AVL's Reimagine Mobility Podcast

Commercializing AV/EV Distribution Yards: Automating Logistics w/ Tom Baroch of Outrider

December 14, 2023 AVL, North America
AVL's Reimagine Mobility Podcast
Commercializing AV/EV Distribution Yards: Automating Logistics w/ Tom Baroch of Outrider
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Stephan is joined by Tom Baroch, Sr. Director of Global Partnerships at Outrider to discuss the commercializing of AV/EV distribution yards and automating logistics. 


The distribution yard is a crucial link in the supply chain, serving as a transition point between warehouses and the open road for over 20 billion tons of freight annually. However, inefficiencies and unsafe manual tasks in these yards have led to bottlenecks in the supply chain. Over the past three years, these inefficiencies have led to diesel trucks idling in the yard, waiting for trucks or trailers, causing delays of up to four hours.


Yard trucks contribute significantly to the global carbon footprint, emitting 3.8 million tons of carbon dioxide. The future of yard operations is autonomous and electric, eliminating manual tasks for greater efficiency and safety. The private, confined space of yard operations is ideal for autonomy. Commercializing heavy-duty trucks with EV technology is a great place to start, reducing emissions and supporting the adoption of sustainable freight transportation. This aligns with forward-looking enterprises aiming to reduce emissions by having all-electric fleets in the next 10-20 years.


Automating a yard involves more than just an autonomous truck. Outrider's product is a comprehensive system that addresses operational challenges for customers. It includes a mission control dashboard allowing customers to control trucks and moves within their yards. The dashboard has an API that integrates with the customer's yard management system, directing trucks and trailers accordingly. They also handle deployment, infrastructure, and dock doors, making it a complete turnkey solution. Our focus on automation makes our product a winning solution.


The focus is on the system's overall throughput for the whole yard, not the speed of the trucks. The truck uses cameras and LiDARS to scan and geo-locate trailers, increasing efficiency continuously. The goal is to improve the total throughput of the yard, which can be operated with fewer yard trucks and with more accurate, safe, and efficient manual operations.

Tom Baroch is the Sr. Director of Global Partnerships at Outrider. He's responsible for designing, building and leading Outrider's supply chain and partnership ecosystem. Prior to Outrider, Tom spent over a decade developing and scaling supply chains that make mobility safer and cleaner at Bosch, Tesla and Waymo.

Outrider, the leader in autonomous yard operations for logistics hubs, helps large enterprises improve safety and increase efficiency. The only company exclusively focused on automating all aspects of yard operations, Outrider works with logistics-dependent enterprises to eliminate manual tasks that are hazardous and repetitive. Outrider’s mission is to drive the rapid adoption of sustainable freight transportation by deploying zero-emission systems. With its customers representing over 20 percent of all yard trucks operating in North America, Outrider is a private company backed by NEA, 8VC, Koch 

