Autonomous forklifts for Walmart

News

Walmart is deploying self-driving forklifts from Fox Robotics in its warehouses, following successful trials in the distribution centre in Florida.

Walmart is rolling out autonomous forklifts that will operate alongside its associates to unload trailers in distribution centres.

Following a proof of concept project at Walmart Distribution Centre 6020 in Brooksville, Florida, Walmart has announced a wider rollout of autonomous forklift technology from Fox Robotics. Walmart has also invested growth capital for a minority stake in Fox Robotics itself.

“After a 16-month proof of concept, I’m proud to announce Walmart is taking another step into the future, rolling 19 autonomous forklifts across four high-tech DCs, with the potential for more as we evaluate the benefits to our associates and operations,” said Maurice Gray, General Manager, Distribution Center 6020.

The “FoxBot” is based on a standard Mitsubishi 3,000 to 4,000 lb capacity stand-up counterbalance battery-powered forklift. Fox Robotics installs its “suite of safety-certified, off-the-shelf sensors and proprietary firmware to enable precise navigation and robust pallet-picking capabilities.”

At the site Fox installs dock tags (QR codes atop a 4-foot pole) and reflective tape for navigation. The on-machine systems include a “backpack” with computer hardware, a lidar sensor on each side of the forklift and a wire sensor on the mast lift system. Five manual E-stop buttons are added for safety, four on the sides and one in the cab.

FoxBot requires a 15ft clearance zone for the approach directions and a two ft clearance in other directions. Operators are required to “mark off a safe travel zone” for the FoxBot to travel in.

FoxBot does not need to be integrated with the Warehouse Management System or other applications at the DC. Workers set the FoxBots discrete tasks through an app on a tablet, such as unloading pallets from one trailer to a specific area, and then move on to other tasks.

The system has a lot of limitations. According to Fox Robotics the forklifts “need help” with about 10% of pallets because of debris in the way or when the “automation gets stuck”. Furthermore, the FoxBot is not waterproof. Each machine has a switch to move from automated to manual operations. If required, the FoxBots can also be controlled remotely.

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