OTTO Motors, a division of Clearpath Robotics, introduced at IMTS its OTTO OMEGA self-driving forklift. OTTO OMEGA is designed to help those in materials handling reduce costs, increase throughput and improve safety in the warehouse.
OTTO OMEGA, according to OTTO Motors co-founder and CEO Matt Rendall, can autonomously pick up and drop off skids, receive items to be put away, deliver parts to lineside, transport trash and more. OTTO OMEGA also features a semi-autonomous mode that enables workers to manage complex loading and unloading. IMTS attendees can see a live demo of OTTO OMEGA in booth #121424 in East Building on Level 2.
OTTO OMEGA can learn new skills overtime, Rendall says. Anytime a human performs a new motion with OTTO OMEGA, it captures sensor data that is sent back to OTTO’s engineers who build out autonomous execution of that task. The new functionality will be added to OTTO OMEGA via software update.
“We’re really focusing our thinking, planning, messaging around skills,” says Rendall. We will start with floor-to-floor pallet moving and collaboration mode to hand off control to a human to finish the task. But eventually, Omega will be able to perform trailer loading, trailer unloading – the holy grail application for autonomous lift trucks – conveyor interaction, stacking and de-stacking pallets 2-3 high, transporting double-stacked pallet, loading/unloading from racks and more.”
AMRs vs. self-driving vehicles
Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) is a common term to reference mobile robots operating in materials handling environments. OTTO Motors strongly refers to its robots as self-driving vehicles for industry, including its smaller OTTO 100 and OTTO 1500 platforms. Instead of driving people through busy cities, OTTO is driving parcels through busy factories.
“Obviously we were very intentional in calling them self-driving vehicles. The underlying technology and approach in our vehicles is very much in line with outdoor self-driving vehicles,” says Rendall. “Human driving will become obsolete, and that’s not limited to vehicles on public roads or the trucking industry. Anything with a steering wheel has the ability to have self-driving technology put on it.”
Rendall says OTTO OMEGA relies on many of the same sensors as self-driving vehicles for mapping, path planning and obstacle avoidance. OTTO OMEGA does not use GPS, however, as factories are GPS-denied environments.
“We were doing autonomous vehicles outdoors at Clearpath well before we brought them indoors. This was before autonomous vehicles was a hot sector,” says Rendall. “For us, that built an early understanding and respect for self-diving technology in harsh, outdoor environments.”
OTTO OMEGA is an OEM vehicle that has been retrofitted with the self-driving capabilities. OTTO OMEGA is a direct competitors to Seegrid, which is also at IMTS, Vecna and others. Rendall says OTTO Motors is being cautious about its OEM partners.
“One of the most important things with OTTO OMEGA is being in control of our own destiny. Certain OEMs want to control the relationship – work on their terms, at their pace, under their conditions. It’s really a daunting thing to give up that control,” he says. “We needed to retain control, which is why we started with OTTO 100 and OTTO 1500. That gives us control of our own destiny, which allows us to deploy machines at a pace the market is ready for.”
— The Robot Report (@therobotreport) September 10, 2018
OTTO OMEGA go-to-market strategy
Rendall says the company is taking a different go-to-market approach with OTTO OMEGA, which is a result of the success with the company’s earlier products. “Every product before was do or die. We didn’t have a foundation of customers,” Rendall says. “Now that we have a foundation of installations, we’ve been testing OTTO OMEGA in active customer sites, collecting feedback and refining the product based on real-world testing.”
OTTO OMEGA will launch under an early adopter program. Rendall did not share a timeline, but said OTTO Motors will then “invest heavily” in making OTTO OMEGA a success for a number of customers.
“Initial demand has been strong, more than we can reasonably tackle with the early adopter program,” he says. “Now we’re trying to figure out how to adapt our strategy to meet that demand.”
OTTO Motors has been a piloting robotics as a service (RaaS) model with a few customers over the past few years. However, Rendall says the market is quick to overlook the operational infrastructure required to fulfill a RaaS agreement.
“We’re finding it increasingly requested from our customers. We have some ideas for Omega, but we’re withholding judgement until we complete the early adopter program,” says Rendall. “Understanding how to price the product requires us understanding the value we provide to customers. The industry will shift to a RaaS model. It’s a better aligned business model in the long term, but there will be a long transition period getting to that point.”