This article is part of the “Logistics of the Future” series looking at the best logistics startups today.
Cargo trucks have been a common sight on roads around the globe for decades. But while logistics technology has advanced drastically over the years, the trucking sector remained largely untouched until very recently. Due to its dependence on manual drivers and operations, the industry has struggled to overcome major inefficiencies: Excessive paperwork, long waits at distribution centers, running empty trucks, to name a few.
In the European trucking market, which consists of over six million trucks, one-fifth of the truck journeys took place with empty vehicles. And in America, industry experts claim that trucks in the U.S. run empty 30 to 40% of the time. This inefficiency is also contributing to major carbon emissions: A 2018 report from the International Transport Forum found that trucks account for 40% of the expected increase in oil demand to 2050 and 15% of the increase in global CO2 emissions.
In addition to these inefficiencies and environmental issues, trucking companies must also come to terms with another problem: a massive driver shortage. As more and more Baby Boomer truck drivers begin reaching the age of retirement, the industry is struggling to find their replacements. In some countries like Germany, about 10% of the trucks were idle in 2018 due to the driver shortage. The International Road Transport Union (IRU) recently released a report with some dire statistics for trucking companies around the world:
- Brazil has a shortfall of around 100,000 qualified drivers.
- Germany is expecting a shortfall of 150,000 drivers over the next 10-15 years.
- As of 2017, the UK estimated a shortage of 45,000 to 52,000 drivers, with another 35,000 likely to retire in the next two years.
- The US will need to hire one million new drivers in the next 15 years.
- Due to the recent growth of its economy, Indian transportation and logistics companies will need to find more than 17 million more workers over the next 10 years.
- South Africa has estimated a need of 15,000+ truck drivers each year.
Due to these overwhelming challenges, many startups have emerged over the past few years to address them head-on. Between developing autonomous vehicles to help fill the driver shortage gap, and attempting to eliminate empty trucks and wasted miles, ambitious startups are revolutionizing how trucking companies operate and improve efficiency. Let’s take an in-depth look at the best trucking startups which are out there.
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Smaller trucking companies and individual drivers have always had a bit of a rough time when it comes to arranging loads with retailers. The tedious process of contacting retailers or voice brokers to arrange shipments can take hours or days, and all too often, trucks simply can’t fill up all their space — ending up with partially or even fully empty trucks.
Luckily, that’s where freight automation startups like Convoy are stepping in. Convoy, recently valued at $1 billion USD, offers both carriers and shippers a free mobile app which takes out the middle-man to match truckers and shippers with loads — 100% autonomously in the app, meaning there’s no need to call retailers or voice brokers. “If you’re able to run the brokerage system more efficiently, truck drivers can get more jobs done per year,” Convoy’s CEO, Dan Lewis, told Business Insider. With investors including Jeff Bezos and Alphabet, Convoy is equipped to potentially disrupt the empty miles sector and wasted man-hours in the trucking industry.
Founders: Dan Lewis, Grant Goodale
Headquarters: Seattle, Washington, USA
Learn more about Convoy:
- “A 4-year-old trucking startup achieved a major victory in fixing one of transportation’s biggest inefficiencies — and it’s a huge win for truck drivers” – Business Insider
- “Trucking app Convoy looks to take slice of $800B freight industry” – Yahoo Finance
Now that driverless trucks are finally becoming a reality, startups are ready to embrace the tech to revolutionize road freight — and intelligent truck startup Einride is at the forefront of this movement. The young company’s main product is called the T-pod: An all-electric truck capable of SAE level 4 self-driving, built with no driver’s pod but an ability to be remotely controlled by a human operator if needed. Equipped with cameras, radar, and 3D scanners, the T-pod has 360-degree awareness of its surroundings.
Einride has also developed a similar truck strictly for logging: the T-log. This truck is an up-powered adaptation of the T-pod but designed to withstand the rigors of a demanding environment. Equipped with a 300kWh battery, it can carry a 16-tonne load and navigate forest roads. Einride’s technology was awarded the 2019 European Startup Prize for Mobility. In another big boost for the young startup, DB Schenker has launched an installation of the very first commercial-use T-pod at one of its facilities in Sweden. The T-pod will travel continuously to and from a warehouse, paving the way for a sustainable transition of road freight transportation.
