Bringing Military Autonomy Technology to Distribution Yards | Truck Tech

Bringing Military Autonomy Technology to Distribution Yards | Truck Tech

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Welcome back to Talk to everyone. You know, this week we're up there. We're actually bringing a little episode that we did in Detroit a few weeks back when we caught up with the folks at Aurora I, which is stands for Robotic Research. But you can forget that name because as of this week, they've changed their name to for Tara. Now don't get confused with Proterra that's another company for Terra is basically all about automation for harsh environments. Starting with the military, which is where these guys got their Star Packer 2002 and more recently working in forestry or off off highway work for lumber and finally distribution yards where trailers are brought in by trucks from rail heads and then, you know, moved into position.

And we spend most of our time looking at that today and talk with Joshua Wargo, who is the CEO of of four Tara, about the business and how they came to be and what they're doing now in Detroit. So hope you enjoy it. Well, Trump Tech sometimes gets cold, and it is cold here in Detroit, but we are happy to be out here in Southwest Detroit area with Josh Arroyo, who is the CEO of Ford Terra, which is formerly known as RTI or robotic research. These guys are bringing autonomy to a place where it can really be useful, and that is in the distribution yard.

Josh, thanks for being here. Thanks for coming over for Walter to do this. We just want to get a good sense of what it is that you're doing here in this yard. Yeah, no, great question. So we are enabling our partner Tsatsu to do transportation moves inside of a confined logistics yard. We think this is a perfect application for us to showcase our ability to move in these highly, highly austere environments.

If you look around, we have snapped snow, potholes, mud and give very precision, very advanced economy. Geneva customs operation to run more efficiently and more say you come out of a background that is all about this, the military background. You sell a lot of military work that that you're doing. And those, again, austere environments, tough environments. You have worked out the position, that position side of of moving trailers into place within, what, six inches of each other right.

Obviously, this is something you learned elsewhere. That's right. You know, we have a pretty long history. We started back in 2002, well before the Dart Grand Challenge, really trying to solve some of the hardest problems in autonomy.

Some of these problems like unstructured environments, vegetation. We're talking how do you deal with potholes and support services that aren't fully, you know, artfully solid? We basically looked at areas in autonomy that we can leverage that technology to enable customer operations. One of the great, great example of this is logistics yards and in particular intermodal sites. So we think this is a great transfer of that technology developed in the military deployed overseas is really bringing it inside of inside of an industrial logistics application. Okay. So let's talk a little bit about where we are now.

We've got a CSX rail yard. How far don't you, Mile? It's about two miles down the road. Yeah, right. And what's happening day to day here? I mean, you've got obviously the cow ma behind us has been equipped for autonomous operation. You have two of those in operation gear. Let's talk about what you're actually doing right here.

That's right. So so the drivers will drive, pick up trailers from the logistics site, from the from the railhead, bring it over the highway that to that two miles onto the site here. From there, they'll drop the trailer and continue on back onto the road, back to the back to the intermodal yard.

From that point, we take those trailers and park them in a very organized and tight manner. So we're basically taking that driver doing what they do best, which is driving, you know, doing the repeatable routes on the highway. We're optimizing the inside of the yard by doing these very tight parking maneuvers, which usually takes a lot of time. That's usually where you see most of the accidents and incidents. And we're doing these in very highly precise maneuvers inside the art. Okay.

So I had an opportunity to go through that and actually ride the sporting and and see that one of those parked. And then I said, let's see a park one next to without me in it. And in fact, it was only a handful of moves, you know, a of sharp moves with that wheel. But what about six inches between trailers? That's right. Where they're done. That's pretty slick. Right?

And then what it enables them to do here on this specific site is really optimize the space to be use. So instead of a where you can typically park 200 trailers if they're driven by a human, we can compress that down to about 400 trailers inside of the same space, which when you're talking about, you know, real estate, real estate footprint and the ability to optimize those operations, it's a place where we found the timing is really value added. Yeah. And there is obviously with the cameras, you have the opportunity to keep training them. I noticed, for example, you have a light on at the back end.

