OTTO Motors: This Company’s Autonomous Mobile Robots Significantly Improve Efficiencies For Customers

By Amit Chowdhry • Jun 23, 2023

OTTO Motors is a company that is known for designing and manufacturing autonomous mobile robots for a wide variety of industries. To learn more about the company, Pulse 2.0 interviewed OTTO Motors’ Vice President of Product Jay Judkowitz.

Jay Judkowitz’s Background

Jay Judkowitz

As the Vice President of Product, Judkowitz leads the Product team at OTTO Motors – which is responsible for defining OTTO’s products, ensuring that they are delivered on time and on budget, and educating the world about their benefits.

On a day-to-day basis, Judkowitz manages any significant opportunities or concerns for the company, communicates cross-functionally as the voice of the product, and works on long-term planning whether financial, the product roadmap, or team building.

Judkowitz is also a spokesperson for OTTO Motors, presenting at industry trade shows and conferences, hosting webinars, and speaking with the press. And he is passionate about educating large audiences on supply chain challenges and OTTO Motors’ automated material handling solution which improves workplace safety, employee satisfaction, and customer productivity.

For the first twenty-one years of his career, Judkowitz worked in the heart of Silicon Valley, including four years at Intel, eight years at VMware, and six years at Google Cloud. And in March of 2023, Judkowitz was named to Supply and Demand Chain Executive’s list of 2023 Pros to Know, recognized as an outstanding executive whose accomplishments offer a roadmap for other leaders looking to leverage the supply chain for competitive advantage.

Formation Of OTTO Motors

How did the idea for OTTO Motors come together? The company’s parent company Clearpath Robotics was founded in 2009 at the University of Waterloo as a final-year engineering project. The success of this project birthed the company that is dedicated to automating the world’s most dull and dangerous jobs. In 2015, the company founders expanded their autonomy software into the industrial setting with OTTO Motors, a leading provider of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) for material handling that works with some of the world’s most recognized brands, including GE and Toyota. What started in a basement as a school project has morphed into a multi-million dollar company with over 350 employees and US$81 million raised.

Macroeconomic Climate

Has the current macroeconomic climate had any effect on the company? Factory automation is needed now more than ever. And there are a few macroeconomic trends coming into play at once.

Judkowitz told me:

Economic, political, and public health disruptions to the global supply chain have demonstrated that we need a more distributed and resilient supply chain with less dependency on just-in-time shipping from across the world.

People, governments, and businesses are taking global warming more seriously than ever before.  For every ton of goods shipped across the Pacific, a quarter ton of carbon dioxide is put in the atmosphere.  Shortening supply chains is good economics and good for environmental sustainability.

However, the labor force is not what it was in the 1950s.  Baby boomers are retiring and young people are moving from factory towns to cities.  As many as two million factory jobs are currently unfilled in North America.  We need to apply the people who are available to work for the more fulfilling and higher paying jobs that require human creativity and use robots for the work that is more rote, repetitive, and dangerous when done by humans like material handling.  

Those three general trends come together very clearly in an example from the automotive industry.  Car companies are under pressure to build new factories in the countries their buyers live in and to electrify.  This gives them the need and the opportunity to rethink all their processes including material handling.  There has been a boom in purchases of AMRs in automotive factories as a result.

The end result of this explosion of automation in automotive and other industries is to have more factories in more places.  By leveling the cost of critical and pervasive but non-value-added work like material handling, countries, and localities can now compete on education and infrastructure rather than on a race to the bottom of wages and environmental standards. This enables manufacturing to come home with a larger number of manufacturing jobs in aggregate even if fewer people are needed for each individual plant.

Core Products

What are OTTO Motors’ core products and features? OTTO Motors offers cutting-edge autonomous material handling solutions that enable manufacturers and warehouses to achieve a better material flow. The solution features the industry’s most comprehensive AMR fleet, capable of automating any material handling workflow up to 4,200 lb.

The company currently offers 5 AMRs:

OTTO 100: the company’s smallest and most agile AMR, perfect for loads up to 330 lb

OTTO 600: the toughest and most nimble midsize AMR for loads up to 1,320 lb

OTTO 750: a midsize AMR for loads up to 2,530 lb

OTTO 1500: the company’s heavy-duty AMR, designed to move loads up to 4,200 lb

OTTO Lifter: the company’s forklift AMR that handles pallet transport workflows up to 2,640 lb

In conjunction with the company’s hardware, OTTO offers a powerful and constantly evolving software suite divided into two key components: autonomy software and fleet management software.

OTTO Autonomy Software – Introducing the company’s navigation software, which is a pivotal component that drives high average speeds for our customers, resulting in reduced takt times for enhanced operational efficiency. Plus it also prioritizes top-of-the-line safety measures, ensuring the utmost safety standards in all operations.

OTTO Fleet Manager: OTTO’s Fleet Manager is a powerful AMR fleet management software that makes lights-out, 24/7 production a reality. And OTTO Fleet Manager orchestrates operations and optimizes the performance of a heterogeneous fleet, capable of scaling up to 100 robots in one facility without productivity losses—better than any other AMR provider in the industry.

— OTTO Care gives manufacturers peace of mind through software and hardware support to keep their fleet and materials moving.

Evolution Of OTTO Motors’ Technology

How has OTTO Motors’ technology evolved since launching? Judkowitz explained:

OTTO Motors launched eight years ago in 2015 and the technology has changed significantly since then:

Hardware form factors have proliferated. We have 4 flatbed AMR products that carry from 150 to 1900 kg. We have also released an autonomous forklift which is a game changer for us, our customers, and the industry. 

