Feb 17, 2023

Portfolio Watch: Third Wave Automation

Senior Investment Manager at Qualcomm Ventures

Augury co-founders


Supply chains of the future will be autonomous and automated. 

Advances in robotics technologies, economic challenges and the pandemic effect have accelerated the need for organizations to incorporate autonomous solutions to help build more resilient, safe, efficient, and sustainable supply chains. We at Qualcomm Ventures think autonomous vehicles that are intelligently connected will be the way of the future.  And while on-the-road autonomy is a few years out, semi-structured environments such as industrial warehouses are well positioned for near-term autonomy. 

Industrial warehouses are dynamic in nature yet present an ideal, constrained environment for autonomous solutions. Historically, warehouses were designed with a flat layout, were operated manually, and had poor data accuracy, all of which contributed to lower productivity. The adoption of advanced robotics, AI/ML, sensors and 5G connectivity solutions will enable warehouses in the future to become automated, space optimized, more efficient, and safer. 

Forklifts are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment and a critical part of any operational warehouse. When you place an online order or purchase an item from your local store, it’s likely that forklifts played a mission-critical role in getting you that item while moving goods and materials in warehouses. There are approximately over 1 million forklifts in commercial use in the US today. Demand for forklift operators is quickly outstripping supply given the difficult nature of the job.  In addition, rapidly rising labor costs is accelerating the need for autonomous forklift solutions across the industry.

Which is why we’re excited to announce that we have invested in Third Wave Automation alongside our friends at Eclipse, Innovation Endeavors, Norwest Venture Partners, Zebra Ventures and Toyota AI Ventures. We are strong believers in Arshan Poursohi, co-founder and CEO, and the rest of the team and their mission to bring next-gen autonomy to the forklifts. 

Third Wave Automation was founded to alleviate increasing supply chain stress using intelligent automation products and services.  They are focused on the reach truck market within the forklift space – reach trucks are designed for handling unit loads with a rack interface and are most functional in warehouses with narrow aisles. Layouts with high racks and narrow aisles are a rapidly growing trend given their space optimizing nature. 

Third Wave employs a distinctive shared autonomy strategy that fuses cutting-edge autonomous capabilities with sophisticated fleet management and remote support to handle exceptions in real-time. Because their solution can easily work with an operation’s existing team and interact with existing workflows, adoption tends to happen more quickly. The system gradually self-learns from these exceptions, lowering the requirement for remote support and bringing operations closer to being completely autonomous. With a continuously improving system, the efficiency can continue to improve, enabling one human operator to manage up to 10 forklifts at one time.

This investment is well aligned with Qualcomm’s vision for the connected intelligent edge and Third Wave is well positioned to leverage Qualcomm’s technologies, including the Qualcomm® Robotics RB5 Platform––the world’s first 5G and AI-enabled robotics platform facilitating accelerated development of innovative, power-efficient, high computing robots and drones. 

Third Wave’s solution presents a generational opportunity to transform supply chains and is a key reason Qualcomm Ventures is delighted to invest and directly support their growth while having a front row seat in this journey.