Efficient logistics is based on intelligent mobility solutions and has far-reaching economic and social implications. Sustainability, reliability and safety are key factors that are also the subject of insurance-related issues. In this interview, Hendrik Kramer, CEO and co-founder of Fernride, talks about the opportunities for the logistics industry, how it can already benefit from human-assisted autonomy - and the role that humans play in this. Similar to Insurtech Faye, ERGO has also invested in Fernride via a venture capital fund from Munich Re Ventures.
Mr Kramer, what is the idea behind the Fernride concept and how did it come about?
Fernride is a spin-off of the Institute for Teleoperation at the Technical University of Munich and began research in this field in 2009. While the hype around autonomous vehicles peaked between 2015 and 2020, Fernride always believed in applying a human-machine collaboration approach to autonomous driving. At the time, this approach was ridiculed by many, but today it is clear that human-assisted autonomy - we call it a teleoperator that assists remotely when needed - may be the only way to commercialise and scale a business in the autonomous vehicle industry. Our success proves us right. Today, Fernride combines a decade of research with expertise from the autonomous vehicle and automotive industry and recruits executives from well-known companies. Fernride currently employs more than 130 people in offices in Munich and Wolfsburg. We have set ourselves the goal of becoming the global market leader in the field of autonomous lorry driving.
An ambitious goal. What solutions do you use to convince your customers?
Let's start with the current situation. Apart from unexpected global and regional events such as the coronavirus pandemic or the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which have a significant impact on the logistics supply chain, the logistics industry is caught between many serious influencing factors. It is struggling with low profit margins, an insufficient number of lorry drivers and the need to reduce CO2 emissions.
Can you elaborate on this?
The shortage of lorry drivers in Europe will increase from 400,000 to two million by 2026. Rising labour costs and the consequences of demographic change will put further pressure on profits. And as the climate crisis worsens, companies will be faced with stricter emissions regulations and possible fines. Solutions need to be quick, economically viable and seamlessly integrated into ongoing logistics operations without causing disruption.
We are therefore focussing on challenges that we can already meet intelligently today with the help of our technology. The industry needs reliability in operations. This is exactly what our human-assisted autonomy approach achieves. This is possible thanks to the technology used by Fernride. We offer efficient, scalable automation solutions for yard trucking that increase productivity, promote sustainability and also improve employee safety. This is because potential sources of danger can be significantly reduced.
What exactly are the advantages over the current processes, what are you doing differently?
Fernride focuses on acute problems that can already be solved today: autonomous, electric truck driving in logistics centres, production facilities, intermodal and maritime terminals. So instead of relying solely on autonomous technology, we are convinced that human-machine collaboration ensures economic viability and provides the benefits our customers need today.
Mr Kramer, let's take a look into the future. Where does Fernride see new potential and opportunities?
As a next step, we want to work with our customers to bring autonomous lorry driving onto public roads. We are convinced that this will give us additional impetus to sustainably accelerate Fernride's path to market leadership for autonomous, electric lorry driving for all applications.
Text: Martin Sulkowsky