Outrider, a startup tech company formerly known as Azevtec, rose to prominence this month with its announcement of having raised $53 million for its autonomous trucking yard operations system.
The funding will work toward aiding both warehouses and logistic hubs with their outdoor vehicle operations, while also helping distribution yards to move freight-heavy semi-trailers efficiently between warehouses and public roads. Currently, methods around yard operations are hazardous, the company said.
“While there’s been lots of automation in other aspects of the supply chain, what happens in yard operations is almost entirely manual and inefficient,” said CEO and founder of Outrider, Andrew Smith. “This means there is congestion when over-the-road trucks are coming to drop off trailers or containers into a yard. There are misplaced trailers that can cause all sorts of issues within the supply chain. Equipment gets damaged. So, we are laser-focused on autonomous yard operations and the movement of that freight.”
The new funding came through Series A financing–a series of investments for private startups showing potential and progress in their efforts.
“The important thing to understand about our system is that we don’t just automate the truck,” Smith continued. “We automate the entire yard. What this means is, we think about what are those components that come together that allow one person to dramatically increase the safety and productivity of the yard, as opposed to having lots of people running around doing those things.”
Right now, with around 50,000 yard trucks across the nation handling freight container and trailer transfer from warehouses or distribution center trucks, Outrider aims at automating these yard trucks through a new electric vehicle equipped with Level 4 autonomy features. This goal will potentially improve overall safety within distribution center yards.
Outrider is looking to automate processes such as:
-Moving trailers around yards
-Transporting trailers to and from loading docs
-Hitching and unhitching trailers
-Connecting and disconnecting brake lines
-Monitoring trailer locations
This new system will work to “deliver yards that are more efficient, safer, and more sustainable,” the company said.
According to Smith, the system is comprised of three components. First, a web-based interface that lets customers use a dashboard to move vehicles throughout the yard; second, a modular site infrastructure allowing vehicles to maneuver easily around workers; and third, using software, robotics, and sensors on a base electric truck platform to automate the vehicles.
The software is easily able to be integrated with current warehouses and yard management systems, he explained further.
As many other trucking industry companies work to automate warehouse operations and over-the-road trucks, Outrider said it has found the opportunity to bring more automation to the logistics yard, which is connecting factor between those processes.
“Yards are dangerous environments–essentially, anywhere you have people interacting with 80,000-pound pieces of equipment, operating in all weather conditions during all hours of the day [is dangerous],” said Smith. “Unfortunately, yard accidents are quite frequent, so safety is core to everything we do.”
To reduce equipment damage and accidents as trailers move throughout fast-past work environments, Outrider is developing new yard safety cases with customers and outside experts.
With Outrider, “people inside the warehouse can communicate safely with the autonomous truck to limit how those vehicles get pulled away from the warehouse doors,” Smith said about one of the most common and hazardous activities in a yard. Outrider’s system also automates how drivers connect and disconnect air lines on a trailer, which they typically have to do manually.
The company, based out of Golden, Colorado, has impressed investors with its 75 employees, 50 of whom focus exclusively on distribution yard automation.
“We consider hundreds of investment opportunities in the logistics space every year,” said 8VC founding partner, Jake Medwell. “Our decision to be an early investor in Outrider was an easy one. Andrew’s vision and plan for the industry are highly compelling, and he’s mobilized an unmatched team to execute.”
As automated technology has industry workers hoping for large economic wins, it still brings worry regarding displaced workers. Conversely, Smith said Outrider is designed to allow workers more time for more important tasks.
“We, as a company, are focused on thinking about what is the responsible deployment of autonomous technology,” he said. “For all the cases we are working on with our customers, there is little-to-no direct job loss for the employment of these systems. Yard truck driving is a repetitive and hazardous task where you see high levels of turnover.”