A freight startup with technology supporting autonomous yard operations for logistics hubs has landed $53 million in venture funding and deployed initial pilots of its system, the firm said today.
Golden, Colorado-based Outrider has been operating in "stealth mode" for two years as it honed its technology, which it says will make freight yards more efficient, safer, and more sustainable.
Previously known as Azevtec, the firm now has now gone public, thanks to a seed round of funding from NEA and a "series A" round from 8VC. Additional backing comes from Koch Disruptive Technologies, Fraser McCombs Capital, Prologis, Schematic Ventures, Loup Ventures, and Goose Society of Texas.
Outrider's system automates the "repetitive, manual aspects of yard operations," including moving trailers around the yard, moving trailers to and from loading docks, hitching and unhitching trailers, connecting and disconnecting trailer brake lines, and monitoring trailer locations.
Specifically, Outrider says it makes technology in a three-part system including web-based management software, autonomous driving controls for electric yard trucks, and site infrastructure. The firm then layers its "autonomy kit" on top of electric "yard truck" vehicles make by third parties. And together, the entire system integrates with the existing supply chain software such as warehouse management system (WMS) and yard management system (YMS) products.
The firm is targeting its platform at intermodal hubs and warehouse yards, where millions of tons of freight annually flow from public roads to rail yards and distribution centers, Outrider Founder and CEO Andrew Smith says. "We're coming out of stealth now because we have the technology, the team, ad the capital partners to scale this into a multi-billion-dollar opportunity," Smith said. "The distribution yard is a totally unmodernized part of the supply chain."
While the technology for self-driving trucks has come a long way in recent years, it still struggles to find broad adoption across a patchwork quilt of rules and regulations between various U.S. states. However, Outrider's system is currently running in pilot programs operated by Georgia-Pacific and by four unspecified Fortune 200 companies, since freight yards generally operate by rules set by private property owners as opposed to interstate trucking laws, Smith said.
Outrider's system automates more than just the yard truck itself, but also includes the "kingpin" connection to trailers and the "airline" that controls pneumatic brakes. It also helps track the 40,000-pound trailers of inventory that can get lost in busy freight yards despite "bandaid" solutions like global positioning system (GPS) and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, he said.
"We are working with our customers to make sure there is little to no turnover in jobs after adopting our system," Smith said. "Workers can be easily repurposed to over-the-road trucking or inside-the-warehouse jobs to increase productivity while enhancing safety and ensuring that people are allocated to the highest value tasks."
Outrider's approach fits into a "Goldilocks" zone between tech problems that are too difficult to solve and those that have no competitive differentiation with rivals, the firm's funders say. "Visit any yard and you'll see a frenzied game of Tetris being played by drivers in spot trucks moving trailers back and forth between staging areas and docking bays," Aaron Jacobson, a partner at venture capital firm NEA, wrote in a blog post today.
"It should be no surprise that the highly repetitive nature of the job in harsh operating environments results in high driver turnover. Outrider solves this and other challenges by transforming yard trucks with off-the-shelf hardware and layering on autonomy software capable of advanced tasks such as: yard navigation, hazard avoidance, trailer connection, and move optimization," Jacobson said.
Introducing the first-to-market solution focused on autonomous yard operations for logistics hubs. Delivering yards that are more efficient, safer, and more sustainable. Welcome to Outrider. pic.twitter.com/mA7d3jfmem— Outrider (@OutriderTech) February 19, 2020