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Keep on truckin’: 5 companies disrupting the road freight industry

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So Uber officially launched its not-so-secret trucking business, Uber Freight, on Thursday, as the Silicon Valley tech titan looks to infiltrate another lucrative industry: long-distance road freight.

Uber first announced the service back in September, but the program had remained in stealth mode ever since. In a nutshell, Uber Freight wants to do for the trucking and logistics industries what Uber has been doing for the personal mobility sphere for years — match supply with demand. More specifically, it wants to connect trucking companies with loads that need to be hauled, minimizing the amount of time trucks travel empty after delivering their load.

“We take the guesswork out of finding and booking freight, which is often the most stressful part of a driver’s day,” explained Uber Freight product manager Eric Berdinis. “What used to take several hours and multiple phone calls can now be achieved with the touch of a button.”

For Uber, the move makes total sense. At its core, Uber isn’t a simple online taxi service — it’s a transport network and marketplace that bridges distances to connect buyers with sellers. This is why the company has already branched out into food delivery and dabbled in other forms of product deliveries.

But the trucking industry is being disrupted from multiple angles and perspectives, with Uber merely the latest player to enter the fray.

In fact, there has been a flurry of activity across the tech-truck realm in 2017. Here, we take a look at five other emerging trucking startups, each looking to claim their slice of the lucrative freight delivery pie, whose annual worth is more than $700 billion in the U.S. alone — a figure that stretches into the trillions globally.

Peloton

Founded out of Mountain View, California in 2011, Peloton Technology is developing a platform designed to help improve safety, fuel consumption, and operational efficiency in truck platooning.

With Peloton’s technology integrated into every truck in a fleet, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications is used to enable each truck to automatically react to the actions of the vehicle in front of it. This allows the trucks to operate more safely as part of a closer pack, which helps lower fuel consumption and reduce emissions.

The company is working with a number of truck manufacturers, including Volvo, which participated in Peloton’s recent $60 million funding round.

Embark

Founded out of San Mateo in 2016, Embark officially unveiled its self-driving truck technology a few months back, after a period operating in stealth.

The company has developed a highway autopilot system that powers autonomous trucks. As with similar technologies powering the fast-emerging self-driving vehicle industry, Embark uses sensors, radars, and cameras to understand its environment and avoid collisions, and it improves over time.

Embark plans to launch 100 percent self-driving trucks onto roads, specifically targeting long stretches of highway that connect cities and towns and that are largely free of cyclists and congestion. It’s partly about helping alleviate truckers’ fatigue and boredom, and it will let them carry out other tasks while on the road. When the truck enters a city boundary, the driver regains control of the vehicle.

KeepTruckin

 

Founded out of San Francisco in 2013, KeepTruckin sets trucking companies up with hardware and software that lets drivers keep digital logs of hours driven.

With the physical KeepTruckin device attached to the truck, drivers can track their hours through a smartphone app. It also lets trucking companies see where their fleet is in real time.

KeepTruckin announced an $18 million funding round this week, with some notable investors on board, including Alphabet’s investment arm GV (formerly Google Ventures).

Einride

It’s still early days for Einride, but last month the Swedish startup lifted the lid on T-pod, an autonomous electric truck that can also be controlled remotely.

The company’s goal is to have a fleet of 200 T-pods running in Sweden by 2020, with plans to launch its first route between the Swedish cities of Gothenburg and Helsingborg. According to Einride, the initial system will transport more than two million pallets each year, with each 23-feet pod able to hold 15 “standard” pallets for a total weight of 20 tons.

Similar to Embark, T-pod adopts a hybrid approach to driverless technology. On highways, the trucks are capable of total autonomy, though remote drivers are on hand to take over should the situation require it. And when the vehicles exit onto city roads, Einride’s trucks switch to full remote control.

Each T-pod can travel 124 miles on one charge, and Einride is also currently developing charging stations for the vehicles.

OnTruck

Last week, OnTruck, a Spain-based on-demand platform that connects businesses with road freight companies, announced a $10 million round of funding led by Atomico, the investment firm set up by Skype cofounder Niklas Zennström.

Founded out of Madrid in 2016, Ontruck offers an on-demand platform that’s a little similar to Uber Freight, in that it’s all about connecting freight delivery networks with shipments. We actually called it the “Uber for trucking and logistics” when we covered OnTruck’s funding round last week — before Uber launched its own freight delivery business.

Other initiatives

The companies above highlight ways companies are leveraging technology to optimize the global trucking and freight industry.

There are countless other players operating in the space, with many focused on select regions, including U.S.-based Transfix and Trucker Path, France’s Convargo and Chronotruck, Brazil’s Cargox, and iCanDeliver from the Netherlands.

Elsewhere, automotive giant Volvo is testing some interesting technologies around trucks and automation. Earlier this week, it unveiled an autonomous garbage collection truck, which is currently being trialed in Sweden. This follows a similar experiment Volvo announced last year that used trucks in underground mines.

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