Last month at ProMat 2023 in Chicago, Big Joe Forklifts, in partnership with Thoro.ai, unveiled its first autonomous offering: The Big Joe Pallet Mover. The Saint Carson, Calif.-based company said the new robot was designed to be set up and in use in less than an hour.
The pallet mover can transports payloads up to 4,400 lb. (1,995 kg) and has a maximum speed of about 2.8 mph. It can operate continuously for 10 hours on a charge, according to a press release announcing the robot.
Customers will see ROI quickly, says Big Joe
In an interview with Robotics 24/7, Nicholas Malewicki, the general manager of Big Joe’s autonomous division, said customers typically struggle to deploy these types of systems rapidly, and it takes them a while before they see a strong return on investment (ROI).
With the Big Joe Pallet Mover, the company said it is providing an easy-to-use autonomous option that includes the functionality of a conventional lift truck. The robot takes advantage of lidar and a camera system to navigate autonomously, the company said.
Workers on the floor can task the robot to move across a facility once it is loaded up using a tablet attached to it. If the robot gets into trouble, workers can intervene and operate it manually.
“This collaborative approach uses self-driving technology as a productivity force multiplier by allowing workers to focus on higher-value tasks or direct multiple independent workflows concurrently,” Big Joe said.
Set up in an hour
And setup takes minutes, not hours, Malewicki added.
“We are able to come in and have that mapping done within an hour,” he said. “And you can see that ROI from Day 1. It’s very easy to use.”
Big Joe’s autonomous division is still new. It was launched in October 2022, and the Pallet Mover is the first big product to come out of it. The company noted that it plans to bring additional commercial offerings in the years to come.
Thoro.ai gives autonomy boost
Big Joe enlisted the help of Pittsburgh-based Thoro.ai to equip the forklift with self-driving technology. Thoro.ai develops autonomy stacks for mobile robots. Its technology is also used in the Nilfisk SC50, a commercial cleaning robot used at Pittsburgh International Airport.
“Building our team and knowing how far we have come over the last several months as we have prepared for this launch has been amazing,” Malewicki said in a statement.
“We couldn’t really have asked for anything more from our team or our collaboration with Thoro, who has been so responsive and just as committed to us to deliver on our vision for this product,” he added.
Patrick Mondi, Thoro.ai CEO, told Robotics 24/7 that the Big Joe Forklift helps address four key challenges warehouse workers face, including ease of use, setup times, deployability, and the price of equipment.
Speaking of price point, the robot retails for $65,000, according to Bill Pedriana, chief marketing officer at Big Joe Forklifts.
Customers can also purchase optional items, including a Universal Carrier for “customizable material handling applications,” the company said.
About the Author
Cesareo Contreras was associate editor at Robotics 24/7. Prior to working at Peerless Media, he was an award-winning reporter at the Metrowest Daily News and Milford Daily News in Massachusetts. Contreras is a graduate of Framingham State University and has a keen interest in the human side of emerging technologies.
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