A tour of Fox Robotics with BBC

In January, BBC reporter and senior producer Paul Carter came to the Fox Robotics headquarters in Austin, TX, to film a piece for BBC Click, a BBC program covering technology news and innovation.

Our team gave BBC a tour of the warehouse and an introduction to the FoxBot Autonomous Forklift, or as Paul describes it, a forklift with a “21st century makeover.”


What is the FoxBot Autonomous Forklift and how does it work?


Marie Turner, Director of Software Engineering at Fox Robotics, explains that the FoxBot begins as a standard counterbalance, stand-up forklift. The forklift is then outfitted with a suite of safety-certified sensors and proprietary firmware here in the warehouse.

“We add sensors for perception as well as safety,” Marie tells Paul. The FoxBot is equipped with three LiDAR sensors, two forkward and one steerward, to give the robot a 360 degree view of the space around it.

The FoxBot is also equipped with a safety-rated programmable logic controller (PLC) in the backpack of the forklift—the “brain” of the bot—as well as a camera located between the forks that allows the robot to both detect pallets and judge their distance.

Today, the FoxBot Autonomous Forklift can unload a trailer at 25 pallets per hour, a rate that ensures safety standards are met as the AI learns and the robot’s perception becomes more sophisticated.

“It’s really easy to build a robot that works once,” explains Fox Robotics Co-Founder and CTO Peter Anderson-Sprecher. “Building a robot that works every single time, day in, day out? That’s something that matters a lot to us.”

He continues, “Figuring out how to meet the workflow needs that our customers have, maintain our perfect safety record, and be compliant with all the required standards is a real challenge for introducing any kind of new autonomous system into a workplace.”


What about the impact on jobs?


The top complaint Fox Robotics customers have is that it’s difficult to find and retain warehouse workers, Peter answers Paul. Today’s tight labor market, coupled with the fact that warehouses tend to be located outside of major population centers, underscores the need for automation to keep operations running efficiently.

For customers, the FoxBot provides a means to “get more done with less to stay competitive,” adds Peter.

Plus, automating trailer unloading may improve employee satisfaction and retention. A forklift operator could go from manually unloading trailers—a highly repetitive task—to managing a fleet of robots and having the opportunity to learn from and work with the technology.

Automation is also safer. The FoxBot strictly adheres to speed limits and safety protocols, and less workers in the warehouse means less workers in harm’s way.

“It’s quite strange how quickly you get used to the fact that this thing is just driving around by itself,” Paul remarks as a FoxBot unloads a trailer behind him. “I’m already completely happy with the fact that there’s a very large, very heavy piece of equipment driving around autonomously.”


Watch the full video below.