If you would like to be a guest on the show contact: namarketing@avl.com

Welcome, everyone to the Reimagine Mobility Podcast series. I'm here with Tom Baroch Tom, thanks for joining us. Tom, you're the senior director of global partnerships at Outrider Company. Maybe some of us listening and viewing this haven't heard about so tell me a little bit about your background about the company. And let's jump in how we work together, how specifically you view the future of mobility and how you reimagine mobility. Thanks a lot, Stephan, for having me. Great to see you. Yeah. First for the audience. My name is Tom Baroch I'm the head of our global Partnerships and Supply chain group at Outrider. A little bit about Outrider. We're the pioneers of autonomous logistics hubs and you know a little bit about my role. I am the head of the partnership's group, which is responsible for cultivating and developing our whole ecosystem of partners who provide key inputs to our product. This ranges from our truck maker partners who make the ETR trucks also to the hardware suppliers who make our key AV sensor technology and compute across leaders, radars, cameras, and then other other key inputs like telecoms communications, key developer tools with simulation and labeling. So we kind of handle all those key partnerships which, you know, make up the inputs to our products. So, you know, the distribution yard is a critical link in the supply chain. You know, these yards serves as a transition point between the warehouse and the open road for over 20 billion tonnes of freight moving around the world each year. And how this is handled today, you've got purpose built diesel trucks called yard trucks, moving semi-trailers through the yard they're going to and from docked to and from docks bus 24 seven. And so today, you know, these yards have not really changed much in decades and how they're run. And it's really repetitive manual tasks that are extremely inefficient and they're also really unsafe. You've got people in and around these 80,000lb pieces of equipment. And so, you know, these inefficiencies with how you ought to operate it today, they cause huge bottlenecks in the whole supply chain. Everybody has seen this over the past three years, you know, with the supply chain processes. And so, you know, in another example, you've got besides the inefficiencies in the yard, you've got all these diesel trucks just idling in the yard waiting to drop off or pick up trucks or trailers. And so, you know, as we've seen these over-the-road trucks that come in and drop off a trailer, sometimes you're spending up to 4 hours waiting to drop off and then pick up another one. And so with all of that, you know, these yards are contributing greatly to the global carbon footprint. If you look at, you know, just the fleet of yard trucks operating in the U.S. today, it's about 50,000 yard trucks. That metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted by those. It's about 3.8 million tons. That's equivalent to a coal fired plants. And so if you add in the other over-the-road trucks idling, you know, double that. And so, you know, we see the future of yard operations as autonomous and electric. And that's what we're working on. We're going to make it autonomous. So we can eliminate these manual tasks and get greater efficiency and safety. And, you know, it's also a private, confined area. So it's ideal for autonomy. And then we're also pushing these, you know, outriders within EVs from the start into our trucks is a great place for to commercialize heavy duty trucks with EV technology. You don't have to worry about going over the road as much. You don't have to worry about the range. And it overall supports our mission to drive, you know, the rapid adoption of sustainable freight transportation by deploying, you know, these zero emission systems and, you know, we're also following all these really forward looking enterprises who are our customers who share this mission to to reduce emissions by having all electric fleets in the next 10 to 20 years. So great intro, great explanation of what you guys are doing. I mean, several months ago I visited you guys in Denver and it was I walked away thinking, man, this is the perfect application of EV technology of autonomous driving technology, right? It's essentially, so to speak, from an SAE level I would probably characterize in SAE level 4 it's autonomous in a confined space and it's, as you just mentioned, it's EV. So it's sustainable, it's clean, no emissions. It takes care of an industry problem. We have less and less drivers interested in driving trucks and maybe even less interested in sitting in a you know, in a yard driving trailers back and forth. Right. You can run, operate 24 seven. I mean, what am I missing here? Perfect. And then I was thinking, I think you and I had a little bit discussion and I want to bring this up again. So this all sounds great and it's all a great application. So while you guys are really the world leader in my not anybody else pushing into space, are you guys that far ahead? Is it that you're doing such a great job and you already have your partnerships all lined up? There is no space for anybody else or what possibly is there that that makes sense. Not something where if I look in autonomous vehicles, right, there's tens if not 20 companies in the U.S. alone. And if you go to China, there's 50 plus. You may not reading about your competitors or what am I missing or. Yeah, go ahead. Yeah. Thanks Stephan. You know, the company was founded back in 2017 and I think we were probably one of the few or if maybe the only one thinking about this particular challenge, this very critical link of the supply chain that all this investment going into automating inside the warehouse and also over the road. But there's a critical link in between there, and that's what we're attacking. I would say, you know, we have certainly attracted competitors now because they can see, you know, what a great business this this can be. And it's also a great near-term application for actually commercializing AV and EV trucking. But, you know, I think the market rewards focus and we've been intensely focused from day one on automating logistics yards. We haven't pivoted. We didn't go from robotaxi or people movers to over-the-road trucking or from military. It is to two yards. We've been doing this from day one. And I think, you know, to our credit, we're probably one of the few startups in the world where you can take the seed investor deck, you know, and use it for, you know, upcoming rounds or, you know, that that pitch stack still is still holds hot. We have really changed it at all. So this is a company founded companies founding. So, you know, we've got 200 people in the company focusing every single day on how do you automate a yard. It's a lot more than just an autonomous truck. You know, you can't just pull off