21st-century yard management

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by Emily Atkins

Automated vehicles may be coming to a yard near you. Outrider, a U.S.-based start-up, has begun pilot operations of its autonomous yard management system at five distribution centres.

“Logistics yards offer a confined, private-property environment and a set of discrete, repetitive tasks that make the ideal use case for autonomous technology,” says Andrew Smith, founder and CEO of Outrider. “But today’s yards are also complex, often chaotic settings, with lots of work that’s performed manually. This is why an overarching systems approach – with an autonomous truck at its centre – is key to automating every major operation in the yard.”

Outrider automates the repetitive, manual aspects of yard operations, including moving trailers around the yard, moving trailers to and from loading docks, hitching and unhitching trailers, connecting and disconnecting trailer brake lines, and monitoring trailer locations.

Its three-part system includes management software, autonomous zero-emission yard trucks with vision-based robotics, and site infrastructure. According to the company, the Outrider system is designed to integrate with existing supply chain software, and yard management systems used by large enterprises. Outrider also says its research is “helping define the next-generation standard for Level 4 Autonomy System Design”.

Greg Braun, senior VP of sales and marketing for Montreal-based C3 Solutions, which makes yard management and dock scheduling software, thinks the idea makes sense. “From our perspective the yard is the ideal starting point for the adoption of autonomous vehicle technology,” he told Inside Logistics. “If autonomous vehicles would work anywhere they should be able to work in the yard.”

Outrider is demonstrating its solution through pilot programs with Georgia-Pacific and four Fortune 200 companies in designated sections of their distribution yards.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to transform our company and the way we get work done, especially making work safer and more efficient and productive,” says Annant Patel, vice-president of automation transformation at Georgia-Pacific. “Yard operations has been one of our opportunities, and Outrider has been a great partner to help us automate our pilot site.”

According to Smith, the goal of the pilot projects is to demonstrate the use case in the test area of the yard, then expand to fully automate the entire yards. Target users are Fortune 500 logistics-dependent companies in industries such as consumer packaged goods, package delivery, manufacturing, and retail.

“Modern distribution yards won’t be just autonomous, they’ll be electric,” Smith says. “Electric yard trucks are easier to operate and maintain than their diesel counterparts, and they lend themselves to better computer control. Our mission is to work with customers and suppliers to rapidly retire the more than 50,000 diesel-polluting yard trucks currently operating at logistics hubs throughout the U.S.”

Based in Golden, Colorado, Outrider has more than 75 employees including 50 engineers solely focused on distribution yard automation.