Founders: Filip Lilja, Linnéa Kornehed, Robert Falck
Headquarters: Stockholm, Sweden
Learn more about Einride:
- “Logistics Startup of the Month: Einride” – Transmetrics Blog
- “Want To Make An All-Star Electric Truck? Drop the Driver” – WIRED
Deciding how to tender transport jobs to spot-priced carriers is not an easy job — which is exactly why TNX Logistics is using practical AI technologies to assist logistics providers and shippers with this process. Headquartered in Berlin with offices in Chicago and New Zealand, TNX has built smart software that takes a list of unallocated spot loads, bundles them and produces the best tendering strategy per each load.
TNX software devises a tendering strategy and constructs carrier-specific offers on its own, including when and to whom to make offers, pricing, and bundling of work — creating a catalog of tendering tactics powered by optimization and machine learning. According to the company, the software has a proven 7-12% sustainable reduction in trucking costs and is used by some of the top-10 3PLs and 4PLs in Europe and New Zealand. TNX benefits 4PLs, shippers, and brokers who are looking to save money while making their lives easier with AI-powered software.
Company: TNX Logistics
Founders: Alex Hoffmann, Jonah Mclntire, Joshua Bryan
Headquarters: Berlin, Germany
Learn more about TNX Logistics:
- “Logistics Startup of the Month: TNX Logistics” – Transmetrics Blog
- “Do more with the data: How TNX Logistics sets itself apart” – FreightWaves
Crashes and fuel use are two factors that have always plagued the trucking industry. However, platooning technology has the potential to solve these problems in a new way. Peloton is one startup focused on developing the concept of platooning for truckers: the company installs its technology directly into a company’s fleet, which can then communicate with one another directly through Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communications. By electronically coupling the trucks in this way, they accelerate and brake together and can safely operate at closer distances. Peloton also creates Intelligent Pairing through its Network Operations Cloud, which maximizes platooning opportunities by notifying drivers of potential pairings based on their location and anticipated route. The NOC can find platooning partners for drivers en route or platooning can be planned ahead of time.
This innovative V2V communication allows the rear truck to react immediately to the actions of the front truck, creating safer roads and improving fuel efficiency through its platoons. Peloton’s groundbreaking technology is not only helping trucks drive safer, but also realizing an average fuel savings of seven to 7.25 percent.
Founders: Chris Gerdes, Dave Lyons, Josh Switkes, Steve Boyd
Headquarters: San Francisco, California, USA
Learn more about Peloton:
- “Peloton’s tech lets truckers play follow the leader to boost fuel economy” – Digital Trends
- “A Cab’s-Eye View of How Peloton’s Trucks ‘Talk’ to Each Other” – WIRED
With an increasing amount of available shipment data in the trucking sector, the essential aspect is to make this data work to benefit your logistics business. And when it comes to utilizing the power of data to optimize logistics operations, the European startup Transmetrics definitely stands out among the best. Named as one of the Top 5 AI Startups for Supply Chain Management by Business Insider Intelligence, Transmetrics offers predictive optimization solutions based on artificial intelligence developed specifically for the cargo transport industry.
With its innovative predictive planning tools for Full Truck Load companies and for the Parcel/Pallet/Groupage sector, Transmetrics improves capacity utilization and reduces empty kilometers for the trucking companies. How is this done? Taking into account all customer requirements and business constraints, the software generates daily rolling AI-driven forecasts of upcoming shipment volumes on the most granular level. Then, in just a few clicks, the optimization algorithms calculate the most optimal assignment of trucks, dynamic linehaul routing, and an efficient mix of “own” vs. 3rd-party vehicles, as well as one-way vs. round-trips.
Transmetrics’ clients have already achieved significant reductions in total transport and procurement costs. For example, Speedy (part of DPDgroup) managed to achieve 7-9% total cost savings and a 14% increase in linehaul utilization. Trucking companies can receive the first benefits in just three to six months after using Transmetrics’ tools, while the solutions themselves are paid for from the optimization savings.
