Outrider Inc. founder and CEO Andrew Smith is the very definition of deliberate. Each robotic advance his company has made to a dangerous or dirty job in a distribution yard builds on another. Since raising $73 million in a Series C round in January, he’s been growing his team.
“While a lot of folks were pulling back on developing their teams, we’ve continued to build out Outrider’s leadership position in both safety technology and deep learning, or AI, for industrial systems,” Smith told me this week. “We’ve built up a team now in 10 countries that is supporting the technology as we roll out next year.”
Founded in 2017, privately held Outrider now has 194 employees, up from 134 last year.
With a healthy head start, Smith’s company has few competitors. But that may be changing.
Munich-based Fernride recently added $19 million to its Series A funding round, bringing the total to $50 million. Its business description — advancing the transition toward automated and sustainable logistics by creating the world’s leading human-machine collaboration technology — sounds a lot like Brighton, Colorado-based Outrider.
Others, like Sweden-based Einride, use teleoperations to move vehicles in distribution yards. But that is only one aspect of Einride’s overall business.
“As with any good market, once you start creating it and defining it, there’s always going to be competition that’s going to come in. We like to call it ‘Good ideas get imitated,’” Smith said.
Far from being flattered, Smith is somewhat dismissive.
“Teleoperations are really an interesting technology for applications you can’t automate,” he said. “When we get into edge-case scenarios, we have remote support of the system. We can have someone say, ‘Hey, this system’s been blocked,’ and give the robot a couple of options of what to do. But we never have somebody behind the steering wheel trying to drive the vehicle.”
“When you’re manufacturing, if you’re looking at sorting packages or manufacturing a car, you’re not looking to have someone teleoperate each robot arm doing those repetitive tasks,” Smith said. “Our system’s about 20 times more cost-effective than having a human oversee a couple vehicles doing those hard tasks.”
From July 2022 through April this year, Outrider revealed three autonomy advances that completed its system from the gate where a drop-and-hook operation occurs to the hooking and unhooking of cables and driverless “yard dogs” moving trailers within the yard.
Its next-generation autonomy kit revealed in July includes the Nvidia Drive autonomous vehicle platform for perception system processing; high-resolution lidar sensors from Ouster for perception; and an industrial robotic arm from Yaskawa for connecting and disconnecting trailer lines.
In December, Outrider announced TrailerConnect, a patented technology that uses a robot arm to sense what brake and electric lines from yard tractors to and from semi-trailers and chassis are needed. The work is done without human involvement.
Then in April, Outrider added computer vision and deep learning to track wayward semi-trailers. The patent-pending technology provides real-time tracking of trailers and containers in yards, including trailers missing radio frequency identification tags.
“It starts with AI and machine learning is a branch,” Smith said. “What we really focused on is deep learning. And so this is teaching models with data from our applications with customers to deal with the variety that takes place in these sites.”
Training robots with deep learning
“We use AI to allow the robot to come to a trailer, which to you and I is just a trailer. But to a robotic system, until you have that deep learning, you’re not sure exactly what you’re grabbing onto. So you’re training it to interpret those images and then be able to connect to and maneuver that trailer around.”
The superiority to teleoperations comes through building redundant safety systems into the robot and its environment, Smith said. Humans tend to make late decisions or not be fully aware of what’s happening.
Trained robots are cooperative robots, too.
“We have redundant safety mechanisms that are never allowing the [robotic vehicles] to do certain things, such as hitting something or moving outside of an operating area or operating the robotic arm in a way that would be hazardous when a person is nearby,” he said.
So, who are Outrider’s customers?
We know paper productions provider Georgia-Pacific is using the Outrider system in the Chicago area. Other customer names are a mystery.
“We’ve mentioned the verticals — package shipping, retail, e-commerce, intermodal rail, consumer packaged goods — but we have not announced these customers yet,” Smith said. “We are launching commercial machines next year, so I do expect to have some of these names come out publicly.”
Outrider’s recent global hires are assisting with the North American expansion planned in 2024 and 2025. Engineers in Germany and the Netherlands work on code, which is running in Outrider’s test facility in Colorado the next day. After it’s validated, it can be uploaded to distribution centers where beta vehicles operate.
“As we get into ’26 and beyond, we’re already talking to multiple international partners about bringing Outrider software to these international locations,” Smith said.
Kodiak and Maersk open Houston-Oklahoma City autonomous trucking route
Kodiak Robotics and A.P Moeller-Maersk are expanding their autonomous trucking collaboration to open a safety driver-supervised route between Houston and Oklahoma City.
Mountain View, California-based Kodiak has experience in making driver-supervised autonomous runs to Oklahoma. It previously moved loads for Ceva Logistics on a 200-mile stretch of Interstate 35 between Dallas-Fort Worth and Oklahoma City.
Kodiak began making autonomous freight deliveries — eight loads per week — for global shipping giant Maersk in November 2022 as part of the Maersk Global Innovation Center Program.
“Teaming with Kodiak enables Maersk to stay at the forefront of innovative solutions,”Erez Agmoni, Maersk global head of innovation – logistics and services, said in a news release. “Autonomous trucks will play an instrumental role in digitizing the supply chain.
Kodiak and Maersk are completing four round trips per week on a 24-hour-a-day, four-day-a-week basis between a Houston facility, where consumer products are loaded onto 53-foot trailers, to a distribution center in Oklahoma City.
“We expect self-driving trucks to ultimately become a competitive advantage for Maersk as we execute on our strategy to provide customers with a sustainable, end-to-end logistics solution across air, land, and sea,” Agmoni said.
Maersk also has a partnership with Swedish electric truck and charging-as-a-service startup Einride. The company is deploying 300 Einride electric trucks, starting with Class 8 8TT Gen 3 models manufactured by BYD. Maersk Growth invested in Einride in 2021.
Bulldog Namesake Mack Truck goes on the road
We traced the color history of the Mack Bulldog a few years ago. But where did the inspiration come from? For that, you have to go back more than a century. The AC model, a heavy cargo truck, was used extensively during World War I by British and American forces.
British forces nicknamed the AC “Bulldog.” Mack ultimately adopted it as its corporate symbol.
A 1927 AC model is on loan from the Mack Trucks Historical Museum in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It will be featured in the Mack Defense display at the Association of U.S. Army annual meeting and exposition beginning Sunday in Washington.
Daimler Truck North America once all but wrote off natural gas trucks. Now it will offer Cummins new 15-liter X15N natural gas model in a Cascadia model.
Hyzon Motors could be hedging a bit on fuel cell trucks by adding stationary fuel cells to its product portfolio. It amended its intellectual property agreement with Singapore-based Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, from which Hyzon was created in 2020.
After being out of the captive financial services business for its trucks and buses, Navistar Financial Services is being relaunched as part of parent Traton Financial Services.
Rush Enterprises will sell and service the Shyft Group’s Class 3-5 Blue Arc electric vehicles at its Rush Truck Centers.
Cummins Emissions Solutions has closed a $208 million acquisition of two Faurecia commercial vehicle manufacturing plants in Columbus, Indiana, and Roermond, Netherlands.
Cox Automotive will use its nationwide network of EV-trained service technicians to support customers operating fleets of BYD Class 6 and Class 8 electric trucks.
Volvo Trucks is launching a service in Sweden that lets haulers find and access charging stations. Other European and global markets would follow.
Watch now: Episode 35 – Volvo helps startups help its business
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading (and watching). Click here to get Truck Tech via email on Fridays. And catch the latest in major events and hear from the top players on Truck Tech, airing live at its new time — 3 p.m. Wednesdays on the FreightWaves YouTube channel.