CEO Marin Tchakarov and CTO Peter Anderson-Sprecher see far-ranging potential for their autonomous forklifts in loading docks worldwide.

Prior to the launch of Fox Robotics, Anderson-Sprecher studied robotics at Carnegie Mellon and then worked in robotics at Google.

Looking to make a bigger impact, he and co-founder Charles DuHaway, now director of AI research at ICON, “zeroed in on the trailer and loading market as a key gap in the area of autonomous vehicles for a warehouse,” says Anderson-Sprecher.

As other companies focus on the warehouse, Fox Robotics is building an autonomous forklift for the loading dock, “a more crowded, more chaotic area,” says Anderson-Sprecher.

The barrier? “You’re not operating in a flat world,”he explains. ” [Trailers] come in all shapes and sizes and can be highly unlevel.”

Fox Robotics “piggybacked on the recent advances, just over the past 10 years, in which computer vision has come into its own,” continues Anderson-Sprecher. “We’ve had to build, from the ground up, novel perception systems that can understand what kind of pallets are in the trailer, what position and orientation they’re in, and whether they’re safe to pick.”

One Bot to Lift Them All

The company debuted its first product, the FoxBot Autonomous Forklift, in 2020. “We came to market with our first key customer, DHL Global Supply Chain, and have been scaling up since,” says Anderson-Sprecher. Atlanta Bonded Warehouse is another large customer.

Outfitted with LIDAR systems, 3D cameras, and other technology, the FoxBot is designed to handle all of the variables of the loading dock. To make the product, Fox Robotics currently modifies a class 1 counterbalance forklift at its 34,000-square foot Austin facility, utilizing a primarily domestic supply chain. “Today, we procure the forklift and in-house retrofit them to make them autonomous,” says Tchakarov. “It’s not a trivial process, it’s an involved process. We have a suite of sensors from which we achieve sensor fusion.”

The technology will ultimately be brand-agnostic, says Tchakarov, who joined Fox Robotics as CEO in February 2023 after leading Kindred Systems. “We’re a software company disguised as a hardware company,” he explains. The nascency of this environment is such that we have to [manufacture in-house] in order to come up with a full-stack solution for our customers, but it is very important to delineate that we are agnostic.

Fox Robotics is also agnostic in terms of its business model, he adds, typically selling its robots with a maintenance contract and software license, but also employing a robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) model, depending on which business model suits its customers best.

Preventing Injuries on a Global Scale

As the company scales, it may look to partner with a contract manufacturer to handle the hardware in partnership with a forklift OEM. “We are just as interested in collaborating with OEMs directly to develop a solution or a product line that is autonomous,” says Tchakarov.

Being the first autonomous unloading forklift to market, FoxBots have now moved more than 1.3 million pallets in real-world settings, with zero injuries.

“We are experiencing enormous demand and are at an inflection point on our growth arc. Our trajectory is on a ~200% CAGR with massive opportunities ahead,” says Tchakarov. “We have so many shining objects in front of us. It’s an exercise in focus and execution, but we’re seeing a tremendous amount of traction.”

Challenges: Human resources. “I’d like to clone the team,” says Tchakarov.

Onboarding is a related challenge, he adds. “It turns out, when you grow more than 50 percent year-over-year in terms of headcount, it really starts to bog down the organization in terms of assimilation, onboarding, and productivity.”

Opportunities: “The value proposition is very simple and therefore elegant: Just automating the shipping and receiving dock alone is a $62 billion-plus market just in North America,” says Tchakarov. “We simply do not have the people to do those jobs. That’s not just a North America problem. That’s a developed world problem – we see the same in EMEA as well as APAC. It’s the evolution of human resources vis a vis technology.”

The initial focus is on 3PL and CPG companies, says Tchakarov, citing interest from most multi-billion-dollar brands in both industries. “We’re looking at adjacent verticals, like the manufacturing space,” he notes. “We cannot move fast enough to capture the opportunity, we have so much white space.”

Needs: “It’s hiring and retaining the right talent,” says Tchakarov.

Capital is another need, he adds, but the right hires make fundraising a much easier lift. “Capital is attracted to well-performing organizations. In some ways, dare I say, I would rather raise money in a cool environment where we can differentiate ourselves as a high-performing organization.”