Obviously no driver is able to see kind of under not under that yard, but trailer tractor, I should say. But you're helping them do that, right? Well, in we take the approach of really integrating with partners like Tiresias, we can come on site, integrate into their operations, look for ways to both improve their operation and continue to advance their autonomy so that close partnership with companies like Tiresias is critical to making sure autonomy solves the problem and solves it holistically inside of their operation. Right? Alternately, you want to be able to have true trucks like we see right over here, come in, drop their trailer in a certain place, then have the caliber, the autonomous vehicle, come pick it up and put it where it should be rather than having to worry about Precision Park. That's right. That's keeping the drivers on the road and keeping the robots in the yard. And really performing those autonomous maneuvers where you can deploy autonomy responsibly, safely, and really maximize the the capabilities of an autonomous system.

Now, it's a big funk when we get that fifth wheel or that that that King van in place. But I notice that we're still manually doing, you know, the glad handing with they with their brakes and that sort of thing the opportunity for autonomy with this. That's right.

And there's a few different approaches to dealing with the glad hands issue. And what this is, is how do you connect the air brakes from the vehicle to the trailer? There's things that you can do with robotic arms. We have a robotic arm solution. You can do things on the trailer side and Non-smart trailers.

And I think as the industry evolves, we'll see better. You know, we'll have a better sense of what the ultimate solution is. But a lot of that's customer driven on what they want to do and what type of investment they want to make to to enable that trailer side operation. Right. Have you now with the two that you've had so far, have you been able to increase throughput with this already in terms of what you're doing? I mean, this still kind of a pilot.

It's an it's a pilot, but we've been able to increase throughput, really demonstrated with that customer that we're adding value to the site. I don't think they have the the appetite to do ongoing experimentation if it's going to interrupt the day to day operations. So from what we've seen as we do all that, both to reduce the footprint that they're using to park trailers, increase their capacity, as well as improve the efficiency of the parking operation. The for M and I don't have to tell you that it does sound like one that, you know, was out there before in Proterra, nothing related to that. But but I guess I want to understand something that's a strategy of for Terra and where you want to go with it. Sure. Yeah.

Our approach, you know, given our history in defense, really, really started there. And that's a place where we want to get our product out in the field first. So we're looking at these these defense programs that are really near-term needs to develop autonomy in hundreds, hundreds of vehicle, even thousands of vehicles scale over the next couple of years. So our focus is really to deliver those systems and capabilities to those customers while simultaneously finding commercial applications like we're seeing out here at CES. We can really add value in there in a similar type of environment unstructured, rugged, austere, high precision, high reliability, and really validate those use cases.

And that product market fit with those customers. And it's simultaneous. They partner with the leading OEMs in those markets to really get integrated into the production line, provide that fully safety certified, robust product that can then roll out to the commercial commercial markets in the coming years. as we look at further on, you know, expanding opportunities, you know, these industrial applications quarter with that OEM really validating those use cases and product market fit with our partners on that.

On the operations side, that's really where we're going Well with RTI, which had a had a DOD in there for I think not exactly one that rolls off the tongue anyway. So going to a name like this does sort of not common eyes, but makes you a little bit more approachable, doesn't it? I think that's right. I think I think it's a it's a you know, an acronym name is you know, there's plenty of those out there. We really wanted some that encapsulate where we're going, where we're going, as you know, on the ground with our customers delivering, you know, economy in the most difficult and robust environments. and really over the last three years, we've been focusing on taking that 20 year history of experience and technology and productized it in certain applications, defense applications in industrial logistics, so that that transition on the name, we really just reflects that transition of us from a applied research company into delivering a product, a robust product for customers from the, you know, the starting point.

I remember you know, my history. I was with General Motors. We worked with what used to be called martech and things like that.

And, you know, a little follow or things like that. That was all your work. That's right. So we've been doing a lot of we're the the atomic company most people haven't heard of. We're doing a lot of the work behind the scenes and really enabling our customers to be successful. In the case of the military, the leader follower program as well, we've been on for a number of years.

We really think it's a vital technology for for the warfighter and soldiers and Marines to take them out of harm's way. But it has a lot of similar applications to industrial and commercial use cases that you've been working on. A project with Mac Defense, Mac trucks. Can you talk a little bit about what you do with them? That's right. So there's a program called Common Tactical Truck.

It's essentially a class-A truck that the military's acquiring and we work with Mac on on automating. We have Mac ran it's automated really, again focused on these ruggedized environments as well as some work up in Canada with a few innovations. And again this is looking at working to deploy autonomy responsibly, safely and ruggedized environments where you are removing people from the the dull, dirty, dangerous type of environments. So we can get a look here on some B-roll that you all provided at your facility.

