When warehouses want to know what's inside a sealed box or package, they usually scan external markings like bar codes or radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and hope that the labels are accurate.
A startup company from Seattle says it has a better way to do the job, and it has raised $6.4 million in seed funding for technology that can "see" inside the box, providing what the company calls "X-ray vision" for supply chain and logistics applications.
The company, ThruWave, says its three-dimensional (3D) "millimeter wave" imaging system enables warehouse and fulfillment center operators to see through packaging to look at the items inside. But unlike existing X-ray inspection systems, ThruWave's sensors use human-safe millimeter waves to enable safe operation alongside workers in busy fulfillment centers, the company says.
The ThruWave technology also features an "analytics layer" that automatically interprets images to measure cube utilization, count items, and detect anomalies like missing or damaged items, all at "conveyor speed," the startup says. It reports that the system can automatically image and analyze up to 20,000 boxes per hour.
"ThruWave's groundbreaking millimeter-wave technology addresses major pain points in both automated and manual material handling operations," said Calvin Chin, managing partner of E14 Fund, one of the firm's new investors, in a release. "Industrywide, it is estimated that a typical e-commerce shipment is only 40% full, leading to tremendous waste in packaging material [and inflated shipping costs]. ThruWave's unique sensors and software enable customers to regain control over their shipping [expenses] and environmental impact."