicated to helping enterprises get the full value of their automation by making it easier to optimize robots through a single system view.”
AWS Robotics Startup Accelerator
Amazon also announced the Robotics Startup Accelerator, which the company says will foster robotics companies by providing them with resources to develop, prototype, test, and commercialize their products and services. “Combined with the technical resources and network that AWS provides, the strategic collaboration will help robotics startups and the industry overall to experiment and innovate, while connecting startups and their technologies with the AWS customer base,” Amazon wrote in a blog post.
Robotics startups — particularly in industrial robotics — have attracted the eye of venture capitalists as the trend toward automation continues. From March 2020 to March 2021, venture firms poured $6.3 billion into robotics companies, up nearly 50% from March 2019 to March 2020, according to data from PitchBook. Over the longer term, robotics investments have climbed more than fivefold throughout the past five years, to $5.4 billion in 2020 from $1 billion in 2015.
“Looking ahead, the expectations of robotics suppliers are bullish, with many believing that with the elections over and increased availability of COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon, much demand will return in industries where market skittishness has slowed robotic adoption,” Automation World wrote in its report. “Meanwhile, those industries already seeing an uptick are expected to plough ahead at an even faster pace.”
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