an autonomous truck in a yard and then it's going to work. There's a lot of other things to do. And so our product is actually a whole system that that tackles all those challenges of really operationalizing this for our customers. You know, that the autonomous truck is is a major component of that. But you also have all the other things we do, such as the mission control dashboard. This is how, you know, you control the trucks and the moves within your yard. This is a special frontend dashboard for the customer to direct all these moves, kind of like an air traffic control. It's got an API that hooks in to the customer's yard management system and it seamlessly moves the trucks and directs all the trailers where they need to go. And then, you know, there's a bunch of other little things that we think about all the time. How do you deploy this safely and effectively in the yard? How does it interface with your infrastructure and your dock doors? So we handle all that. It's a full turnkey system. It's a lot more than just the autonomous truck. And so with that whole systems approach and laser focus on automation of the yards, you know, I think that's why we have a winning product. And now it's good. Yeah, absolutely. Key is and you explained it very well when I was there as well, right? It's that whole ecosystem and how it complements one another and ties into anything as part of logistics. And certainly it's way more than just moving one trailer to the from one day to the next. Right. So let's maybe jump a little bit into the technology to today, all the different sensors you have on your vehicle and the type of vehicle you using. So maybe share a little bit about that. But true to the to the spirit of this podcast, where do you see this go next? You see next is we just going to use I'm going to just make this up, just going to use one sensor, the car is going to move so much faster because our software is going to be so much better so we can move those vehicles even faster. Maybe instead of using two autonomous air trucks, I can use one because it's able to move so much faster. Link up and move share a little bit about that as well. Yeah. To talk about, you know, the current technology we're using, these are battery electric yard trucks. For those who aren't maybe familiar with your trucks, they are a little bit different than over-the-road trucks. You know, they're more beefier frame because you're hitting, you know, hatching trailers all day long. But they're sort of real bass, so they're more maneuverable. They typically don't really go over the road too much. And yeah, we've consciously chosen from the beginning to start with EV it's just the right thing to do. Also, from a technology standpoint, you should be automating it, so you're going to get better faster, more precise control over the vehicle. And then in terms of the rest of the EV stock, you know, traditional heavy stock composed of, you know, compute weight, Austrian light cars and radars and cameras. And also want to add in something else we're doing is our trailer connect system. This is a, you know, an automated way to unhook and hook up the airlines for trailers. You know, it doesn't help a lot if you've got a yard truck moving around, but somebody needs to go and hook up the airlines to the trailer to release the brakes so you can move it. So we've actually developed, you know, a six axis robotic arm that's on the back of the truck, uses machine vision and machine learning to grab these what are called glad hands, the special connectors and hook it up to the truck. So it is truly, fully autonomous. And that comprises today's system, you know in the future. Yeah. Is is the capability of these trucks grow. I think there is a case yeah you know speed of the trucks isn't really a big deal. What we focus on is the it's the overall throughput of of the system for the whole yard so that the actual speed of the truck isn't really the necessarily the determining factor there. It's how, how efficient can you make these moves? Do you know where your inventory is? It's a huge problem today in yards is not even knowing where the trailers are. What's in them? Well, our truck has a bunch of, you know, cameras and LiDARS continuously scanning all of these trailers in the yard and geo locating them. So we have a live inventory. You always have a live inventory update of what's going on in the yard. So that really increases efficiency. And so, you know, we think about improving the full throughput of the yard. And yeah, as again, as these as these trucks improve with the capabilities, yeah, you probably can operate with with less yard trucks and you would need, you know, in a manual operation just because it's so much more efficient, it's working 24 seven it's extremely accurate, extremely precise. It's easy on your equipment and it's very safe. And then, yeah, I mean, the future is going to be interesting, you know, You know, we're focused on on distribution yards for today, but, you know, if we eventually see this going to other major logistics hubs like intermodal rail and ports and yeah, we'll see what the future holds. But that's kind of our current technology for now. Okay. Okay. What when you look at Tom, the entire ecosystem that you shared a little bit about and on the different components, right, from the connectivity to the different sensors to the compute platform to this robotic arm, all of that stuff. What has been the biggest challenge for Outrider to overcome? Is it software development to detect this and figure out how to properly and safely move in? Is it this robotic arm? Is it challenges of things you experience any in a shipping yards or in a dock with docks that you may not experience in on an open road and a highway but share a little bit of that? And what was the biggest challenge and how have you guys overcome it? Yeah, so we we have, you know, a lot of the same challenges is, you know, a typical AV or over the road trucking company in terms of the perception issue, you could argue that's a little bit easier because we're we're often on private property. However, there's there's some other challenges that we have that the robotaxis and the over-the-road trucking companies are not to deal with. The first one is precision driving. We are hitching and hitching, you know, any type of trailer could be a 53 footer, a container chassis, a 20th, you know, other any type of trailer. And we need to precisely hitch to that and then also back it into a parking spot for a dock door, you know, with a pretty high degree of lateral accuracy. And so I think the precision driving is something that that we really have to focus on. And also just the planned collision of an AV. You know, you're hitching to a really heavy trailer. I you need to make the AV such that it can it can handle a planned collision. And so those are some really big problems that we have to work on. And