OWhat if a logistics company didn’t need its employees to go to a cold store in the middle of the night? What if work could be done from anywhere else in the world via remote control? This is the idea behind the $42 million investment that ArcBest (NASDAQ: ARCB) and NFI Industries created start-up Phantom Auto, which manufactures remote forklifts. In this episode of “Motley Fool’s Metal and Power Half-Hour” on Motley Fool live, recorded on January 25Fool.com contributor Toby Bordelon explains to his colleague John Bromels the possibilities of this technology for businesses and blue-collar workers as a whole.

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Toby Bordelon: Here we are.

John Bromel: Warehouse management has never sounded so great or had such a rock soundtrack.

Bordeaux: I thought that was pretty cool. What we have here, we have a company called Phantom Auto, it’s a recent start-up. The news I saw yesterday was that two big companies, ArcBest, which is a big trucking company, and NFI industries, a New Jersey-based logistics company, are jointly investing $42 million in this startup, Phantom Auto, which makes these remote control forklifts. Their technology, basically, you’ve seen it. It allows drivers to operate forklifts with off-site remote video and audio streams, almost like playing a driving game on a console. If you picked up your Xbox and got one of those wheel drives, like this is what’s happening here, it looks, and it’s cool. What are the advantages here? Well, you can hire people to work in a central location. You don’t need to have operators on-site at a specific warehouse. Operators can actually switch between different forklifts, even between different locations. Like a guy in, say, Cincinnati, maybe he can drive forklifts in New Jersey and Long Beach, Calif., the same day, wherever he’s needed. The other thing that’s really cool about this is that people can work across multiple time zones. If you go to the Phantom Auto website they have a bunch of different videos. One of them actually talks about difficulties in getting people to take certain jobs in places and shifts because it’s, say, 5 a.m. in a waterfront warehouse in January in New Jersey, it’s cold. It’s early. Nobody really wants to do that, but what if I could ask someone in a different time zone in Europe, say, to work their normal shift, normal working day and that translates to 4 am to noon in New Jersey. You can fill those less desirable shifts much more easily. This may avoid paying overtime. Maybe it allows you to run a facility 24/7. This only extends your opening hours. Work three full shifts with people who only work regular nine to five hours or wherever they are. It’s really interesting. We talked during the pandemic, everyone who could work from home for at least some of the time, which tended to be white-collar jobs, office workers who had that luxury. With this technology, we are suddenly seeing blue collar workers on site in warehouses potentially being offered this opportunity. You democratize the workforce. You say, yes, this job, for which traditionally you had to be on site, maybe you don’t need to be on site anymore and maybe it opens the door to more people who might be willing to do it from a remote location. It’s really fascinating. NFI says its goal isn’t actually to replace workers, the goal is to add capacity with remote work as a possibility. They wanted to deploy 1,500 of these remote forklifts over the next three to five years in the United States and Canada. They are pretty serious about it. I like it, I think it’s an interesting thing, it’s an interesting development. We see, I think, a reaction with technology like this to the labor shortage, because we have a labor shortage, what do we do with the supply chain issues. Part of it is you can’t get people to work and at the warehouse they don’t have enough staff to meet the demand there. What if we could automate that, and if we could make it a remote opportunity, would that help solve our labor problem? It’s not like we want to cut jobs, like we can’t fill the jobs, what do we do? Technology is the answer to that or a response to that. I think when I look at this I’m struck by the fact that it shows that the industrial space is much more high-tech than you might think. We don’t often think about it in this area in warehouses, but there’s a lot going on, isn’t there?

John Bromels has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Toby Bordelon has no position in the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.