By Megan Bozman

What immediately springs to mind when considering both IoT and self-driving cars may be various consumer use cases. However, industrial applications are a vital component of the growing IoT. “Industry 4.0” aims to connect the Internet of Things to traditional industrial manufacturing. And factory floors are an ideal use case for self-driving vehicles. OTTO Motors, a division of Clearpath Robotics provides such vehicles which currently navigate goods through the miles of roads inside massive industrial factories.

Expansion of OTTO Motors

OTTO Motors develops self-driving vehicles for materials handling use, part of Industrial IoT
OTTO Motors develops self-driving vehicles for materials handling use, part of Industrial IoT

Clearpath Robotics recently raised $30 million in a funding round led by iNovia Capital, with participation from Caterpillar Ventures, GE Ventures, and more. “The funding will be used to grow the company’s industrial division, OTTO Motors… namely hiring people in marketing, sales, and manufacturing. The company employs more than 155 people and could reach about 250 a year from now.”

Clearpath Robotics spun out of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada in 2008. “In its early days, Clearpath was focused on developing autonomous vehicles, but the industry didn’t yet exist,” explained Clearpath CEO and co-founder Matt Rendall.

In 2012 Amazon acquired Kiva Systems—a company that made automated storage and retrieval systems. Amazon subsequently didn’t renew contracts with retailers such as Staples, and instead incorporated the systems into its own fulfillment centers (video below.) “Clearpath saw an uptick in demand on the research and development side for advanced materials’ handling capabilities, mobile robots, and other unmanned vehicles.”

Industrial IoT: Materials Handling

According to the OTTO Motors eBook, “Innovation in an Interconnected World,” (registration required), “While many other aspects of the manufacturing process have been automated, materials handling remains a hold out, very likely due to the fact that it is a low value, non-revenue generating activity”

Benefits to Employers and Employees

Clearly, robots don’t require lunch breaks, take sick days, or fall asleep on the job. They’re more efficient and reliable, and can be cheaper in the long run. The benefits to manufacturers are clear, but workers can benefit as well. According to OSHA, there are roughly 85 forklift fatalities and 34,900 serious injuries a year. The benefits of OTTO Motors materials handling automation could include saving lives.

Software-Differentiated Hardware

“Software-differentiated hardware will disrupt every major sector over the next decade,” said Karam Nijjar, Partner at iNovia Capital, according to the recent Clearpath Robotics press release. The development of self-driving vehicles mirrors IoT usage overall. As Bosch executives affirm, the value of IoT is derived from the cooperation of sensors, software, and services.

Industrial IoT Utopia

The eBook continues to describe a manufacturing utopia where machines operate autonomously but are constantly communicating, and aware of the location and status of others. Specifically, “devices and self-driving vehicles can be interconnected to allow significant amounts of data to flow through the manufacturing process; where we are able to build an interconnected web of technology where machines ‘think,’ adapt to changing business conditions, perform complex tasks and connect to other automation systems to optimize manufacturing processes.”

Despite my use of the term “utopia,” these benefits aren’t exaggerated, but are already being realized by numerous organizations. OTTO Motors is working with about a dozen large logistics and manufacturing companies, including Caterpillar, GE, and John Deere.


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