[Portrait of an Innovator] Raul Bravo Makes Autonomous Warehouse Forklifts

By July 31, 2014
Raul Bravo

Interview with Raul Bravo, founder of Balyo, a company specialising in warehouse automation technology. He has developed a system called Movebox which enables warehouse forklift trucks to move around in automated fashion, picking up and delivering loaded pallets without a driver so as to boost warehousing productivity.

An innovator? Yes, from Spain, where he was born, and where Raul studied to be an engineer specialising in telecommunications at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. During his training he carried out research projects in mobile communications which won him two separate prizes for the best engineering feats in Spain. He then went over to Paris to continue his studies, doing an MBA at the Collège des Ingénieurs, a school where Engineering graduates study business administration and finance. While in the French capital he met Thomal Duval, later to become his partner at Balyo, who encouraged him to get interested in robotics. At the time Duval was a student specialising in robotics at the Ecole Centrale, a university college in Paris which specialises in engineering. Thomas shared with Raul his ambition to advance robotics technology. They got together, each contributing his specific knowhow to the project.

The disruptive idea? Making pallet-transporting forklift trucks autonomous. Balyo was founded in 2005, but by then the pair had been working on the core idea for over ten years. Raul stresses that his work is in the field of robotics but the company does not build robots as such. He designed the Movebox system which converts any warehouse truck into an autonomous vehicle. The technology installed on the vehicle maps its environment by emitting laser beams to establish its location, while geo-guidance technology detects and identifies three dimensional objects, columns, racks and walls within the warehouse. The Movebox system is a pioneer in its field, and can be installed on a standard forklift and used in warehouses and factories for moving pallets around. It is entirely autonomous, adapts to any environment, and moves smoothly around, avoiding obstacles in its path, including people.

What got him interested in automating factory vehicles? Pallet transportation is a basic necessity in every sector as just about any product on the market is made in a factory and then distributed via an intermediate chain, including warehouses. The idea to automate factory/warehouse vehicles had already been taken up by other firms, but Bravo believes that Balyo’s success stems from its specialisation strategy. Focussing exclusively on pallet transportation vehicles has enabled the company to develop a unique tool which is now being used by major firms in Europe – such as French multinationals [glassware specialist] Saint-Gobain and [retailer] Carrefour – and the United States.

So how does this affect us? Now that goods handling has overtaken the Building and Public Works sector in terms of workplace accidents, the Movebox system is well-placed to help reduce the risks involved in working in warehouses. And as the forklift is controlled by robotic technology, not by a human operator, it should bring productivity gains at factory and warehouse. “This means you can do more with fewer resources,” underlines Bravo. This should in turn reduce the need for an expanding company to move to new premises and perhaps also encourage company bosses to resist the temptation to re-locate their factories to less expensive countries.

And what does the future hold? Bravo reckons that Balyo and the Movebox technology have enormous growth potential. The Spanish-born entrepreneur intends to apply the concept of vehicle automation to other business sectors, but for the moment he is keeping quiet about which. Watch this space...

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