German self-driving startup Fernride secures $50M to boost its “human-assisted” autonomous freight trucks
German autonomous vehicle startup Fernride has secured $50 million in Series A funding to further enhance the deployment of its “human-assisted” self-driving freight trucks within customer logistics yards, the company announced on Wednesday.
Originally, the Munich-based startup had closed its funding round with $31 million, but due to substantial investor interest, it opted to extend the round, backed by current and new investors.
Among the new investors are Munich Re’s venture capital arm, Munich Re Ventures, Bavarian venture capital firm Bayern Kapital, and former Siemens executive Klaus Kleinfeld, who will assume the role of Chairman of the Board at Fernride. Additionally, existing investors, including strategic backers like HHLA and Deutsche Bahn unit DB Schenker, also participated in this funding round.
Interest in autonomous space has risen in recent months as startups set sights on revolutionizing the world of self-driving trucks, ushering in a transportation industry revolution, and bringing autonomous commercial transportation to the forefront. Earlier this month, SoftBank invested $1 billion in Stack AV, a new autonomous trucking startup founded by former Argo AI founders.
Developing fully autonomous vehicles capable of operating everywhere has proven to be a more challenging and costly endeavor than initially anticipated. However, despite some investors scaling back their investments in robotaxi and long-haul autonomous truck startups, they continue to support ventures focused on simpler self-driving solutions, particularly those operating in controlled environments away from pedestrians.
Founded in 2019 by Hendrik Kramer, Jean-Michael Georg, and Maximilian Fisser, Fernride emerged as a spin-off enterprise stemming from the distinguished research laboratory specializing in teleoperation, affiliated with the Chair of Automotive Technologies at the Technical University of Munich (TUM).
Fernride CEO Hendrik Kramer revealed that the startup is presently conducting tests with a small fleet of trucks for key clients such as Volkswagen, DB Schenker, and HHLA. These tests take place in restricted, privately owned areas, with the vehicles operating at speeds below 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) per hour.
For instance, the Hamburg port operator HHLA employs autonomous vehicles at the port to transport containers, while Volkswagen uses them to transport semi-finished goods within its manufacturing facilities.
At present, Fernride’s trucks operate autonomously around 80% of the time, with remote human operators stepping in to assist during the remaining 20%.
In a statement, Kramer said: “Our hypothesis that you shouldn’t pursue full autonomy, but a very high level of autonomy is very good … and requires a human in the loop.”
As technology continues to advance, Fernride anticipates that its trucks will progressively operate autonomously for longer durations, and its clients will eventually explore additional use cases beyond yard operations.