Founders: Asparuh Koev, Anna Shaposhnikova, Alexander Petkov, Rado Nikolov
Headquarters: Sofia, Bulgaria
Learn more about Transmetrics:
- “Transmetrics: The Startup That Helps Cargo Companies Stop Shipping Air” – Disruptor Daily
- “Speedy, a Member of DPDgroup, Reduces Its Total Costs by Over 7-9% Thanks to Transmetrics’ Predictive Analytics Tool”
A majority of trucking is done by contractors and small operators who are always looking to keep their rigs full to cover their costs. Transfix, an online freight marketplace that uses algorithms and machine learning to give full-load shippers better prices and truck owners better routes has already made a big name for itself within the trucking world since it began in 2013. The startup has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from VCs and was even named to Forbes’ list of Next Billion-Dollar Startups.
Transfix uses its own proprietary algorithm to quote thousands of loads in seconds, offering guaranteed rates to drivers. They also provide a transparent network to both carriers and shippers to match loads for the right prices and times, ensuring that the entire process becomes easier and faster for both sides. Major brands like Target, Anheuser-Busch, J. Crew and Staples all use Transfix for their shipping needs.
Founders: Drew McElroy, Jonathan Salama, Prabhat Supekar
Headquarters: New York City, New York, USA
Learn more about Transfix:
- “Transfix CEO: Empowering truck drivers in a difficult profession” – CNBC
- “18-Wheelers At App Speed: An $800M Startup Is Trying To Pull An Uber On The Trucking Business” – Forbes
It’s easy to assume that every autonomous trucking company will eliminate jobs for human drivers — but Alex Rodrigues, the founder of the self-driving startup Embark Trucks, doesn’t think that’s the case. Instead, he envisions a future where robots and humans can work together to create optimal outcomes, using autonomous trucks for longer driving distances and human drivers for the shorter ones. For example, self-driving trucks have no problems operating on long interstate highways — but it gets tough once they arrive within 100 miles of big cities or towns. That’s where human drivers will come back into the picture, according to Embark’s business model. While Embark doesn’t build its own trucks, it instead integrates its self-driving systems into Peterbilt semis. Founded just three years ago, Embark already has huge partnerships with leading brands like Amazon and has received $47 million in capital venture funding.
This model could create an entirely new future for trucking, especially as Embark’s trucks have the ability to operate for more than 10 hours per day (check out this cool video of one Embark truck driving two hours with zero takeovers) — going well past the normal time constraint for human drivers. In fact, the founders believe these trucks can operate around the clock, stopping only to fuel up. This could decrease a four-day trip into just two days, creating a new level of industry efficiency and making it the norm to use autonomous driving to cut down time spent on long distances. This would not only help companies survive the imminent driver shortage but also overcome the constraints of human workers by operating 24/7. At the same time, human drivers wouldn’t have to worry about losing their jobs since they’ll still be driving the regional routes. Sounds like the best of both worlds!
Founders: Alex Rodrigues, Brandon Moak
Headquarters: San Francisco, California, USA
Learn more about Embark:
- “Amazon is hauling cargo in self-driving trucks developed by Embark” – CNBC
- “Embark tops 124,000 automated miles traveled in 2018” – FleetOwner
Among the many inefficiencies of the trucking industry is the lack of clear information about where and how shipments are moving through different distribution channels. The dire need for improved supply-chain transparency led to the founding of Project44, a cloud-based platform which ties into electronic devices in trucks to gather important shipment data, such as transportation speed or the amount of time spent at pickup and drop-off locations.
Manufacturers, retailers, and distributors can all benefit from Project44’s technology, which explains why after just five years in business, the startup is already connected to over 175,000 carriers worldwide, and receiving millions in funding rounds for expansion of the software. The company hopes to use the funding to expand its reach in trucking, ocean and rail industries.
Founders: Jett McCandless, Wally Ibrahim
Headquarters: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Learn more about project44:
- “Project44 Gets $45 Million in Funding for Freight Tech Expansion” – WSJ
- “Project44 Platform Adds New Feature to Track Shipments” – Ship Technology
In today’s digital age, paper driving logs simply don’t belong anymore. This is the philosophy behind KeepTruckin, the free mobile app which helps truckers easily create logs on their phones and put the paper in the past. But while the initial focus of the company was on modernizing drivers’ logs, the startup has since shifted to also launch new software to solve ELD compliance issues and telematics hardware devices.
