How Siera.AI is taking warehouses by storm with autonomous forklifts

Written by Kelly O'Halloran
Published on Dec. 29, 2018
How Siera.AI is taking warehouses by storm with autonomous forklifts
stoced robotics forklifts
image via shutterstock

Autonomous passenger vehicles are all the rage right now. Uber, Google, Tesla, GM, Ford and other large corporations are caught in a race to win what the media has casually deemed the “self-driving car war.”

While those companies battle it out and try to warm up the public’s perception of driverless vehicles, one Austin startup has focused on an industry that everyone else has been sleeping on: the $400 billion market of warehouses.

“We’ll definitely see a lot of autonomous vehicles on the roads in 15 to 25 years,” said Siera.AI co-founder Saurav Agarwal. “But we’re targeting a hidden market by focusing on warehouses and production floors that have already been using robots for 30 to 40 years.”

Automation is the future, and we want to make sure Austin is a hotspot for that development.”

Specifically, Siera.AI transforms existing forklifts to self-driving ones within two hours’ time by attaching an AI-powered black box system to the machine.

The company — co-founded by Agarwal and Suhas Ahuja, who are both serial entrepreneurs and robotics experts — has been operating in stealth mode for about two years and activated its first customer-supporting robot in June.

“The U.S. economy is in a place where unemployment is very low,” said Agarwal, who has his doctorate in robotics from Texas A&M. “There are plenty of jobs to go around, but the problem is labor force. Warehouse executives want to run more shifts but can’t hire the people to fill them. We are filling that gap.”

Agarwal said Siera.AI is the only publicly available solution that can convert an existing forklift from multiple OEMs to an autonomous robot. It’s also the only company offering infrastructure free end-to-end forklift automation. By having forklifts run autonomously, companies can also significantly reduce labor costs and employee liability insurance.

“Customers save about 50 percent in the first year in labor costs and up to 85 percent in the second year,” said Agarwal.

For a warehouse that uses about 100 forklifts, that could mean millions of dollars in savings.

Although Agarwal declined to share the names of the companies Siera.AI currently partners with, he did say they include some of the top five largest logistics companies in the world.

While still in “semi-stealth mode,” Agarwal said Siera.AI plans to be fully out of stealth by the end of the first quarter in 2019. The official launch will likely come with a large funding round and aggressive hiring initiatives.

“We’re hiring for software engineers, and we plan to double our team for the next two to three years,” said Agarwal. “To work with us, you need to have strong research in robotics, AI and computer vision, and amazing coding skills.”

With no plans to leave Austin, Agarwal also said he hopes to put our city on the map as a leader in robotics innovation.

“We are really interested in building a robotics and AI ecosystem here,” said Agarwal. “Automation is the future, and we want to make sure Austin is a hotspot for that development.”

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