Autonomous vehicle technology may no longer be the fuel that powers the hype machine. But companies applying the technology to agricultural, commercial and logistics applications are still attracting venture capital.
Take Outrider, for example, a startup in Golden, Colorado developing autonomous electric trucks.
Distribution yards are the nerve center of the supply chain. This is where all those goods (such as those ordered from Amazon and other e-commerce companies) make the transition from long haul trucks to warehouses and eventually to the consumer. Workers today use diesel-powered yard trucks to move trailers filled with goods around the yard, as well as to and from loading docks.
Outrider has developed an autonomous system that includes an electric off-road vehicle, software for managing the work and infrastructure of the site. While people may still be needed at the distribution yard, the autonomous system does most of the work, such as connecting and disconnecting trailers, connecting and disconnecting trailer brake lines, and monitoring trailer locations.
The revenue potential of this system – there are about 400,000 distribution yards in the US alone – has caught the attention of a number of investors. Outrider recently closed a $73 million Series C round led by FM Capital, attracting new investors Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and NVIDIA’s venture capital group NVentures. New investors B37 Ventures, Lineage Ventures, Presidio Ventures, the venture arm of Sumitomo Corporation and ROBO Global Ventures also joined, along with existing backers Koch Disruptive Technologies and New Enterprise Associates.
Outrider has raised $191 million since its inception in 2017 under the Azevtec name.
The company has made some progress since its last raise in fall 2020. Outrider founder and CEO Andrew Smith told TechCrunch that the yard trucks have new hardware designed to handle harsh environments, including robotic arms. Outrider has 20 autonomous systems up and running with customers and its testing facility as the company finalizes the system’s final capabilities and proprietary safety mechanisms, Smith said.
These final adjustments to the system will be completed in 2023, he added. From there, the focus will be on launching commercial operations with its customers, including Georgia Pacific and other unnamed companies that have invested in joint product testing and pilot operations since 2019. Smith said Outrider customers represent more than 20% of all construction trucks sold in North America.
The new funds will be used to hire in the US and internationally (beyond the 175-person workforce) and move from testing and validation to large-scale commercial operations, Smith said.
“It’s one thing to make a vehicle drive autonomously, it’s quite another to create a truly industrial system that can operate in a harsh environment for several years, 20 to 24 hours a day, 365 days a week. years,” said Smith. The production of the system and the implementation of these latest capabilities will enable us to scale up to thousands of systems running on Outrider software in the coming years.”