With U.S. labor scarce, logistics firms turn to remote forklifts


DETROIT (Reuters) – With labor shortages straining the provision chain, large U.S. logistics firms ArcBest and NFI Industries plan to deploy hundreds of forklifts that may be operated remotely.

Startup Phantom Auto, which makes the remote-control forklifts, will get a double profit from the provision chain sector’s accelerating investments in automation. ArcBest and NFI mentioned in an announcement on Wednesday they can even be a part of a $42 million funding spherical in Phantom.

Investment in industrial automation has surged through the pandemic, in accordance to knowledge from the Association for Advanced Automation.

Phantom and ArcBest have been collectively creating forklifts that may transfer items round warehouses and factories by themselves or whereas being operated by a driver sitting miles from the job web site.

The expertise may enable one operator to pilot a number of forklifts in several places, and the remote techniques also can again up automobiles designed to function autonomously.

ArcBest and Phantom mentioned they intend to work collectively to promote autonomous forklifts with remote operation functionality.

Phantom Auto started life targeted on creating techniques to remotely function driverless robo-taxis however has shifted focus to industrial automation. Remote operation expertise “decouples labor from location,” mentioned Phantom co-founder Elliot Katz. The pandemic accelerated curiosity in such expertise by elevating well being considerations about working indoors, and shrinking the pool of individuals prepared to work in warehouses and factories, he mentioned.

ArcBest Chief Innovation Officer Michael Newcity, who will be a part of Phantom’s board, instructed Reuters the trucking and logistics firm is speaking to clients within the automotive and retail sectors about deploying forklifts utilizing Phantom’s remote operation system.

“All the customers we are talking to are growing,” Newcity said. “The labor shortage that they were dealing in warehouse operations was pre-pandemic.”

Katz mentioned NFI plans to deploy forklifts in its personal operation that will be operated remotely always.

Phantom final yr introduced a partnership with French logistics firm Geodis to develop remotely-operated forklifts.

(Reporting By Joe White; Editing by David Gregorio)

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