Third Wave Automation, which provides high-reach autonomous forklifts, yesterday announced that it has received strategic investment from Qualcomm Ventures and Zebra Technologies. The Union City, Calif.-based company said the latest, unspecified funding brings its total financing to $70 million.
Third Wave Automation (TWA) said the investment will enable it to accelerate innovation as its first product expands its select pilot program. It also plans to develop systems to automate other classes of forklifts, including narrow-aisle and counterbalance trucks.
“With the strategic investment from Qualcomm Ventures and Zebra Technologies, we look forward to scaling production of our fork trucks, deploying them with new customers in a wide variety of sites, continuing to innovate with new applications and additional materials handling vehicles, and perfecting our fleet management,” said Arshan Poursohi, co-founder and CEO of TWA.
TWA Reach offers four deployment modalities
Founded in 2018, Third Wave Automation said it “brings people and automated systems together to improve throughput, efficiency and safety beyond what people or automation could achieve alone.” The company said it uses intelligent automation to allieviate increasing supply chain stress.
TWA Reach is an automated reach truck that can operate in aisles up to 10 ft. (3 m) wide and 366 in. (929.6 cm) high in base configurations. It supports four modalities – fully autonomous, remote operation, remote-assist, and traditional manual operation. The company claimed that TWA Reach is the only automated forklift on the market today that offers all of these modalities.
Third Wave Automation also said it will integrate with automation, such as that of Fetch Robotics, which Zebra Technologies acquired in 2021. Zebra provides scanners, software, and services to digitize and automate workflows. It also acquired Adaptive Vision, antuit.ai, and Matrox Imaging.
“As our supply chain customers continue to battle labor shortages, they are turning to automation solutions to improve productivity,” said Tony Palcheck, managing director of Zebra Ventures at Zebra Technologies. “TWA's autonomous, high-reach fork trucks streamline warehouse workflows, enabling operators to increase throughput and lower costs while also improving worker safety.”
Third Wave Automation applies AI in autonomy
The TWA Reach lift trucks use TWA's collaborative autonomy platform. It incorporates AI and machine learning for remote operation, fleet management, and continuous learning capabilities to improve materials handling over time, said the company.
Third Wave Automation said TWA Reach and its software can easily integrate into existing workflows without the costly infrastructure changes commonly required by traditional automation. In addition, the company said its fleet management system provides the visibility and tools needed to effectively respond to edge cases in a timely and effective way.
“The increasing adoption of advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, and 5G connectivity is facilitating the use of autonomous solutions within the warehouse,” said Carlos Kokron, vice president at Qualcomm Technologies Inc. and managing director of Qualcomm Ventures Americas.
“Third Wave Automation's shared-autonomy approach with continuous learning capabilities delivers immediate value to the customers by easily integrating with existing workflows while enhancing labor productivity and safety,” he added. “We are excited to invest in Third Wave Automation to bring next-generation autonomy to the forklifts.”
Founded in 2000, Qualcomm Ventures is the venture capital arm of Qualcomm Inc. and is based in San Diego, Calif., with satellite offices around the world. The fund has more than 150 active portfolio companies and more than 20 exits over $1 billion, including 99 Taxis, Cruise Automation, Fitbit, Invensense, NQ Mobile, and Waze.
Expanding Pilots and ProMat
In pilot deployments, TWA Reach has helped users meet their daily quota of throughput in inbound putaway, replenishment, and outbound workflows, according to Third Wave Automation.
“After successfully deploying our solution with key pilot customers, we are excited to expand the TWA Reach pilot program,” said Poursohi. “This enables us to explore additional automation workflows and continue deploying flexible forklift automation technology.”
Third Wave Automation plans to demonstrate TWA Reach in Booth N6151 at ProMat 2023, which will be from March 20 to 23 in Chicago. The company will also participate in sessions on adopting automation and what's now possible in supply chain robotics. The sessions will include one of its first major third-party logistics (3PL) customers.