Walmart Turns to Autonomous Robot Forklifts

By Staff
3 Min Read

U.S. retailer Walmart is turning to robots for help as it works to keep pace with e-commerce rivals like Amazon.

The company said it will roll out 19 Class 1 electric, autonomous forklifts across four of its distribution centers, with the possibility of a wider deployment in the future. Walmart associates are currently being trained to operate the FoxBot, which is designed to handle a lot of the manual labor needed at the warehouse loading dock.

When trucks arrive at a Walmart distribution center, they need to be unloaded. That’s where the FoxBot steps in to use its AI-powered machine vision and dynamic planning to pull pallets and transport them to the automated storage and retrieval system, which the company said catalogs and stores all incoming goods.

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The forklifts are helping change roles for the human employees involved in the process so that instead of needing to manually unload the pallets, they get to use their experience to best inform the forklift on how to efficiently unload the trucks. Walmart highlighted 26-year-old employee Jose Molina as an example. The company said that instead of Molina needing to do the heavy lifting, he now manages a robotics system that can handle three times the same output.

Maurice Gray, general manager at Walmart’s Distribution Center 6020, said, “That means he’s building our business, increasing our DC’s productivity, and saving his lower back so he can hoist his grandchildren just a little higher after a day at work.”

After a 16-month proof-of-concept, Walmart is so convinced of FoxBot’s promise that it’s taken a minority stake in Fox Robotics, the firm that created the autonomous forklift.

Fox Robotics earlier this year said its FoxBot forklifts have now unloaded more than 2.5 million pallets since the company was founded in 2019. The vehicle, which the company said can offload more than 60 double- or 30 single-stacked 40×48 pallets per hour, relies on LiDAR sensors, cameras, Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), and a fully redundant safety braking system to prioritize employee safety and minimize product damage.

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