A company that specializes in artificially intelligent, driverless systems that help dock trailers full of goods into distribution yards said they are ready to go to market.
For Andrew Smith, founder and CEO of Golden-based tech firm Outrider, it might be a key solution to the nation’s current supply chain woes.
“Automation is key to relieving the inflationary pressure on the supply chain,” Smith said. “Distribution yards are critical links in the supply chain and prime targets for automating the flow of goods between over-the-road transportation and fulfillment centers, warehouses, and manufacturing plants.
Automating yards requires reliable systems capable of backing trailers of all kinds safely and precisely into parking spots and dock spots billions of times a year, he said.
Outrider specializes in the kinds of autonomous yard operations that could change the face of the trucking industry and distribution yards. The Golden company has been testing its fleet of fully autonomous yard trucks that can back semi-trailers using a full range of motion, parking them into tight spots without additional modifications. It is designed to fit on any semi-trailer — including 28-foot single trailers and articulated trailers up to 53-feet — and can also park dry van trailers, containers, and refrigerated trailers without human interaction.
Outrider opened its first testing facility site in Brighton in August 2021, using self-driving trucks driven in a distribution yard with technology to move and park semi-trailers into loading docks to distribute freight and cargo. The facility, located at 22600 E. I-76 Frontage Road in Brighton, has been used both to assemble and test the self-driving vehicles.
The facility is a 200,000 square foot distribution yard built with 49 dock door. Each yard truck is capable of precisely backing trailers into the docks, controlled by a computer operated by an employee within the building near the dock using Outriders backing technology. Each unit is fully autonomous with strict operational requirements.
Tyler Hults, a former truck driver, joined the Outrider team in 2020 as a Test Operations Lead at the Brighton Outrider location. He has experience parking a rig in a distribution yard and understands the job’s challenges.
“High-precision articulated backing will increase the efficiency and organization of distribution yards by having trailers backed perfectly in their spot, every time,” said Hults. “In most yards, you have trailers that are parked crooked, double-parked, or so off-center that the dockworker can’t get the loading ramp into the trailer, requiring a yard hostler to redo the job. With Outrider’s precise backing abilities, the job will be done right the first time and allow more throughput at the facility.”
The Outrider system is designed into three parts; the management software, the autonomous vehicles and the site infrastructure. The system uses robotics to hitch, unhitch, connect and disconnect brakes lines on trailers. It also has built-in commands to interact safely with loading docks, tractor-trailer locations and it manages all of the system functions from one location.
“By developing advanced algorithms and integrating with sensors and actuation, we’ve delivered the accurate trailer backing necessary for yard automation,” said Jeremy Nett, Vice President of Software Engineering at Outrider.
The company tested the system at its own Advanced Testing Facility Brighton and several customer sites, Nett said. The system has been tested in diverse conditions, running day and night.
Hults said the system frees employees working in distribution yards, giving them more opportunities to do meaningful work instead of fixing mistakes and helping the truck drivers search for parking.
“It will increase the capacity of the yard by ensuring spaces can be utilized and are not occupied by double-parked trailers or too tight to back into,” said Hults.
“It’s a major pain-point for both over-the-road drivers and yard truck drivers, as many distribution centers are near capacity and might only have one or two available spots to park a trailer. There’s nothing more frustrating to a truck driver than finding the only available spot that’s too tight to back into.”