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The original image of robots usually corresponded to a more or less successful humanoid model. Real robotic systems were then increasingly used, retaining only one arm from the human anatomy, which was also banished to cages due to its strength and supposed unpredictability. They have since been allowed to leave these cages again, and very gradually some of them are actually being allowed to move (reasonably) freely. And this doesn't just apply to Elon Musk's humanoid robots - simpler mobile robotic systems in particular are being used in more and more areas of work, from e-commerce warehouses to modern restaurants. But even these simpler systems start at around 25,000 euros, while solutions with an integrated robotic arm cost around 70,000 euros. For this reason alone, widespread use on the market is often prohibitively expensive for small and medium-sized companies. The plastics and now also robotics specialist igus wants to change this with new low-cost robotics offerings. The Cologne-based company recently presented a whole range of affordable mobile plastic robots at HANNOVER MESSE 2024.

A booming market calls for cost-effective solutions

The igus initiative is aimed at a booming industry: the global market for Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) is currently worth around 20.3 billion US dollars, and experts expect this figure to almost double by 2028. Mobile robots are particularly widespread in intralogistics and industrial applications. And these smart helpers are even increasingly making their rounds in restaurants and hospitals. The motion plastics specialists at igus have been successfully testing AGVs in-house for four years - driverless shelves that move mail and deliveries to offices as well as mobile robots in production that move transports and rotary stacking containers. The experience gained has flowed and continues to flow directly into the development of a new low-cost automation product line, the "ReBeL on Wheels". The declared aim: to pave the way for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to move into low-cost mobile robotics.

Mobile ReBeL solutions for education, logistics and service

The basis of any mobile igus robotic system is the ReBeL. The use of plastic makes the robot particularly affordable at 4,970 euros and, with a dead weight of 8.2 kilograms, the lightest service robot with cobot function in its class. All of the mechanical components that make up the ReBeL are developed and manufactured by igus. Its payload capacity is two kilograms and it has a reach of 664 millimeters. Various moving systems are planned in which the ReBeL is centrally integrated: igus is starting with an affordable version for the education sector for EUR 14,699 - including the robot arm. Equipped with a gripper, the ReBeL EduMove serves as an autonomous learning platform for educational institutions thanks to open source. It has a modular design and can be flexibly expanded with additional functions such as lidar, camera technology or a slam algorithm. A complementary variant is a driverless transport system for SMEs. It can transport up to 30 kilograms. With the optional ReBeL, simple A to B positioning can be carried out. The new transport system dispenses with expensive sensor technology and instead relies on 3D sensor technology developed in-house. The price is 17,999 euros. In addition, igus presented the study of a service robot at a low price for the first time in Hanover. The ReBeL Butler is suitable for simple but time-consuming pick-up and delivery services, for example in the hotel and catering industry.

A lighthouse project on wheels

The goal of all these developments is the lighthouse project, a mobile robot with integrated HMI and vision that could even tidy up an office on its own. "With this project, we are pursuing a bottom-to-top strategy in which certain components such as safety laser scanners are not included in the basic package in order to keep the price low," explains Alexander Mühlens, authorized signatory and head of the Low-Cost Automation business unit at igus. "Nevertheless, it is ensured that the solution can be retrofitted for industrial requirements." Among other things, this year igus will be presenting an affordable gripper with a large stroke and travel range, which is designed to offer a high degree of flexibility when gripping different geometries. Alexander Mühlens: "The areas of application for this targeted low-cost AMR are extremely diverse and go far beyond simple transportation tasks. They cover a huge range of applications in various areas of life, such as cleaning tasks or serving coffee directly at the workplace."