The hardest thing about robots: energy

Most present-day robots are highly inefficient in terms of energy consumption. Although robots and gadgets are getting more practical and rich of advanced features, they still rely on age-old power generation and storage techniques. And on top of quickly running out of battery, batteries also pose a potential safety risk for robots.

Four Main Challenges Around Energy

Let’s look at warehouse automation robots for an example, where the industry faces with four major challenges in their energy use:

  • Recharging. On average, a bot can work for +/- 5 hrs on full battery, and needs to recharge for 1.5 hrs. One way to optimize this is quick recharges, where the robots do a 40 minute quick recharge when they’re idle, so they’re at 80% and ready to go.
  • Battery life. This is the major impact on maintenance costs. Battery life is +/- 4 years, depending on the mileage robots have. So robots which work 24/7 will need new batteries sooner than robots working 8/5.The same goes for EV’s with battery life ranging from 4 to 6 years.
  • Battery recycling. What to do with all these batteries? After their use-life of +/-4 years after which they operate below 80% capacity, which means they can generally get another 2-4 years of use in second life applications before being recycled. Not to my surprise, China is one of the frontrunners in 2nd life policy for batteries.
  • Temperature. Because of current battery technologies, it’s very challenging for robots to work in cold environment. In warehouse automation, this means most technologies are limited to ambient/chilled storage. The EV car industry has a similar challenge, whith electric cars being generally more mass adopted in the south tropical areas of China than in the North close to Russia.

“Energy” is one of the big questions of our next generation’s “smart societies”. But the challenge is more pressing in areas like warehouse automation and EV’s, as these applications typically have a high “turnover” requirement, making lots of mileage in short time.

Many warehouse automation bots could be running 24/7, while energy is a less of a bottleneck in scenario’s like restaurant bots and food delivery bots, who typically work in peak times, and can recharge during idle times.

In summary, energy definitely is one of the major bottleneck and cost drivers, holding back many potential applications of smart tech in our daily lives.

Solutions

  • Clean energy. Existing, but needs more implementation, e.g. solar pannels on warehouses @clare bottle and new EV cars.
  • Fast chargers. Fast charging, battery swapping.
  • New technology. This is the most important breakthrough we need. Work is certainly being done to make the components of a robot more power efficient. Extract energy from light, vibrations, and mechanical movement. Research is also being done to improve battery technology beyond the nickel-metal hydride and lithium ion options currently available.

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