Meet the robot that wants to replace fork lift truck drivers

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

  • Forklift drivers have so far been lucky to escape the clutches of automation, but now that could be about to change


 

It seems to be all go in the world of warehouses. Robot pickers can now pick goods as fast, and as accurately as their human counterparts, and robots can now autonomously navigate their way around – just another wheel turn on the road to full warehouse domination. But let’s face it, warehouses are used to store lots of heavy things, like crates of beer, and anvils, and that’s nothing to say about the heavy pallets and racks that pepper every square foot, and all of this, of course, is great news – especially if you’re a fork lift operator or a trolley driver. But now there’s yet another new mighty robot operator in town and it can shift up to 1,500kg of goods and equipment all day, every day. Non stop, well, almost… it still needs the occasional one hour power nap.

 

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The Freight 1500, and its smaller cousin the Freight 500, are the latest in a line of warehouse robot workers from the guys and gals at Fetch Robotics. Led by CEO Melonee Wise the company has been working on developing affordable warehouse robots for years now, and both of its new robots are much bigger versions of a smaller, rolling robot called Freight, which was designed to follow warehouse workers around as they picked products from shelves.

 

They’re strong, very strong, and flat
 

The Freight 500 and 1500’s design and specs make it the ideal candidate to replace the trolleys and forklifts used in almost all of today’s modern warehouses, which isn’t a surprise – they were designed that way, and once loaded, the duo can navigate their way around and avoid hazards using a combination of Lidar and stereo cameras. And as for that power nap? Well, they’ll run for up to nine hours on a single charge and recharge themselves in under an hour. Even robots need sleep – slackers.

 

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The robots join similar devices on the market made by the likes of Clearpath Robotics, and for now at least it looks like warehouse workers at the majority of companies, such as Amazon and Ocado will continue to coexist with their robot overlords. But as robots gain new skills, such as the one I unveiled earlier this week from RightHand Robotics that can pick a wide assortment of random products from warehouse bins as fast as its human co-workers it looks increasingly like warehouse workers could be nearing the end of their shelf life.

 

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