T-Hive is a fitting name for a new unit of Toyota Industries Corporation (TICO), established in Ede, the Netherlands in April 2021. Like a busy and highly collaborative beehive, the company “swarms” together technology and software developers from around the world to provide seamless control systems for the company’s autonomous vehicles (AVs), such as automated guided forklifts, automated guided vehicles and autonomous mobile robots.
T-Hive combines software products, partnerships and innovations from TICO’s main brands. Those include Toyota L&F, Toyota Material Handling (USA), Toyota Material Handling Europe, Raymond, Bastian and Vanderlande. The company’s goal is to coordinate all developments centrally, leverage existing solutions for new market segments and accelerate innovations globally to support TICO’s customer-facing companies.
“Material handling is often different in different segments and different parts of the world,” explained Leon Jansen, managing director and CEO of T-Hive. “Technology may be different, but the challenges are similar…how to optimize performance, how to achieve good human-machine interaction, how to minimize training and startup time. Those are some of the challenges that our software product development is aimed at solving.”
The Netherlands provides perfect middle ground
TICO had initiated collaborations in the past to address these issues, but a crucial element was a business entity driving the collaboration so there was more alignment and more cross-pollination, according to Mr. Jansen. “The effort had to be fast, agile and innovative, and we thought the Netherlands was the perfect middle ground to set up T-Hive,” he recalled. “We wanted a mindset between overly cautious and moving too quickly. Dutch people are very open-minded for innovation.”
The Japan office of the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA) originally approached TICO to ask how it could help with the new entity. In addition to providing advice about how to set up the company in Ede, NFIA also helped “kickstart our development” with support for innovative companies like T-Hive. In addition, the company tapped into a R&D governmental subsidy with a consortium of KLM, TNO and University of Amsterdam to advance autonomous driving in airport baggage handling areas.
One of NFIA’s Invest in Holland Network partners, the East Netherlands Development Agency (Oost NL), also provided critical assistance in the early days. “We were looking for a software developer who could speak both Japanese and English,” recalled Mr. Jansen. “Oost NL connected us to someone who was deeply embedded in the Japanese culture in the Netherlands, and we were able to even hire 2 skilled engineers. We were grateful for their help.”
Oost NL also introduced T-Hive to universities in Twente that are studying how to embed artificial intelligence (AI) in AVs. “This could provide an opportunity for training for our employees in the future,” Mr. Jansen observed.
Western Europe provides global access
Although T-Hive operates completely virtually to bring together the best software developers from around the world, the Netherlands’ location in Western Europe also provided a strategic location to service its global customer base. “Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam makes it really easy to get to other parts of Asia and Europe, the U.S., and even South America,” T-Hive’s CEO said.
Conversely, it’s also easy for T-Hive to gather its employees from around world in the Netherlands for regular meetings. “For example, we recently had an employee planning event in Utrecht and most people flew into Schiphol. They hopped on a train for 30 minutes to arrive at the destination for the meeting. It was so convenient.”
T-Hive currently employs about 35 people worldwide, with approximately 30% of its workforce located in the Netherlands. “Another positive outgrowth of being headquartered in the Netherlands is that we discovered that some talents want to live here,” Mr. Jansen noted. “Because everything is in the cloud and it’s not important that our staff live in Ede, we have people from Taiwan and Australia living in Brainport Eindhoven. The city has a very international community and is close to our Vanderlande operation where we often collaborate.” He added that the company also has a Vietnamese developer living in The Hague.
“We find that our employees in the Netherlands, regardless of where they are from, like living here very much. They love our culture and our bike paths,” he continued. “The Dutch people also speak English very well and are friendly and very welcoming to people from around the world.”
The Netherlands is working toward bold sustainability goals and welcomes investment and collaboration from companies like T-Hive to accelerate automated driving technologies within the country’s automotive ecosystem. With strengths in transportation, renewable energy and artificial intelligence (AI), the Netherlands is leading the way in innovating and building smart, sustainable solutions for the future.