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Phantom Auto Expands to Remote-Control Trucks, Completes Series A Funding

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【Summary】California-based Phantom Auto updated its teleoperation services to serve yard trucks, forklifts and industrial fleets found in warehouses, commercial delivery sites and large-scale retail storage centers.

Michael Cheng    Apr 26, 2019 12:50 PM PT
Phantom Auto Expands to Remote-Control Trucks, Completes Series A Funding

While waiting for autonomous vehicles to hit public roads, some startups are venturing to new projects and services. A company that has successfully implemented such strategy includes California-based Phantom Auto. The business specializes in remote assistance for autonomous vehicles stuck in complex or critical driving situations. 

When the startup was founded in 2017, its primary focus was self-driving cars. However, without driverless vehicles to help on roads (at this time), Phantom Auto updated its teleoperation services to serve yard trucks, forklifts and industrial fleets found in warehouses, commercial delivery sites and large-scale retail storage centers.

Teleoperation and Trucking Efficiency

The remote-driving service offered by the business could improve operating efficiency, address driver storages and boost safety. Phantom Auto revealed that its customers aren't using remote drivers to replace humans at the workplace. Instead, businesses are training their employees to use the remote system, allowing operators to conduct trucking or forklift duties from a single control center. With the remote platform, workers do not have to waste time traveling to different sections of the site. In fact, individuals could be located thousands of miles away from the vehicle.

"There has been zero innovation with yard trucks in the past 40 years," said Elliot Katz, Co-founder of Phantom Auto. "And customers in this segment are itching to gain efficiencies. That's the name of the game for them. They see this as a path to get there."

"If you see a delivery robot in public, there is a solid chance it is using our teleoperation software."

According to remote drivers employed by the startup, operating work vehicles from a different location is like playing a video game. Employees are provided access to a traditional steering wheel, pedals, headset and an array of computer screens. There's also a highly visible emergency-stop push button for immediate disengagement.

Currently, Phantom Auto is testing its remote-control trucks with Terberg Group, a vehicle manufacturer with headquarters in the Netherlands. During the trials, remote operators are required to navigate vehicles from a control center more than 2,500 miles away from the site.

There are no human workers present inside the trucks (based a demo video released by the company). Communication between the teleoperation software and remote driver is facilitated by low-latency, high-bandwidth networks.

Series A Financing Round

To help the startup reach its goals, the company recently held a Series A funding round. The financing event raised $13.5 million, led by Bessemer Venture Partners. With offices in Mountain View and Tel Aviv, Phantom Auto has raised a total of $19 million across two funding rounds (Seed and Series A). 

"There are a lot of benefits to the remote control model as it can it can guide resources more efficiently than an autonomous driving model," said Holger Mueller, Analyst at Constellation Research Inc.

Teleoperation technology being developed by the startup has massive potential. In boosting safety at fast-moving work sites, many businesses have shifted to remote solutions. Such safety measures include the use of sensors on heavy-duty machines and remote observation cameras in combustible facilities.

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