In more than 35 years in logistics and operations, Bob Richardson found one thing has never changed: the transfer process of cargo.
“I realized cargo handling, trailers and truck bodies haven’t changed since 1930,” he said in an interview with FreightWaves. “If you have ever gone to a truck body or trailer manufacturer, they still build them essentially the same way. Freight still goes in and out of them the same way. … It’s a very cumbersome process.”
This is where Richardson got the idea to make the process of loading and unloading a truck easier by creating autonomous cargo handling units. Not only do these units make cargo transfer easy, they help reduce or eliminate inventory losses due to tampering or theft.
“If you ship something less than truckload from say, LA to Chicago, it’s probably going to get handled five or six times,” he said. “Along the way it can be misplaced or damaged. If you operate scheduled route delivery, it’s likely you use inbound consolidation or outbound cross-docking in a ‘hub and spoke’ configuration. The transfer of products to local delivery trucks is labor intensive and requires a brick and mortar infrastructure. The future of transportation is not going to exclusively follow this model, autonomous systems will begin to make this model obsolete.”
Richardson founded Revolutionary Truck Systems to engineer the ‘skunkworks’ products his company, Gruzka, would soon begin manufacturing.
The first product Gruzka created was the Transload Bin. This product helps reduce load transactions at docks by 50%, allowing products to be loaded within the metal bin that can simply be picked up and moved by a standard forklift or pallet jack. The bin’s webbing secures the product, eliminates the need for pallets and stretch wrap, and creates a security perimeter to stop theft and damage.
“The front and back open and close easily,” he said. “You can fold the sides and stack empty units when necessary; two people can do it in less than 30 seconds.”
Next, Richardson focused on revolutionizing the physical trailer. His team aimed to create a product that would allow a single physical chain of custody that only one person on each end needed to access. Similar products in use, specifically in Europe, are typically still very labor-intensive and perceived as dangerous when loading and unloading a trailer, he said.
The company’s Bobtail Box and Horizontal Transfer System simplifies and automates the process by allowing direct transfer with no warehouse, loading dock or extra personnel required and creates a secure cargo unit.
“We built a system that can transfer the entire truck body in under two minutes,” Richardson said. “You push a button, [the system] unlocks and raises off the platform, slightly levels itself, and then raises to match the truck level of the receiving unit. Then it just conveys it over [to the unit] and the opposite occurs and locks it back down. That can all occur in under two minutes and on uneven ground. It’s a system that takes minimal personnel to run today and will be part of autonomous systems in the future.”
Richardson’s systems can also be customized to be solar-powered, creating an environmentally friendly option. Since the Bobtail Box can be customized for refrigerated purposes, it creates a solution for food and beverage companies that tend to rely on running reefer units to prevent spoilage.
The Bobtail Boxes also have optional electric doors on both ends, allowing operators the option to load them as a single unit or through multiple units end-to-end.
Richardson finished the prototype for the Bobtail Box and Horizontal Transfer System last April and due to the pandemic, just recently started conversations with customers and investors to begin mass production.
“The physical aspect of a truck and trailer hasn’t changed: It has always been a straight line truck,” he said. “These are one-of-a-kind solutions. … This will create flexibility of [truck] assets with different sized trucks and different routes. Our patented solutions cover a wide range of options and embodiments within its IP. In a conventional environment, the Transload Bin is a perfect alternative to pallets and stretch wrap. Beyond brick and mortar depots, our Bobtail Box and Horizontal Transfer System allows for rapid geographical expansion, repurposing of valuable assets and accommodating ever changing logistical streams.”