we have a really dedicated team that's been at this from, you know, from day one in 2017. Another big challenge is hooking up airlines in dealing with those connectors called cloud hands. That is a really big machine learning challenge because if you think about it, the these connectors, there's no standard type. You know, there's there's families and they're all different. They move different. They look different. And, you know, they could even be on feed off. And Rusty, it's pretty hard for for a robot to deal with that. So, you know, that is quite the machine learning challenge for us to design a system that can handle any type of cloud, and that is just the variety we see in the field. So yeah, we have a really dedicated machine learning team working on this and yeah, that's one of our that's a really big technological challenge. But you know, we take the approach that, you know, all of our software is designed in-house and for the most part we try to stay with, you know, commercial off the shelf hardware as much as we can to accomplish those challenges. Interesting to maybe a little and you alluded to it a little bit by looking beyond the to the yard side you're in the right now. I mean, I you know, I'm just envisioning claiming some of this technology may work for in warehouse movement as well and some of it exists already and into different degrees. But what about what about actual ships moving ships around? Right. We're not talking on a dock, but we're talking into water potentially home and technology that you're developing may or may not already exist for in the rail industry right there in a little bit easier. You're on a rail, you're not in on the road. There. You're more or less stuck with how you would lock and unlock to a to another car there. But what other areas do you guys see potentially to, to go in to where you feel like your technology would add tremendous value to, to the end customer? Yeah, I mean, that's all certainly possible to start looking outside of, you know, what we're working on today as a started as you know you must be extremely focused on what you're doing and that's why, you know, we are solely focused on distribution yards right now. And I think the future roadmap from there would be, you know, intermodal rail and then ports eventually. I don't think we've gotten into to ships yet and trains, but can be pretty interesting. But, you know, it's a good question, Stephan, because it's all linked. It's a global supply chain. And, you know, these are things that we think about. So if you look at the industry of automation in the supply chain, you know, there's been a ton of investment in technology going to automate the inside of the warehouse and then over the road. And again, we're were the critical link between those two things. But, you know, I think we've seen probably the most successful progress so far inside the warehouse. You know, we're doing our part to automate that, you know, the yard, the critical link between the the inside the warehouse and over the road and as as the over the road AVs eventually come online. You know, that starts to get really interesting because robots love talking to robots and that really smooths out the whole supply chain. And now we're talking about, you know, if we get our way in, these other industries do too. That gets really interesting with, you know, you know, economic progress and unpacking GDP, geopolitical situations because you're making these supply chains faster, more robust, more resilient. You're eliminating these inefficiencies. We might even need to rewrite operations one on one textbooks. I mean, you could be getting rid of the bullwhip effect that people have seen over over the past three years, because you can really smooth out the supply chain. So, yeah, I think as there's all these other parts of the supply chain starts to automate, you know, we're going to see really interesting things for society. Two more questions for you, Tom. One, what do you see in the mobility space, which certainly outrider is a very big part of it. It's going to be a big play, an even bigger part of in the future. So generally speaking, in the mobility space, what what are you most excited about seeing happening over the next five years and again, can be anything from I'm excited to see solid state batteries because it will help my car as well, but also the cars I'm driving. I'm excited to see better connectivity. That's, you know, anywhere in the mountains. I have perfect connectivity and I can rely on whatever it might be. Just interests of your perspective. Obviously you've been at Outrider Now's a little bit with a with your Outrider hat on. What are you most excited about over the next five years when it comes to mobility and technologies? Yeah, I think, you know, overall, you know, the industry is making mobility safer and cleaner and that goes across all sectors. You know, what we're doing in the freight freight moving industry. But you see it in in passenger cars all over the place. You know, we've had a pretty interesting front row seat to, you know, kicking off these trends in my experience of Tesla. And, you know, getting the Model three off the ground and really scaling that up at Waymo with, you know, everything they're doing with EVs and kind of get to combine all the experience that in our rider. But overall, yeah, I mean just it's incredible what's happening with EV technology, battery technology, solid state batteries. It's all going to get better and more efficient. On the AVL side, there's incredible advances happening in sensors and compute. I think we're really going to see, you know, it's the rising tide that's going to lift all boats. And it's really incredible what the industry has been doing, you know, over the past ten years. And it's going to be really interesting in the next 5 to 10 years, just again, making our mobility safer and cleaner, whether you're moving people or goods. Come on. Very last question, Tom. What's going to be the next car you're going to buy for you and why? I. I would love a cybertruck. But I almost wanted to say that when you mentioned one, you reminded me again that you worked at Tesla before. So almost wanted to say no, but I didn't want to skew you so Cybertruck. I yeah, I would love a Cybertruck but yeah. Do you mean I was just talking yesterday how they I think they dug their own grave. That's a pretty tough car to make, but yeah, that would be on my list. Okay. All right. Very good. I'll thank you so much, Tom, for sharing what you guys are doing, what Outrider is doing, the value you provide and you guys are going to provide and how you help reimagine mobility in the future. Thank you, Tom. Yeah, thanks. The most often really enjoyed it.

EV/AV Trucking Logistics
Current EV/AV Distribution Yard Technology
Ecosystem Challenges Distribution Yard Logistics
Future Applications of EV/AV Distribution Yard Technology