So we're kind of looking at that right now. But it's the thought here is that in the forestry environments, it's a lot like what we're seeing outside in the yard here where you're removing certain specific routes or how does that work? Yeah, I think that at the core of it is these these very austere, rugged environments where you're running on dirt roads, you're running in inclement weather, ruggedized environments that you know are difficult for humans to drive, let alone autonomy. And it's a way for us to deploy what we think is a real capability of of operating those environments. So again, it's it's moving resource.

You know, think of logging roads, logging runs, moving it from the harvest site to the to the mill and doing it in a repeatable, safe, consistent manner. One of the first applications for autonomy really was in the mining space, I think. And you know, I'm thinking of a Rio Tinto, some of those things that that happened and we've seen some stuff.

I think it might be Norway that mobile was done with a ton of mining trucks is an area that you're looking at. I mean that would seem to fit this sort of. Yeah, it is. And we have, we have some work that we're planning to do around and I will get to the specifics but around mining applications. But again, we think these industrial use cases where you have this high utilization with customers that are really demanding autonomy is going to be our first and first point of entry. Right. You know, one of the things that goes with autonomy are seems to go with it is electrification.

I mean, you know, we obviously talk on this show a lot about the station as well as autonomy, as well as, you know, some of the things alternative fuels like, you know, hydrogen, internal combustion engines are becoming popular. The idea of them is anyway and I guess I'm wondering, is this something where, you know, there is kind of a line of sight towards going electric with these things? Or is this something where right now, because diesel doesn't cost one of the competition costs, is it? Yeah, I think we take an agnostic approach to the basic vehicle platform. So depending on on what our customers desires and demands are, they may want us to automate an electric version of the vehicle. We really take an agnostic approach, although we do find that with that electrification, there's typically a complete redesign of the vehicle architecture, which tends to lend itself to being better to automate from a driver wire system standpoint, from electric electrical systems standpoint.

But if that customer says, Hey, we'd like to stick with the diesel vehicle, we're happy to do it. But I think we're about a mix right now that I think through both military and commercial vehicles that have electric or diesel. You know, for us, it's it's what does that ultimate application and what is the testimony you're basically an up filler of autonomous systems.

Is that correct? Is that the right way to think of it? I think we take two approaches We'll pull up for the time autonomous systems in early stages of pilots like we're seeing out here, those two cameras, we completely retrofit it from the ground up with our own, you know, internally develop, drive a wire system, the Autodrive autonomy kit that in some cases will integrate directly in the manufacturer. So on our defense programs, we're on a production program that is integrating our autonomy as the vehicles being built on the production line. We'll commission our software on the back end and then deliver that to the customer. So we take a you know, we take both approaches, but our ultimate end state is to partner with those OEMs to deliver the autonomy side. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's interesting because those and we're going to get over to serve on highway piece of this in a moment.

But those are the two approaches, right? I mean, if you look at Kodiak Robotics and of course Kodiak is familiar to you for another reason they'll get into, but Kodiak is taking the opposite approach, at least for now. Aurora Innovation, another leader in the space, is, you know, working Continental to do the ride side delivery of ardent you know, automotive great offer So you have the two approaches right you're taking both of them what you say. Let's talk for just a moment about some of the programs that you are on.

You're on pretty much everything the military has now. It's right as far as we know. So really anything that's going into production. So the military's been experimenting for a long time. Yeah, I'm going back to the early 2000, late nineties on the autonomy where they've now transitioned into production on on at least one program.

And there's several more in the pipeline. So we're on run all those programs and we're close partner with DOJ. Just given our experience and understanding of the market, the capability of our technology. And really it's just a core focus of what drives us as a company to deliver that that capability to the warfighter Sure started they're coming out now into some of these other commercial applications.

There is a Kodiak is because they started out in the autonomous over-the-road trucking space that's their main focus. But they've also been on a program. So one of the programs that you're on, you know, for for D.O.D., they took a Ford F-150, they shown a prototype of that, this idea of going back and forth. And I think there's some interest on the part of the military to take advantage of commercial technology, right? That's right.

And we think, you know, my experience in the Volt, I was I was in the Marines for for a number of years. And when they had a military designed military grade system, it typically wasn't as performance as something you get commercially in. And I'm guessing from the military's perspective, was a lot more expensive, a lot less reliable. And so the desire of the military or the Department of Defense to bring in commercial technologies, we think it's a great approach and we think that there's a market, an ecosystem of of commercial autonomous providers that can actually fulfill that demand, us being one of them. So we're pretty excited about the shift within the DOD from less experimentation.

