The next generation of fully autonomous driving: Munich-based start-up driveblocks receives €2.2 million in seed funding
Technology start-up driveblocks, a software specialist for fully autonomous driving of commercial vehicles, has closed a 2.2 million euro seed round led by Rethink Ventures and Bayern Kapital. Angel investor Joachim Drees (former CEO of MAN SE and MAN Truck & Bus SE) and existing investor Friedrich & Wagner Holding also provided fresh capital. The founding team intends to use the funds primarily for the further development of driveblocks’ core technology: the Mapless Autonomy Platform.
driveblocks develops technologies for fully autonomous commercial vehicles on its Mapless Autonomy Platform. The modular system includes software components for raw data processing, real-time detection of a vehicle's environment and sensor data fusion, i.e. merging data from multiple sensor modalities into a consistent environmental model. The driveblocks solution is significantly safer than other systems because it uses perception, i.e. sensor-based recognition of the environment, rather than maps, which can become outdated from one day to the next. It is based on Transformer Neural Networks, the same network architecture that has led to recent breakthroughs in Large Language Models (LLMs).
driveblocks targets Tier-1 suppliers and OEMs who integrate the software components into their vehicles and machinery to enable safe autonomous driving on both private and public roads, enabling significant cost savings and addressing demographic changes and skills shortages: In Europe alone, there is already a shortage of hundreds of thousands of truck drivers. Current driveblocks customers and development partners include a major Tier 1 in Germany and TIER IV, a Japanese deep-tech specialist in autonomous driving. In addition, driveblocks works closely with its partners Apex.AI, an international provider of safety-certified base software, and Schaeffler ByWire.
Fully autonomous commercial vehicles – a megatrend
After winning the US$1 million Indy Autonomous Challenge, the team led by managing directors Dr. Stephan Matz and Dr. Alexander Wischnewski founded driveblocks at the end of 2021. The founding team is complemented by other experts in the field of autonomous driving: Dr. Tim Stahl, Dr. Felix Nobis, Leonhard Hermansdorfer, Dr. Thomas Herrmann, and Prof. Dr. Markus Lienkamp. “With the Mapless Autonomy Platform, we are developing the next generation of autonomous driving technology – safe, reliable and ready for use by customers on and off the road,” said Dr. Stephan Matz. Dr. Alexander Wischnewski explained the technology’s benefits: “We combine the latest breakthroughs in machine learning with explainable algorithms for sensor data fusion. That’s why we can achieve the highest performance while meeting safety requirements.”
Having completed the build-up of a development truck fully equipped with multiple cameras, LIDARs, and a drive-by-wire system in cooperation with pepper motion GmbH, the company has just successfully tested the latest version R2023.4 of its Mapless Autonomy Platform on a tour between Munich and Bolzano, including the challenging Brenner Pass. driveblock's software components are now being tested on the road as well as in agriculture, container logistics, and earthmoving.
Use of funds: Development, testing and preparation for production certification
“We are convinced that driveblocks, with its modular software offering, will make a decisive contribution to bringing autonomous driving functions into series production in the commercial vehicle sector,” said Jens Philipp Klein, General Partner at Rethink Ventures. “The founding team around Stephan Matz and Alexander Wischnewski has proven in recent years that they can translate their outstanding technical expertise into ground-breaking solutions for demanding customers.”
Markus Mrachacz, Managing Director of Bayern Kapital, added: “We are convinced that driveblocks will play a decisive role in the transformation of the commercial vehicle sector. We are delighted to be able to support the team in shaping the future with funding from Bayern Kapital Innovation Fund II.”
“driveblocks has the potential to become the best solution for autonomous driving in commercial vehicles,” said Bastian Friedrich, owner of Friedrich & Wagner Holding. “We have therefore been on board as investors from day one and look forward to closely accompanying the successes of the founding team in the coming years.”
driveblocks will use the majority of the funds raised to extend the Mapless Autonomy Platform with new perception capabilities. The team will also significantly expand field testing, invest in effective data management and deepen collaboration with customers and fleet operators. On the operational side, driveblocks will prepare for series certification of its perception and sensor fusion components.
driveblocks, founded in December 2021 in Garching near Munich, offers a modular software platform for automated and autonomous driving in the commercial vehicle sector. The founding team has many years of experience in the development of algorithms for automated driving. The core technology of driveblocks is a combination of Transformer Neural Networks and sensor fusion to create an environment model based on sensor data. Unlike map-based technologies, there is no need for pre-mapping and constant updating of maps in the cloud. The offering is complemented by algorithms that enable customers to fully automate their vehicles. The driveblocks platform is sold both as individual modules and as a system solution via a licensing model, enabling safe, fast and cost-effective automation of a wide range of applications - in the mine, in the container terminal or on the motorway.
About Rethink Ventures
Rethink Ventures is a specialized venture capital firm focusing on investments in mobility and logistics tech startups from Seed to Series-A stage. The company is committed to driving the transformation towards a more sustainable transportation sector. Rethink Ventures is based in Munich and backed by leading corporate partners from the automotive and logistics industries, including ZF Ventures, Hellmann and the KION Group. For more information, visit https://rethinkventures.com/
About Bayern Kapital
Bayern Kapital GmbH, based in Landshut (Germany), is the venture/growth capital company of the Free State of Bavaria. It supports innovative high-tech companies in Bavaria in their various growth phases, from seed to later stage, with equity capital ranging from EUR 0.25 to 25 million. Bayern Kapital often fills gaps in the VC sector in proven consortium arrangements with private investors (business angels, family offices and corporate ventures). For more information, visit https://www.bayernkapital.de
About Friedrich & Wagner Holding
Friedrich & Wagner is a private investment company focused on sustainable mobility solutions. Founders Bastian Friedrich and Christian Wagner have been entrepreneurial for more than 20 years. The portfolio includes the technology solutions provider in-tech, focusing on software and electronics for the automotive, rail and smart industries. The portfolio company chargebyte is a leading provider of charging solutions. Friedrich & Wagner also holds shares in the electrification specialist pepper and the startup Aampere. For more information, visit https://www.friedrich-wagner.com/