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Why are industrial trucks lagging cars in safety?

It’s a question that our customers and investors have asked us a lot over the years. Why have the big brand name OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) like Toyota and the Caterpillar not done much about pedestrian safety?

We need to look at cars to understand industrial trucks

To understand the trends in the forklift/industrial truck industry it’s important to look at the car industry. Early cars had very little in safety features built into them but manufacturers quickly realized the dangers that cars posed and rolled out safety features like the 3-point seatbelt (Volvo — 1959), airbags, anti-lock braking system, etc. It took decades to get from the 3-point seat belt to anti-lock braking being part of the standard equipment on cars.

The first real “AI” safety tech for cars

The first real rollout of automated safety technology which involved some kind of external sensing was when Mobileye launched its EyeQ technology that allowed cars to use a forward-facing camera to detect a possible collision with another car or pedestrian and warn the driver. Mobileye was founded in 1999 by a researcher named Amnon Shashua at Hebrew University in Isreal. It took Mobileye several years of demonstration and iteration before it finally rolled out its technology in mass production cars in 2007. In 2017 Mobileye had about 15 million cars on the road using its technology (even Tesla used Mobileye chips before they switched to their own proprietary tech). Eventually, Mobileye got acquired by Intel for about $15 Billion (sweet) and now they’re working on autonomous driving.

Why hasn’t there been a Mobileye for industrial trucks?

As you can start to see, the car industry has been slow (to say the least) to develop and adopt safety technology. GM and Ford even fought airbag technology for years before they finally relented and started rolling them out in their own production vehicles. It took Google, a complete outsider to the car industry to bring the self-driving car revolution into the forefront of people’s imagination. The thing is, car accidents get a lot of attention (as they should) because they’re pretty frequent, cause serious damage to human life, and can be seen around us in everyday life. Now the problem with industrial truck accidents is that industrial trucks (forklifts, cranes, earthmovers etc.) are much more limited in their use outside of specific domains (warehouses, factories, construction sites, etc.) and accidents involving industrial trucks don’t usually make the morning news and they’re not something we see happening in front of our eyes on the way to work.

“There just hasn’t been enough of an incentive for manufacturers to do something about the problem”

Unlike the car industry, the industrial truck industry has not been forced by regulators to adopt automated pedestrian safety solutions to prevent horrific industrial accidents. Talking just about forklifts. Almost 1 in 10 forklifts is going to be involved in an accident. 100 people get killed each year in North America by forklifts and another 36,000 get seriously injured working near them. The economic cost of forklift accidents exceeds $35 Billion each year. We just don’t get to see the broken limbs and the crushed rib-cages in front of our eyes to make us realize the severity and magnitude of the problem. It also doesn’t help that the people who are affected by these accidents are low-wage hourly workers who usually don’t have resources to fight workplace injury lawsuits and force a change. The businesses that operate large fleets of industrial trucks have tried for years to find a technology that can keep their people safe but so far had limited options (think flashing strobe lights, louder horns, mirrors… you get the picture).

It’s time to bring a change in the culture of safety around industrial vehicles

When we launched the SIERA Safety System, we had one goal in mind, to build a safety solution so flexible that it could be added onto any industrial truck in less than an hour and make the truck stop itself before an accident. I am proud to say that today, we have achieved that goal with our launch customers and continue to expand on that vision by working with a growing list of customers in multiple industries.

Our customers tell us heartwarming stories of how their operators don’t like to operate trucks that do not have a SIERA Safety System on them. This is the kind of validation that any tech startup looks for when building a product. We’re sure that as we grow, the manufacturers will start leveraging this technology and making it a part of their standard feature-set just like car makers did with Mobileye. To that end, we are ready, we are ready to work with you and leverage our expertise to help make your trucks safe.

“OEMs should not fear the change, rather embrace the change and become part of the solution for a better future for our workers and our businesses”