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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

New technology allows forklift operators to work remotely

Across the globe, 2020 has seen businesses and industries grind to a halt due to not being able to adapt working practices in a way that is Covid safe. While millions of office staff globally have been able to work remotely, warehouses in particular have regularly been reported as “super-spreader” locations. This is due to the close proximity that employees need to be able to work. But one company has found a very unique way to solve this problem and get warehouses and distribution centres running again. 

US based Phantom Auto have been working to adapt remote teleoperation technology. They have now created a way for it to be used by forklift drivers and other warehouse vehicle operators from the safety of their own homes. This reduces the number of workers needed in warehouses and means that businesses can work effectively and safely in the current climate, while also ensuring that businesses are not needing to lose valuable staff. 

Teleoperation typically works by fitting vehicles with sensors, cameras, microphones and other equipment which then feeds information directly to the driver who is working remotely; who uses either a joystick or steering wheel and foot pedals to control the vehicle. The forklift operator can then effectively see and hear exactly as he usually would when behind the wheel. Although, for added safety, some warehouses have decided to cordon off the areas where remotely operated forklifts are. This way employees within the warehouse can’t accidentally step in the way of a moving vehicle.

So far, Phantom Auto have successfully introduced the new teleoperation systems in around a dozen warehouses around Europe and the US, with other companies working on similar systems for use in the construction industry. In the USA, research is currently underway to create teleoperated reconnaissance vehicles for the army. These are designed to go ahead of troops and relay information to better guide army manoeuvres. 

Although there are concerns for the safety of such equipment, industry insiders say that by working remotely, the technology actually makes the role safer for the driver and may make operating machinery in this way more desirable for those looking for work. Vinay Shet, the co-founder and chief executive of Teleo, which primarily developed remote technology for construction vehicles, says “we believe by converting an effectively hazardous job like this into an office job, we should be able to attract a wider pool of people”.

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