Outrider Adds Robot Arms Using Deep Learning to Autonomous Yard Trucks

Outrider's patented technology enables self-driving yard trucks to move millions of semi-trailers through logistics hubs.


The TrailerConnect robotic arm, shown here with multiple autonomous yard trucks, is designed to autonomously recognize and attach trailers.
Outrider said its patented TrailerConnect technology can robotically attach brake and electric lines from yard trucks to semi-trailers, recognizing their differences.

Outrider Technologies Inc. last week announced the release of TrailerConnect. The patented technology can robotically attach brake and electric lines from yard trucks to any of the over 10 million semi-trailers and chassis circulating globally, said the company.

“Outrider is reinventing the modern distribution yard to be more efficient, safer, and sustainable, and we are delivering the breakthrough technology like TrailerConnect to do it,” stated Andrew Smith, founder and CEO.

“TrailerConnect automates a dangerous task traditionally performed over 6 billion times annually worldwide,” he added. “Four years of development and close partnerships with our priority customers has resulted in a technology integral to autonomously moving freight.”

Golden, Colo.-based Outrider claimed that it is a pioneer in autonomous yard operations for logistics hubs. The company said it is working to eliminate manual tasks that are hazardous and repetitive. In addition, it is supporting sustainable freight transportation with the deployment of zero-emission systems.

With customers representing more than 20% of all yard trucks operating in North America, Outrider is a private company backed by NEA, 8VC, and Koch Disruptive Technologies, and other top-tier investors. Outrider said it has raised $118 million in funding to date and holds extensive intellectual property.

TrailerConnect uses AI to handle variability

In distribution yards around the world, yard trucks transition trailers from dock doors to parking spots to public roads, noted Outrider. To move these trailers, truck drivers connect pressurized brake lines to trailers to release the parking brake and move the trailers around the yard. It is a manual, often dangerous task that requires the driver to get in and out of the cab constantly. 

TrailerConnect uses deep learning and is now available as part of the Outrider System, which automates distribution yards for large, logistics-dependent enterprises.

While trailers may look similar, the connections – the coupling devices used to connect the brake and electric lines from truck to trailer – are quite different, explained Outrider. As a result, there are countless configurations and placements across trailer fleets, it said.

TrailerConnect uses proprietary software algorithms, hardware, and sensors integrated onto Yaskawa Motoman-supplied robots to locate, identify, connect to, and disconnect from trailers without modifications or adapters.  

“Outrider understood it would be infeasible to modify entire trailer fleets to address the diversity of connections,” said Matt Johannes, Vice President of Hardware Engineering and Robotics at Outrider. “To automate yards, we brought together an exceptional team with expertise in robotics, perception, and deep learning to ensure safer, more efficient autonomous yard operations.”

TrailerConnect hitch recognition

TrailerConnect uses AI to recognize different brake and electric line configurations and to autonomously direct the Yaskawa arm. Source: Outrider

Outrider continues to pioneer yard automation

Outrider said its patented TrailerConnect technology is the latest in a series of industry firsts. It touted achievements including its “first-to-market” system performing fully autonomous, zero-emission trailer moves, high-precision autonomous articulated backing, and autonomous hitching for diverse trailer weights and orientations.

“The rollout of TrailerConnect, combined with a long list of technical firsts, further solidifies Outrider’s leadership position in the industry and has a massive impact on the trucking sector at large,” said Julian Counihan, general partner at Schematic Ventures, which specializes in supply chain and commerce infrastructure. “Autonomous yard operations—a critical part of a streamlined global supply chain— is simply not a reality without the ability for self-driving vehicles to connect to and from trailers.”  

Outrider said it has performed tens of thousands of fully autonomous trailer moves across its Fortune 500 customer sites and at its full-scale Advanced Testing facility in Brighton, Colo. The facility is designed to mimic customers’ distribution yards from industries such as consumer packaged goods, retail and e-commerce, package shipping, and manufacturing.

The company also cited industry recognition for its autonomy advances, including Fast Company’s 2022 “World’s Most Innovative Companies” list. Outrider placed in the top 10 within the logistics category. 

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The TrailerConnect robotic arm, shown here with multiple autonomous yard trucks, is designed to autonomously recognize and attach trailers.

Robot Technologies