Can AI-Empowered Forklifts Solve the $30 Billion Crisis in Warehouse Workforce Safety?

There are roughly 96,000 forklift accidents a year, 100 involving fatalities, costing an estimated to be $30 billion. That may not be the worst of it.

Justus Menke Tw0o Yr45 Xw Unsplash

Long before COVID-19 disrupted America’s supply chains, the pressures of high-speed order fulfillment in the nation’s warehouses were taking their toll. There are roughly 96,000 forklift accidents a year, 100 involving fatalities, costing an estimated to be $30 billion. That may not be the worst of it. With Amazon and Target Online reporting sales soaring 26 percent and 141 percent respectively, stress and fatigue-related accidents among forklift operators will likely continue to climb.

Austin-based tech startup SIERA.AI believes it has the solution: artificial intelligence (AI) empowered forklifts that detect risky behavior and unobserved risks and prevent accidents before they happen. SIERA.AI CEO Saurav Agarwal likens equipping forklifts with his company’s software to placing an invisible “co-pilot” alongside the operator that keeps him or her, other employees, product, and infrastructure accident-free.

“According to OSHA, the top reasons behind forklift accidents are operator-related. This includes traveling too fast, improper backing up, turning and braking; riding with a load elevated, and failure to warn pedestrians,” he explains. “We believed AI technology could put a stop to the safety crisis we’re seeing in warehouses and after more than three years of development on SIERA’s Safety System (S3) AI platform, we’ve determined it can.”

There are two components to SIERA’s safety solution, accident prevention and cloud-based data collection and reporting. Once a forklift has the S3 device and software installed, it automatically senses and stops the vehicle from colliding with people, pallets, totes, and racks without driver intervention. At the same time, the S3 software tracks the forklift’s movement and delivers real-time performance data to management for analysis and insight into behavior, accident-prone areas within a facility and how best to proceed. Any forklift, regardless of maker, can be retrofitted with SIERA.AI’s software.

“Humans, by nature, are accident prone. S3’s AI technology creates situational awareness so no matter how distracted or stressed a forklift driver is, safety can be maintained,” Agarwal explains.

He adds that rather than being intimidated by the S3 software, forklift operators appreciate the support. “We’ve found that drivers who have had S3 installed on their forklifts modify their behavior and practice safer driving. Also, the data can tell a story that’s not always apparent such as poor floor layout or processes that unintentionally facilitate accidents, issues management can then address. Ultimately, it’s all about creating safe warehouse environments for all and reducing if not eliminating the unnecessary financial and humans costs.”

To date, five global companies have implemented SIERA.AI’s AI solution in their warehouse operations. This includes meatpacking, e-commerce warehouses, third-party logistics, and manufacturing.