Transforming Forklifts with Cloud Robotics: Our Investment in Third Wave

Jim Adler
Jim Adler
Jun 23, 2020 · 3 min read

At Toyota AI Ventures, we believe that robotic technologies can transform our lives for the better, whether through mobility, consumer robots, or industrial automation. That’s why we’re excited to announce our investment in Third Wave’s Series A round. Based in Union City, California, Third Wave uses computer vision, robotics, and machine learning technology to make forklifts autonomous — transforming material handling in warehouses. When forklifts can be operated more efficiently, warehouse operations are safer, resulting in higher throughput. Third Wave is emerging from stealth mode, and we look forward to seeing its growth.

We know the founding team better than most because the CEO, Arshan Poursohi, and the chief robotics officer, Mac Mason, previously worked at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). They contributed to TRI’s efforts in cloud robotics and SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping). In 2018, they left TRI and joined forces with CTO James Davidson, who used to work with them at Google. They’ve put together an impressively experienced team that also shares their passion for impactful engineering.

By applying machine learning, computer vision, and robotic material handling to forklifts, Third Wave aims to improve highly trafficked warehouse environments. Because warehouse environments are so variable, the key to Third Wave’s sales traction is resiliency. Third Wave’s solution adapts to changing floor configurations, varying payloads, and vehicle navigation specific to each site. Also, its ability to identify a problem, determine a correction, and confirm any doubts with the operator. The system learns from every such interaction and can apply it to future situations. The result is shared autonomy, where the robotics technology is collaborating with the operator. Third Wave sees this process as multiplying human potential to produce the optimal result.

The global market for forklifts exceeded $50B in 2019 and is expected to grow significantly in the years to come — additionally fueled by the dramatic expansion of e-commerce. The impact of COVID-19 will continue to drive e-commerce as supply chains are diversified, and additional distribution centers are built to handle the increased volume. With the forklift being such an essential tool, we see tremendous potential for adoption of new technologies that make it more productive — and most importantly, make usage safer. Forklifts are quite challenging to operate manually and tend to be used in crowded spaces, leading to nearly 100,000 people being injured or killed every year in forklift accidents. These numbers can be significantly improved, and Third Wave is showing all of us a way forward.

We embrace a world where technology amplifies the human experience, and Third Wave is aiming to do just that. We join lead investor Innovation Endeavors, Eclipse Ventures, Homebrew VC, and Heartland VC in Third Wave’s $15M Series A round, and we’re looking forward to seeing Third Wave scale. Third Wave is actively working with warehouse operators and is rapidly recruiting as it looks to expand its robotics teams, so learn more by visiting the Third Wave website, and explore job opportunities through the Toyota AI Ventures Talent network.

Toyota AI Ventures

The future doesn’t invent itself. It’s forged by innovators.

Toyota AI Ventures

Toyota AI Ventures is a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm that invests in early-stage startups in the areas of artificial intelligence, cloud, data, autonomy, mobility, and robotics.

Jim Adler

Written by

Jim Adler

entrepreneur · investor · executive · data geek · privacy thinker · former rocket engineer · on twitter @jim_adler

Toyota AI Ventures

Toyota AI Ventures is a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm that invests in early-stage startups in the areas of artificial intelligence, cloud, data, autonomy, mobility, and robotics.

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