Line One
Coming to a dock near you: LumperBot

By Bill Hudgins


If you read the Land Line blog, you may have seen a post I made about a Japanese robot designed to clear streets and roads of snow and ice. Now comes word from the Netherlands about a robotic fuel pump that can open the gas door, insert the nozzle and pump up your car, automatically.

Robots are being used in combat, in factories and even in surgery. So, having fingerprinted way too many loads in his career, my friend and ace gearjammer, Rufus J. Sideswipe, became inspired to build a lumping bot.

Rufus isn’t the brightest LED in the array, but he’s a whiz with tools. He even uses a plasma torch to light his barbecue grill. He realized that most of the mechanical pieces needed to make a robot freight slinger already were at work on the docks – forklifts and pallet jacks. And shippers already have automated much of the process of cargo sorting and arranging.

However, in his opinion, many warehouse systems are in some ways too efficient for mere flesh-and-bloods to keep up with. That’s one reason you pay the price in waiting time. That in no way, however, rules out poor planning, miserliness, callousness and basic stupidity.

So with help from DeWayne, his computer-geek cousin, Rufus soon turned an old forklift into a cargo-carrying creature they called Larry the LumperBot. Rufus has another cousin who runs a small manufacturing business, and, after showing him a test run, they persuaded him to give Larry a try.

The free-running forklift didn’t look that different from any other pallet-pusher, except for a computer and wireless setup strapped onto the seat, a barcode reader, a keyboard, some cameras that made it look as if it had beady little eyes fore and aft, and a number of antennas stuck on the frame. DeWayne hooked the computer to the forklift’s controls and tweaked the software for the company’s warehouse setup so its computer could talk to Larry.

Larry started up and went briskly to work, reading barcodes and hustling boxes into neat rows. A truck arrived, and the driver watched open-mouthed as Larry whisked out the incoming freight and reloaded it with precisely piled pallets. DeWayne had bolted a printer on Larry, and the bot swiftly processed the driver’s paperwork and scrolled it out into his hands.

It went like that all day. Of course, Larry didn’t take bathroom, lunch or smoke breaks, spend hours on a cell phone, flirt with the receptionist or play favorites among the incoming drivers.

DeWayne gave Larry a basic vocabulary: “Hello, and welcome. I am Larry your warehouse assistant. Please allow me to be of service,” and “No payment or tips accepted. Drivers should not pay to have cargo loaded or unloaded” and “Thank you for serving us and have a safe journey.” The drivers loved it; this steel stevedore had better manners than most flesh-and-bloods. They’d never been treated so well.

DeWayne also designed Larry to carry an optional wet-vac and a pressure washer, and at night Larry cleaned the warehouse floor. Rufus’ cousin was sold. He bought Larry on the spot, and Rufus and DeWayne began marketing their idea to others.

Rufus also asked the local lumper boss if he’d be interested in a couple of Larrys, and he agreed. The only catch was that Rufus insisted the shippers and receivers had to pay the fees, not the drivers. He is staunchly behind OOIDA’s stand on coerced lumping. The lumper boss agreed. After all, he’d make more money if he could handle more cargo every day and didn’t have to argue with tired, grumpy truckers.

A two-week trial period convinced the shippers and the lumper boss, and forced the human dock workers to pick up their pace, too. As one driver put it: “They’ve been treating us like machines for years. Payback’s a bot.”

Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often. LL



Bill Hudgins can be reached at