Global logistics company Geodis has tapped startup Phantom Auto to help it deploy forklifts that can be controlled remotely by human operators located hundreds, and even thousands, of miles away.
According to Geodis, the aim is to use the technology to reduce operator fatigue — and the injuries that can occur as a result — and reduce the number of people physically inside warehouses. The use of remotely operated forklifts won’t replace employees — just where they work. It’s that detail that Geodis, which often has operations outside of city centers, finds appealing.
Stéphanie Hervé, chief operating officer for Geodis’ Western Europe, Middle East, and Africa operations, told TechCrunch that using the remotely operated forklifts would help the company attract a new group of workers, including those with physical disabilities. The company’s intent isn’t to outsource workers to other countries but to find more workers within a region.
Under the partnership, Phantom Auto’s remote operation software is integrated into KION Group forklifts. The forklifts are equipped with 2-way audio so that small operators, which Geodis also describes as ‘digital drivers’, can communicate with their co-workers inside the warehouses.
Phantom Auto and Geodis have worked together for more than two years via a pilot program conducted in Levallois and Le Mans, France. This announcement signals a deeper relationship and one that could be a boon for Phantom Auto.
The initial deployment is focused on France, Hervé said. For now, Phantom Auto’s software will be used to remotely operate forklifts in the initial pilot sites of Levallois and Le Mans and will then expand throughout the country over the next year. Geodis employees at the two initial locations have already been trained to operate the forklifts remotely, Phantom Auto co-founder Elliot Katz said.
Geodis’ footprint extends far beyond the boundaries of France. The company has some 165,000 clients in 120 countries. They own 300 warehouses located worldwide and provide third-party logistics services to thousands of other customers, including Amazon and Shopify.
Phantom Auto’s tie-up with Geodis is another example of the company seeking business outside the fledgling autonomous vehicle industry, which was its initial focus. The company, founded in 2017, developed vehicle-agnostic software to remotely monitor, assist in operating fleets of uncrewed vehicles such as forklifts, robots, trucks, and passenger vehicles.
The company is adjacent to the AV industry. While AV operators rarely talk publicly about the need for teleoperations, it is viewed as a necessary support system to deploy robotaxis commercially and for other AV applications. But as autonomous vehicle developers pushed back timelines to commercialize the technology, Phantom Auto expanded into new areas.