Autonomous rail is posed to disrupt both the passenger and freight sectors, thanks to a new wave of intelligent sensors, cameras and software that's poised to take over navigation of more routes and streamline signalling procedures used to stabilise rail traffic.
Operating from the Belgian city of Ghent, the 2020-founded startup OTIV has been busy making its mark with continental rail operators, having worked alongside Germany's Deutsche Bahn, France's SNCF, and the Dutch operators ProRail and NS Dutch Railways, among others.
These collaborations have resulted in some notable innovations. For example NS has been trialling OTIV's object detection AI, allowing the operator to adjust train movements in its stock marshalling yards more effectively.
Elsewhere, OITV is exploring automation deployment on passenger-facing tram lines in partnership with CAF, a pan-European rolling stock provider.
Betuweroute, a German/Dutch heavy freight operator, became an OITV partner last month. It wants to introduce AI in the Dutch regions of its freight network, which in its entirety stretches from Port of Rotterdam to industrial zones in the Ruhr.
OITV is now announcing a series A fundraise, of undisclosed size, co-led by two Benelux investors, namely Amsterdam-based SHIFT Invest and Ghent's Finindus. Also participating is Belgian research institute imec's venture fund, imec.istart, which had already backed OTIV previously.
Following the fundraise, OTIV has plans to refine its core technology with a view of growing its automation trials, and will also build out its headcount at the Ghent HQ.
Rail freight is seen as a cleaner alternative to carrying goods by road or sea, but a better allocation of resource through automation is desired given the overlap on rail tracks with passenger trains.
Sam De Smet, OTIV co-founder, commented: "We are excited to be partnering with SHIFT Invest and Finindus in our mission to lead the autonomous revolution in rail, allowing OTIV to further develop its core technology and to expand the team.
"This will enable our customers to benefit from the efficiency and safety gains our solutions offer today.”
Roel Callebaut, Finindus investment manager, added: "OTIV will quickly become a reference player in autonomous rail technology with their OTIV. ONE product already being used daily in industrial railyards.
"The team convinced us with a deep technical and market expertise and we’re happy to support their ambitious growth plans.”