We have developed a lot of navigation technology that allows OTTO AMRs to drive with industry-leading average speed while maintaining PLd safety ratings. This is what drives customer return on investment.

We have developed a lot of perception technology that uses machine vision for purposes such as identifying and picking up misplaced pallets with our forklift AMR.

We have scaled our fleet management system and demonstrated up to 100 robots in practice, not just in theory.

We have added a lot of value-added technology on top of the robots.  For example, we have simulation services, troubleshooting tools, and data and analytics that can be used to continuously optimize the deployment.

We have started working with standards more.  We led the way for AMR compatibility with the VDA5050 AGV standard, partnering with InOrbit and Ekumen to release an open-source ROS to VDA5050 connector.

Safety standards now understand AMRs.  The RIA R15.08 standard which we helped write is the most notable example.

Significant Milestones

What have been some of OTTO Motors’ most significant milestones?

In 2015, the Clearpath Robotics industrial division OTTO Motors was founded. In the same year, we launched OTTO 1500, the industry’s first heavy-class AMR. Just two years later the company launched OTTO 100, which is an agile and powerful AMR for human-scale loads. In 2018, the company expanded its business operations to Japan. And in 2019, the company deployed the world’s largest AMR installation, with over 80 robots moving material in 400,000 square feet of space. In 2020, the company expanded global operations to Europe and received the CE mark. Last year, the company became the first company to offer both flatbed and forked AMRs with the launch of OTTO Lifter. This year, the company launched another AMR called the OTTO 600, unlocking the industry’s most comprehensive AMR fleet.

Customer Success Stories

When I asked Judkowitz about specific customer success stories, he cited the following:

Sunview Patio Doors

Sunview required a flexible solution that would help transform its production to a lean manufacturing model, increasing safety and keeping up with its evolving market. Prior to implementing AMRs, Sunview manually pushed finished goods around the factory floor with carts and unsafe forklifts. With OTTO Motors, Sunview has achieved a 16-month ROI and a 100% safety rating.

Mauser Packaging Solutions

Manual labor-intensive material handling processes with forklifts drove up operational costs and put physical strain on workers. The traditional AGV system that Mauser was also using failed to meet the required uptime and throughput to run their 24/7 production. When OTTO AMRs were implemented to move plastic rigid containers to their stretch wrapper, Mauser experienced increased uptime and enhanced throughput by 600%.

Faurecia Interior Systems

Faurecia used outdated tuggers and AGVs to move automotive components in stacked totes from shipping to warehouse delivery at their facility. This solution simply did not provide the reliable, small footprint for timely movement with minimal downtime and hands-on support that they required. That’s why OTTO AMRs were implemented, quickly reducing work cell sizes by 15% and improving efficiency, resulting in 0 safety incidents and an 11-month ROI.

Differentiation From The Competition

What differentiates OTTO Motors from its competition? Judkowitz replied:

We have a unique way of addressing our customers’ challenges. Our goal isn’t just to sell an AMR to automate a workflow. We believe that successful material handling automation requires multiple factors to align seamlessly, and we specialize in bringing those elements together to create winning solutions. These elements include hardware, software, support and services and we differentiate ourselves at each layer of the AMR stack to support the largest, most deeply integrated, business-critical material handling operations.

At the hardware level, we have the most robust robots designed for industrial use.  They have been known to get rammed by forklifts and go back into service the same day.

With over 4 million hours of production driving experience, our navigation software has earned its reputation as one of the most trusted AMR softwares in the market. Two features that set us apart at the driving level are:

The robots have a unique technology to be fast and safe, eliminating the tradeoff between these two critical values.

The robots work well in dynamic environments.  They don’t get lost as the environment changes, they do local obstacle avoidance, and global replanning, and can handle misplaced carts and pallets.

At the fleet management level, we uniquely have demonstrated a productive scale to 100 robots.

We consistently receive compliments from our customers regarding the excellence of our documentation and training. It is crucial to acknowledge that when organizations embrace new technology, acquiring new knowledge becomes essential for their success, and this is where we set ourselves apart. Through our training and knowledge base, we ensure that our customers feel confident in their automation journey.

At the services level, we distinguish ourselves with:

— Simulation services to help customers get the most productivity from the fewest robots and the highest ROI.

— Sophisticated troubleshooting tools so that customers can try to solve problems quickly on their own before needing to call our exceptional customer service team.

— Data and analytics products to help the customers to continuously optimize their deployments.

All of this technology is backed by our people.  We work with customers before and after the sale to ensure a productive and reliable deployment.  We don’t just sell robots; we are industry experts invested in our customers’ success.

Future Company Goals

What are some of OTTO Motors’ future company goals? “While today we are the leading provider of AMRs, simply stated, OTTO Motors wants to be the premier provider of autonomy solutions for industry as well. Our vision is for our platform to deliver autonomy to the industrial sector, powering their transition to autonomous transportation for materials handling and beyond. This includes hardware and software, sold directly, through channels, and with technology partnerships,” Judkowitz concluded. “To work towards this vision, we are continuously developing advanced AMR solutions that cater to a wider range of industries, automating diverse workflows with improved efficiency and cost-effectiveness. By deepening integration throughout the industrial technology stack and leveraging standardized interfaces and value-added APIs, we aim to provide comprehensive turnkey solutions tailored to specific industry verticals and workflows. We envision a future where material handling is just the beginning, as our system empowers customers with comprehensive data for optimal factory planning and optimization. This enhanced flexibility will transform factories into dynamic and highly efficient environments.”