Identify a problem, come up with a solution, build it, test it locally and then go global. That’s the mindset of companies developing mobility services in Estonia, where self-driving cars and delivery robots are increasingly making their way outside the home country.
Auve Tech targets the Japanese market
Having made waves a few years ago with its electrical, self-driving bus, Auve Tech is currently focused on developing autonomy software, or self-driving vehicle software and vehicles. “We have been working on developing vehicle intelligence and reliability. We call it the second generation vehicle, where the vehicle’s vision, cognition capabilities and capacity have been significantly increased compared to the first generation. The new car has been named MiCa and some of them have been exported to Japan,” says Kaarel Variksaar, CEO of Auve Tech.
“The main goal of developing autonomy is to create the world’s best self-driving vehicle, where cars are able to operate autonomously in mapped areas,” says Variksaar. The fruits of the development work of Estonian engineers are appreciated in Japan, he adds. At the moment their big challenge is to increase production capacity. “Although there is a lot of interest in our buses and production ramp up is very challenging at the moment. So in this regard, we are currently focused on Japan,” Variksaar says.
Auve Tech is a fairly young company that has created two different levels of autonomous vehicles. According to the CEO, based on feedback from customers and partners, their main strengths are that Auve Tech’s buses are more reliable and the ride is smoother. “Design, development and production are all under one roof and Väino Kaldoja, the company owner and main initiator of product developments, is operative in the management of the company. This gives us great flexibility and the ability to react quickly,” Variksaar says.
Today, there are around 1.5 billion cars in the world, and nearly 50% of public space is under roads and car parks. “If the rest of the world were to catch up with Europe in car ownership, the number of cars would have to grow to 6 billion, more than the planet can sustain. In addition, people’s mobility and the need to transport goods has changed dramatically and will continue to do so,” explains Variksaar.
The autonomous vehicle developed by the company is designed with the aim of significantly reducing the use of personal vehicles to cover shorter distances and transport goods. “Our buses use green energy and we have tried to use recyclable materials in their production,” Variksaar says, giving an example of how Auve Tech is contributing to the green transition.
Robot couriers are taking over the streets
Clevon, a spin-off from Cleveron, an automated pick-up lockers manufacturer, develops and manufactures autonomous robot carriers (ARCs), making last-mile delivery more innovative, environmentally friendly and efficient. Clevon’s fully electric ARCs have customisable configurations, to fulfil a multitude of business needs and offer an efficient and timely customer delivery experience. The robots can reduce failed deliveries, carbon emissions, cost of delivery per customer and stolen packages. Clevon brings a secure, on-demand and extremely energy-efficient delivery service that has proven itself in all-weather conditions on multiple continents.
Clevon’s aim has been to launch pilot projects in the USA, Europe and the Middle East and develop all their technology in-house. Due to demand from all over the world, the first pilots were launched in Tallinn (Estonia), Vilnius (Lithuania), Londerzeel (Belgium) and Texas (USA) in 2022-2023. Today the company delivers parcels and groceries to people’s homes. “In Vilnius, three Clevon robot carriers cover the entire city centre. You don’t see this many driverless vehicles on the roads anywhere in Europe and we were the first to do it,” says Sander Sebastian Agur, CEO of Clevon.
Last year, the company opened an office and service centre in the US, near Dallas. Nearby in the town of Northlake, an unmanned robotic courier delivers packages from PostNet’s parcel centre to multiple customers using public roadways. More recently, Clevon joined the Curiosity Lab demo centre in Peachtree Corners, USA, part of the Smart City. In partnership with T-Mobile, Clevon is exploring and testing 5G deployment options there. “We are undercutting legacy cost structures and are the only company in the US today that has the freedom to scale our services in five states,” said Agur.
There is also interest in the robotic courier in the Middle East and Clevon plans to set up an operations service centre in Saudi Arabia. In addition, a branch of Clevon academy will be opened in the country to enable locals to learn about robotics and support the company’s manufacturing processes. “By the time production ramp up at the beginning of 2025, the plan is to have hundreds of robotic couriers on the market and we are currently testing different service providers and ways to find the most environmentally friendly solutions for production,” says Agur.
E-car sharer calls for giving up personal cars
Last year, Elmo, a carve out from e-cars sharing company, became the first in the world to start bringing electric cars to customers’ doorsteps using its own road legal teledriving technology. This year, it expanded to Helsinki and Finland is now the second country in Europe to have teledriven cars on public roads.
Co-founder and CEO Enn Laansoo Jr. explained that from the customer’s point of view, it is the most convenient service in the car sharing market, which just requires downloading the Elmo app on your phone: “You just select the time and car you want. We get the order and teledrive the car to your doorstep.”
Elmo, which started as an electric car rental company a decade ago, is now a company with more than 100 environment friendly cars, more than 24,000 customers and they are making more than 100 doorstep deliveries every week with teledriven cars. The company is also looking to expand into new markets and sectors with teledriving technology licensing and offering teledriving as a service – as well as attracting wheelchair users for teledriving.
Unlike its competitors, Elmo does not consider it necessary for its cars to be parked on every street corner waiting for the client, because that would be a waste of resources. “It doesn’t meet the basic criterion that one shared car replaces ten personal cars,” says Laansoo. Thus, with teledriving Elmo’s cars are constantly on the move and the company can serve the same customer base with 40% fewer cars.
By making it as convenient as possible to bring a rental car to the doorstep, one of the company’s goals is to get people to give up their personal cars for shared cars. This is the noble and environmentally friendly DNA of Elmo, as statistics show that virtually one in three cars in Estonia is idle.
Technology innovators join forces
Innovative products from Bolt, which revolutionised the taxi business, and Starship, the creator of parcel delivery robots, have changed the way people move and buy goods. Those Estonian companies are all about creating better cities, and this year they signed a partnership agreement. “As a first step, Starship’s electric robots will make deliveries for Bolt Market and Bolt Food. We are planning to start the pilot project of Bolt Market, i.e. grocery deliveries, this year,” says Bolt President Jevgeni Kabanov.
Following a successful pilot, the service will be extended to other markets. According to Kabanov, there is a lot of potential for growth in the long-term, as Bolt has more than 150 million customers in 45 countries and 500 cities, and Starship also has more than 50 service areas around the world.
When asked what Estonia’s trump card is that makes it a good place to develop mobile services, Kabanov says that Estonians are tech-savvy and ready to embrace innovation. “Estonia also has the advantage of less bureaucracy. The public sector’s attitude to innovative services is supportive, which means that good ideas can be quickly turned into reality in Estonia. Estonia is also Bolt’s home market and we are an important local employer,” Kabanov says.