Self-driving cars will cruise the factory floor before they're big on the open road

Clearpath Robotics, a Canadian maker of field and service robots, has a new self-driving car named OTTO. But it's not for the road.

Clearpath Robotics, a Canadian maker of field and service robots, has a new self-driving car named OTTO. But it's not for the road. The moving platform is designed for heavy-load transport in industrial environments like factories and warehouses. Like the company's other autonomous transport solutions it uses some of the same underlying technology popularized by the Google self-driving car.

"North American manufacturers are constantly under pressure to find new ways to gain an edge against low-cost offshore competition," says Matt Rendall, CEO and Co-Founder of Clearpath Robotics. "Traditional automation is saturating. But what about the more complex tasks too difficult or expensive to automate? We created OTTO to reinvent material transport and give North American manufacturers a new edge."

OTTO is part of an emerging trend in industrial robotics toward flexibility in automation. Traditional material handling systems in factories use external infrastructure, such as tracks or guide paths. That's fine for a fixed assembly line that rarely needs to be reconfigured, but most factories today handle a variety of manufacturing tasks. And thanks to Amazon, the logistics industry is also under pressure to speed up the time it takes to bring merchandise from the warehouse to your doorstep. Those realities have prompted companies like Fetch Robotics and now Clearpath to design intelligent, industry agnostic automation solutions that are easily reconfigurable. Not surprisingly, both companies use the open-source Robotic Operating System, which makes their platforms highly expandable. (Read more about Fetch)

Clearpath's Husky ground vehicle

OTTO, which is self-guided, can transport 3300 pound loads at speeds up to 4.5 mph. It chooses optimal paths and its sensors enable it to safely avoid collisions. Applications include moving pallets in a warehouse or delivering components or kits to workers on an assembly line. OTTO units are currently deployed in five test facilities, the first of which belongs to GE. GE Ventures has also become a strategic investor in Clearpath, though the size of its investment remains undisclosed.

"We believe robotics will drastically improve the industries that GE serves," said Ralph Taylor-Smith, Managing Director of GE Ventures, in a statement. "We look forward to further partnering with Clearpath and exploring the role large-scale service robots may play for us and for our customers in the future. This Clearpath investment from GE reflects a deepening of the industrial partnership in advanced manufacturing and field service operations with self-driving vehicles and service robots."

In addition to the GE investment, Clearpath raised $11.1M in a Series A round earlier this year.