French logistics firm Geodis and Silicon Valley remote driving software startup Phantom Auto Inc on Wednesday announced a partnership for developing remote-controlled forklifts, a move that can make forklift driving an office job.
“So I can be in one warehouse in Marseille in the morning and work for another warehouse in Calais in the north of France during the afternoon,” said Stéphanie Hervé, chief operating officer of Western Europe, Middle East and Africa for Geodis.
Hervé said the technology could eventually help alleviate the challenges of hiring employees for warehouse work and also enable people with disabilities to have a new kind of job.
“With this solution we create a new environment of working which could probably be more attractive for young talent, for digital natives,” she said.
In a demo for Reuters, Phantom Auto had a forklift in a warehouse in Mountain View, California, move pallets of plastic-wrapped boxes. The driver was sitting 50 feet (15 meters) away at a desk, one hand on the wheel, the other maneuvering a joystick while watching a monitor featuring six sub-screens showing the vantage point of the corresponding cameras positioned on the forklift.
“To show the robustness of our technology, we’ve had customers that have driven the forklifts 5,000 miles away,” said co-founder Elliot Katz. “We’ve had customers remotely operating in Asia a forklift located here in California.”
In addition to remote controlling machines, Phantom Auto technology can also be used to monitor autonomous vehicles that might get stuck and need a human hand. It has worked with San Francisco delivery startup Postmates and its small sidewalk robots and can be used for yard trucks and robotaxis, said Katz.
The forklifts used at the Geodis warehouses are made by Fenwick-Linde, part of German multinational Kion Group AG .
Phantom Auto has raised approximately $25 million to date, with Bessemer Venture Partners as one of its investors.