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Outrider puts the (robotic) arm to autonomous yard trucks

Autonomous yard operations get another advance with TrailerConnect technology

Robots can now disconnect and connect brake and electric lines to take the driver out of the tedious and dangerous job, the latest yard automation advance from startup Outrider. (Photo: Outrider)

Disconnecting brake and electric lines from yard tractors and connecting them to semi-trailer and chassis happens 6 billion times annually in 10 million tractor-trailers around the world.

To move these trailers, truck drivers manually connect pressurized brake lines to trailers. That releases the parking brake, allowing trailers to move around the yard. Getting in and out of yard trucks that transition trailers from dock doors to parking spots to public roads is constant.

There’s a robot for that

Now there’s a robot for the tedious and sometimes dangerous operation.

Outrider — a privately held Colorado startup focused on turning logistics yard operations autonomous — on Tuesday revealed TrailerConnect. It’s a patented technology that uses a robot arm to sense what connection is needed and complete it without human involvement.

“Four years of development and close partnerships with our priority customers has resulted in a technology integral to autonomously moving freight,” Andrew Smith, CEO and founder of Outrider, said in a news release.

Trailers look similar. But the coupling devices used to connect the brake and electric lines from truck to trailer often differ. That creates countless configurations and placements across trailer fleets. 


“To automate yards, we brought together an exceptional team with expertise in robotics, perception, and deep learning to ensure safer, more efficient autonomous yard operations,” said Matt Johannes, Outrider vice president of hardware engineering and robotics.

TrailerConnect integrates proprietary software algorithms, hardware and sensors onto Yaskawa Motoman-supplied robots. They locate, identify, connect to and disconnect from trailers. No modifications or adapters are needed.  

Building on earlier Outrider technology

The TrailerConnect robotic arm builds on Outrider’s earlier technology. It includes the first-to-market yard automation solution that performs fully autonomous, zero-emission trailer moves. High-precision autonomous articulated backing came next. Most recently, Outrider added autonomous hitching for diverse trailer weights and orientations. 

“Outrider is reinventing the modern distribution yard to be more efficient, safer, and sustainable, and we are delivering breakthrough technology like TrailerConnect to do it,” Smith said.

The company has performed tens of thousands of fully autonomous trailer moves. They represent customer covering 20% of all yard tractors as well an Advanced Testing facility in Brighton, Colorado.

“Autonomous yard operations — a critical part of a streamlined global supply chain — is simply not a reality without the ability for self-driving vehicles to connect to and from trailers,” said Julian Counihan, general partner at Schematic Ventures, which specializes in supply chain and commerce infrastructure. 

Check call: Warehouse yard improvements

Outrider ready to scale distribution yard autonomy 

Outrider extends autonomous distribution yard work to backing up trailers

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

3 Comments

  1. Robert Tilley

    My question to all these autonomous self driving truck companies that want to put drivers out of work . what are you gonna retrain us to do when you put all of us out of work? And who is going to chain up those trucks? Who’s going to fuel them? There’s a song from the 70s called I believe it’s called year “2525”. Humans will be the death of humans! Everybody just needs to be more attentive to their driving cars and trucks and highways will be a lot safer. And there’s autonomous self driving truck companies need to realize we get into this business because we like it not only because it’s just a job or the only job but because we like it we like to travel we like to see America autonomous trucks will not make the highways any safer and robotic arms on the back of your dogs as part of the job getting out and hooking up the airlines. A robotic arm on the back of the yard dog that gives an whole new meaning to being lazy.

  2. James Edward Bradford

    Trailer connections are pretty much universal in nature. Gladhand to gladhand. Red gladhand to red gladhand, blue gladhand to blue gladhand. Just wanted to clarify that.

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.