And let's get these things fielded in the into the hands of soldiers and Marines. Right? Right. The the idea of some of the things that I think, you know, another competitor of yours which would be outrider is already, you know, doing kind of the glad hands and you know it's they have the arm and they've got, you know, the autonomous hook up of the of that braking and that and that sort of thing. Are these things that are also on your sort of plan as you go forward or would be specific to customer desire? I think we take more a very close partnership approach with customers, both OEMs and with those in customers. And we really look at their operation and how they operate both today and how they would operated with autonomy. So we think it's a very situation dependent what that solution is going to be on.

On the black hand side, for instance. But really we take a long term customer focused approach to determine what autonomy is going to bring to their operation. How do you feel about and again, I know you're not going there in terms of the over the road autonomy. Are we looking at sort of some false hopes here, or do we do you see a a longer roll out? Obviously, we're talking a couple again, War Kodiak say they'll do at least some commercial operations in 24 talk robotics is another strong competitor because they're high end with Daimler truck you know has a little longer timeframe but we know they have their redundant chassis for example. Do you see this rolling out in a meaningful way over the next few years or not? We you know, I'd say, look, we're not in that market, but we do.

We are big supporters of what they're doing and we wish them the best and we hope they're successful in any of the timelines they've set out, although I don't have any insights into how they do that internally. We're we're hoping they do. We're hoping they do. Great. Yeah. Yeah. But.

But you wouldn't you're not of the mind that it's going to take longer. A lot longer, for example, to get there. I mean, we're obviously watching the progress because it's very relevant to what you're doing. That's right. I mean, I think there has been setbacks. I mean, there's things around base vehicle availability with everybody in system.

There's things like regulation. What is safe enough? How are they? How do they do? They validate their safety cases. So, you know, it's an interesting you know, they're doing a lot of interesting work. We're definitely paying close attention to what they're doing. But again, we're focused in a entirely different part of the market.

And the good news is when it comes to regulations, you know, I have to wait around for that. I mean, because most of this is private yard and like you said, so environments, things like that, you're not really a governed by that much, are you? We tend to try to we don't want to be blocked by regulations that haven't been fully vetted or sought. And we look at the places where you can deploy autonomy safely, responsibly, without the regulatory uncertainty. Those are areas we tend to focus. We think it's a much more near-term addressable market with a with a really big problem our customers have that we we feel we have a solution.

That's all right. Let's switch just for a moment to finances. You raised 228 million, I think is the number in the series a couple of years ago now. And then to talk about sort of what you say now that you're the CEO for the business going forward, Do you see this as a public business? You see this as a business that, you know, again, you know, we're past the SPAC bubble and we see new regulations coming and making SPACs a whole lot like IPOs now. So, you know, that's probably not even in the consideration set anymore.

Talk to me a little bit about, you know, your runway, I presume, is pretty good because you're generating revenue from these program. That's right. I think from our perspective, we're just focused on scaling and getting the cash flow positive. So being able to deploy autonomy as a business, something that's not been done at scale to date.

And so that's really where our focus is, is really getting it in these systems fielded, deployed, generating revenue and value for estimates. And, you know, we'll evaluate what that long term financing, whether it's public or wide down the road. But, you know, we have a pretty exciting road ahead for us both on defense and in these industrial applications to really deliver a, you know, what we think is market leading robust product to those customers. Did you talk a little bit about employment and how that's grown? I presume that's quarter of last few years. That's right.

So we're about 200 and about 250 employees today. I think when I joined in early 2021, we're about 110. So we've had a pretty significant growth both on an employee's and in in terms of programs and customers. We're working with. Again, that shift and that growth is really focused on product sizing, something that, you know, you had done in autonomy and really being able to deliver at scale autonomous systems to end users that that meets the capabilities and and and capabilities that they need. Sure, Sure.

Josh, thanks so much. This has been great. I appreciate you coming again to Detroit to do this. Most of your research and the work that you're sort of best known for us back over in Maryland, is that correct? That's right.

We're headquartered just outside of Washington, D.C., Clarksburg, Maryland. We have a test facility which we love to have you up there at some point in Idaho where we test our robots and some of the most robust environments. And we have an office in San Antonio. So we have the core. What we do is out in Maryland. And yeah, I'd love to have you out there at some point.

Well, thanks for being here. It's a pleasure. Thanks.

2024-02-29 13:34

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