To continue developing new software solutions, KeepTruckin raised a $50 million round of funding in 2018 and will use the money to expand beyond logs and data compliance to create video monitoring tools. The startup is aiming to develop these video tools in an effort to help drivers defend themselves in the case of accidents and coach drivers to operate more safely.
Founders: Obaid Khan, Ryan Johns, Shoaib Makani
Headquarters: San Francisco, California, USA
Learn more about KeepTruckin:
- “KeepTruckin launches the load board to use ELD-based matching” – FreightWaves
- “KeepTruckin Launches Integration Marketplace” – Truckinginfo
Much like Embark, the startup allowing trucks to drive autonomously for long highway portions and leave the regional driving to humans, Starsky Robotics is one of the trucking startups aiming to have self-driving trucks do most of the work. However, the key difference in their business model comes in the regional routes. Whereas Embark uses real drivers to take care of the rest of the way home, Starsky wants to keep those drivers out of the trucks entirely, and instead use humans to direct them from a remote center and take control of the route from afar.
Why? Simply put, the Starsky team believes that truck driving is a taxing profession that is no longer necessary. According to the American Trucking Association, annual driver turnover in large American fleets hit 95 percent in 2017, due to long hours and uncomfortable working environments. Starsky hopes to put drivers in a position where they can live and work comfortably without spending days or weeks away from home — instead, controlling trucks directly from a normal office building. If Starsky makes a successful transition, it will be interesting to see how this affects trucking jobs in the next few years.
Company: Starsky Robotics
Founders: Kartik Tiwari, Stefan Seltz-Axmacher
Headquarters: San Francisco, California, USA
Learn more about Starsky Robotics:
- “Starsky Robotics Unleashes Its Truly Driverless Truck In Florida” – WIRED
- “A company you’ve probably never heard of is quietly building a fleet of self-driving semis that could revolutionize the trucking industry. And the founder says it has one big advantage over Tesla, Uber, and Waymo” – Business Insider
Across the European Union, InstaFreight is hoping to make its mark as a complete one-stop-shop for road freight companies, making a difference in the trucking industry by creating a logistics solution that effectively works as a single platform to accomplish many tasks. The platform offers instant pricing and real-time booking, with flexible shipping options — moving as little as a single pallet to as much as a full truckload. As a bonus, it works for both recurring shipments and spot shipments!
The startup, which raised €8M in a Series A funding round in 2017, features 6,000 carriers with an impressive 98.4% on-time delivery rate. Carriers who use the InstaFreight Driver App can also save up to 20-40 minutes per transport, thanks to digital document handling. InstaFreight hopes that its many benefits for both carriers and shippers will help reduce inefficiencies in European road freight, the complexity of the supply chain and ensure absolute transparency in the process.
Founders: Maximilian Schaefer, Philipp Ortwein
Headquarters: Berlin, Germany
Learn more about InstaFreight:
- “Uber Freight launching in Europe: 9 local startups which can give the tech giant a run for its money” – Silicon Canals
- “InstaFreight Closes EUR 8 Million Series A Round”
Nikola Motor Company
Nikola Motors, an inventive electric and hydrogen truck startup, first announced plans for a hybrid electric and natural gas semi-truck in 2016. Later on, they switched those plans to instead build hybrid battery-electric and fuel cell hydrogen trucks, ambitiously hoping to create a massive hydrogen supply chain and fueling station network. However, the company has always seen Tesla’s battery-powered trucks as its principal competitor. So when Tesla announced its all-electric semi truck in 2017, proving that battery-electric Class 8 vehicles were indeed possible, Nikola pivoted once again to keep up.
In April 2019, Nikola announced its own class of all-electric semi trucks to compete with the Tesla Semi. However, it should be noted that Nikola does plan to keep working on hydrogen trucks, so it won’t fully switch to all-electric anytime soon. Pepsi, Walmart, City Furniture, and Anheuser-Busch are all among some of the big names that have already pre-ordered the Tesla Semi. An interesting fact here — Anheuser-Busch seems to be testing out both companies’ trucks, as they also ordered 800 hydrogen-powered trucks from Nikola in 2018. It will be interesting to watch how the dynamic of these two incredible companies unfolds as they continue competing to make the best trucks in the business.
Company: Nikola Motor Company
Founders: Trevor Milton (CEO)
Headquarters: Phoenix, Arizona, United States
Learn more about Nikola Motor Company: