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Columbia’s Greg Breckley Talks Autonomous Vehicles

Melanie Stone |

We recently sat down with Greg Breckley, Director of Business Development at Columbia Vehicle Group. Cyngn’s partnership with Columbia began last year, enabling customers to become early adopters of autonomous industrial vehicles. Since then, we have begun the production of a fleet of autonomous Columbia Stockahsers powered by Cyngn’s Enterprise Autonomy Suite. Learn more about why Columbia is excited about this partnership and what’s to come in this short Q&A.

Q. What does your company build and who do you serve?

A: Columbia vehicle group builds horizontal material handling solutions. We make handling solutions, utility vehicle goals, and small task-oriented vehicles for campus environments, warehousing, and distribution. Our customers are varied. We sell through distribution through a large network of dealers, but we also sell direct. Our direct customers include Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot distribution facilities — all the way down to small, mom-and-pop third-party logistics (3PL) companies that are located in the middle of nowhere. 

Q. Your customers are diverse, ranging multiple spaces from government to universities. While our partnership targets industrial, what are some of the challenges that you’re seeing across the industries you serve?

A: The main challenges that our customers face are related to the pandemic: supply chain issues, part shortages, truck and over the road shortages, and labor shortages. Our customers are also facing the challenge of training, keeping, and retaining employees.

Q. The Columbia Stockchaser is the first of your vehicles that this partnership focused on. Can you tell us about this vehicle?

A: Our Columbia Stockchaser is a narrow aisle burden carrier and its primary job is to move heavy loads in tight environments. It is a highly maneuverable vehicle that can fit in narrow aisles and carry heavy loads up to 6,000 lbs. It is used primarily by 3PL companies in their warehousing and manufacturing facilities to move goods. 

Q. How did the Cyngn-Columbia partnership arise? 

A: Due to the challenges previously outlined, Columbia realized that our customers were looking for additional solutions that we currently couldn't offer and that autonomous vehicles were integral to our future success. We recognized that we didn't have the toolset in-house to build it, so we knew we needed to find a partner.

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We began looking for one that could provide autonomous solutions and Cyngn was at the top of our list. We sat through an interview process and selected Cyngn from a number of different robotics companies we interviewed.

I think some of the things that make it so wonderful for us to work with Cyngn are that we're a relationships-driven company, and finding another company that's full of real people has been great.

Q. What makes you excited about working with Cyngn and about providing autonomous vehicle technology to your customers?

A: For our customers, Cyngn means we can solve problems we’ve never been able to solve with the Stockchaser. Autonomous vehicles really unlock the opportunity for us to address labor challenges that we have never been able to address. Prior to autonomy, every phase of pick and pack needed an employee, both picking on the shelves, transporting horizontal material handling, and unloading at the other end. With autonomy, we no longer need the employee in the middle. Employees can stay focused on picking and packing parts, where they make a 3PL the most money. Our dealers, our channel partners, our end-user customers, and our sales team are excited about this solution. They want to know more, our customers want to know more, and we're anxious to give it to them. 

Additionally, the speed of deployment has been phenomenal. Going from not having an autonomous solution to having almost instantly has really let us see that the horizon isn't as far away as we thought it was. 

Q. What does the future look like for the Cyngn - Columbia partnership? What are you excited about?

A: Over the next few months, Columbia and Cyngn will start the deployment of beta vehicles to test sites. We’re excited to see what a full integration for autonomous vehicles looks like on our line here in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. Looking beyond 2022, we're excited to get beyond beta deployments and see our customers show us what the product can do, unlock additional opportunities to deploy new technologies and integrate fully into our built-to-order schema.

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