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What to Know about Self-Driving Forklifts

Posted by: admin on July 9, 2018

Forklifts and their operators are the lifeblood of warehousing. They’re workhorses. They take goods and materials from delivery trucks and bring them to storage areas. For outgoing items, it’s just the reverse: forklifts remove finished products from production area shelving and take them to shipping and receiving. They’re then loaded onto outbound trucks to take them to their destinations.

The forklift as we know it is about to undergo some dramatic changes. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, computer vision, and automation have all contributed to the progress of self-driving forklifts, pallet trucks, and stackers.

Sometimes called automated guide vehicles (AGVs), tomorrow’s forklifts will use computer vision technology and AI to plan their route through the warehouse. They’ll detect and predict the movements of the human warehouse workers they encounter. Since they work with humans, these robotic lifts are sometimes called “cobots”. They can also communicate with and operate devices like warehouse doors and roller tracks, all without the help of humans.

How Self-Driven Forklifts Work

Advanced computer technology and AI are at the heart of all self-driving vehicles from Elon Musk’s experimental passenger cars to forklifts of the future. Robotic forklifts are programmed to track, monitor, and mimic the actions of human workers. They learn where to move and what to do next, just as if they were being operated by humans. They can move, lift, and stack items and do similar tasks the same as if they were being driven by humans.

Automated forklifts sense every detail of the area around them. This includes the presence of human coworkers. They can predict the movements that are needed for certain jobs. They’ll also come up with the fastest and safest route to avoid obstacles while moving around the warehouse.

Although most self-driving forklifts can also be operated manually, each is continually updated with data gathered over time. This enables them to safely perform tasks without a human operator. The result is fewer accidents and damages to workplace property and equipment. There’s also an increase in productivity and less chance of injuring an employee.

Advantages of Automated Forklifts

There are a lot of benefits of this emerging technology. There are also a few concerns. Here are some of the advantages of automated forklifts:

  • Smaller Workforce. Self-driving forklifts will reduce the number of warehouse workers needed to operate regular forklifts. The result is a huge savings in payroll and payroll taxes, employee benefits, and workman’s comp insurance. Human workers will, however, still be needed to carry out tasks such as wrapping and packaging certain products by hand before they’re ready to be stored or shipped.
  • Less Jobsite Risk. Since there will be fewer humans driving forklifts warehouses will become safer places to work. There’s no need for workers to worry about hurting their necks or backs through forklift mishaps like collisions and tip-overs. Warehouse workers will no longer need to risk injuring their backs by bending down to move or lift pallets and other items by hand. Automated forklifts will do the heavy work.
  • Productivity. Unlike human operators, automated forklifts won’t get tired or need coffee breaks. They won’t call in sick or take vacations, and they’re never late for work. They can also work around the clock, which will increase productivity without overtime or shift differential pay.
  • Fewer Errors. Errors can’t be totally eliminated when forklifts are operated by humans. Even with proper operator training, mistakes will be made and errors will occur. As automated forklifts are brought into the workplace, the risk of those errors will be greatly reduced. When properly programmed, self-driving forklifts will know exactly where they need to be and what needs to be done.

Some Downsides of Automated Forklifts

Along with the advantages of automated forklifts, there will be some drawbacks. Here are a few of them:

  • Temporary Reduced Productivity. In the long run, efficiency and productivity will be increased. It will take a while, however, for humans to get used to working with their automated counterparts. At first, there will be training and safety issues to overcome that will affect output.
  • Increased Costs. Because it’s new, there’s a price to be paid for this state-of-the-art technology. If you’re a new company or a startup on a tight budget, you might find the costs of automation to be too much. Over time, costs will come down, which will make self-driving forklifts available to more small and medium-sized businesses.
  • Training and Maintenance. As with all new technologies, there will be bugs to work out. At first, these might be costly. You’ll need to train one of your workers or hire someone with experience to perform routine maintenance on the automated vehicles. You’ll also need a source that can provide replacement parts in a hurry when they’re needed to keep the lifts up and running. Both of these can be costly since there will be downtime involved that can affect output and profits.

When Will Self-Driving Forklifts Become Commonly Used?                    

There’s still a long way to go, but we’re gradually moving toward a world where automated forklifts will become popular for use in manufacturing, warehousing, and construction.

There will, however always be a need for humans to operate conventional forklifts, especially in smaller businesses. That’s why it’s important for you to receive forklift operator training and certification through’s OSHA-approved Online Training Courses just as thousands before you have done. The training is fast, convenient and affordable. Using a desktop or laptop computer, smartphone or tablet device, your training can be completed in as little as one hour. All training materials are available online 24/7, so you can take the course at your convenience anywhere there’s an internet connection. Protect and advance your career by calling us today at 888-699-4800 or contact us online to get started. You’ll be glad you did!

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