How Fox Robotics is filling the automation void at the shipping and receiving dock May 24, 2023
In April, Fox Robotics CEO Marin Tchakarov gave The Robot Report’s Mike Oitzman a tour of our facilities in Austin, TX, including a live demonstration of the FoxBot Autonomous Forklift in action.
In an interview for the podcast, Tchakarov and Oitzman discuss the growing need for warehouse automation, as well as Fox Robotics’ niche in the trailer unloading space.
“Unloading a trailer is arguably one of the harder problems to solve, technically speaking,” Tchakarov tells Oitzman. “We’re there and operating in real-world production settings with numerous sites.”
Many of the automation solutions you see today move products through the warehouse after they’ve been unloaded, either with classic conveyance systems or even other AMR solutions.
“All of those systems have started or have gone no further than the dock, so the dock has remained this void from an automation perspective, just because of the technical problems getting in and out of the trucks,” Oitzman notes. “And I think that’s where you guys have invested your energy and resources: to solve that problem.”
Founded in 2017, Fox Robotics has indeed invested its energy and resources in tweaking and perfecting its technology with the “mission of own[ing] the shipping and receiving dock,” Tchakarov explains.
“We very much have the first-mover advantage in the industry,” Tchakarov notes. “The tech stack is strong and the moat is deep and wide, in terms of competitive landscape and advantage.”
What sets Fox Robotics apart from other automation solutions
Fully collaborative technology
To create the FoxBot, a standard 3-wheeled counterbalance electric forklift is retrofitted with a suite of safety-certified sensors and firmware that allow the robot to navigate in and out of trailers and pick and place pallets with guaranteed precision.
“We pride ourselves on the design,” Tchakarov tells Oitzman, because “the vehicle can be operated autonomously as well as in manual mode.”
This is critical for any robot that relies on machine learning, Tchakarov explains. While real-world experience has exposed the FoxBot to a plethora of pallet sizes and configurations, there will always be outliers that require assistance from a human operator. For instance, an accident or product spill during loading or transport might require an operator to mount the forklift and move certain pallets manually.
In addition to, and perhaps more importantly than, Fox Robotics’ mature tech stack, our autonomous forklifts have the advantage of real-world experience, Tchakarov notes. To date, our fleet of robots has moved more than 1.2 million pallets at a variety of customer sites.
Real-world production settings offer our engineers invaluable insight into problems or obstacles our bots might encounter at a customer site that they wouldn’t necessarily encounter during test runs at our Austin warehouse.
“Our fleet of upwards of 50 or so bots in real-word production settings, moving pallets that are different in shapes and loads and vary by customer… That variety that you see in real-world production settings is incredibly valuable to the machine learning algorithms for our vision system,” Tchakarov tells Oitzman.
How Fox Robotics is filling the labor gap
As the labor void continues to grow in the warehouse industry, Fox Robotics is prepared to step in to not only fill the labor gap, but also create safer and more efficient work environments for existing employees.
“We are augmenting human labor by elevating the [forklift] operator to a supervisory role,” Tchakarov explains. With the FoxBot Autonomous Forklift, the person previously working as the forklift operator, driving back and forth from trailer to warehouse floor picking and placing pallets, now supervises up to five autonomous robots.
“What’s incredibly exciting to me and for us is that we’re at this amazing inflection point where we see just an enormous level of demand with all of our existing and prospective customers,” Tchakarov says. “There just aren’t enough folks to fill that [labor] void and the desire for automation is there and creating tremendous tailwinds for us,” he adds.
What’s next for Fox Robotics in the trailer unloading space
To own the shipping and receiving dock in warehouses across North America, Fox Robotics will soon begin loading trailers, as well as dropping pallets off at conveyors.
“There’s an enormous opportunity… with respect to demand,” Tchakarov explains. “Everyone wants to automate ASAP with solutions like this.”
“The growth ahead of us is phenomenal and I would say the future, in terms of this solution, is very bright with respect to the adoption that we see.”
Listen to the full episode below.