7 Autonomous Vehicles that Aren’t Automobiles

November 22. 2016. 6 mins read

We’ve written at length about the range of investment opportunities within the autonomous vehicles industry for largely institutional investors. Sure, there are some publicly traded stocks out there for retail investors like Mobileye but the real excitement is in the startup space. With each year that passes, we inch closer toward autonomous vehicles making their debut on our roads and highways though some companies like 2getthere have already deployed autonomous shuttles in controlled environments. While much of the focus on autonomous vehicles is placed on automobiles, the autonomous vehicles industry encompasses many types of vehicles. Various companies are currently developing autonomous vehicles for transportation, commercial and industrial purposes, each presenting their own potentially lucrative investment opportunities. Here’s a closer look at 7 autonomous vehicles that aren’t automobiles.

Autonomous Semi-Trucks

Autonomous semi-trucks may present the single largest investment opportunity in the autonomous vehicle space. We’ve written about autonomous semi-trucks in the past, and once manufacturers begin to tackle the regulatory hurdles that are keeping autonomous vehicles from our roadways, driverless trucking is poised to rise sharply in popularity. Today, labor represents between 33-75% of the total cost of trucking and there are more than 1.6 million long-haul truck drivers currently employed in the U.S. Not only does autonomous trucking allow companies to cut costs, but autonomous vehicles are not bound to the sleep schedules and driving limitations that drivers are. The ability to operate 24 hours per day could vastly improve delivery times and we can also expect safety to improve significantly. We love the way that Mercedes Benz frames this; “from trucker to logistics expert“:

autonomous semi truck
Source: Mercedes Benz

Companies to watch for autonomous semi-trucks:

  • Daimler – In the examples we’ve seen so far, the leader in this space appears to be German company Daimler which had $168 billion in 2015 revenues. Daimler is hardly a pure play on autonomous trucks so retail investors shouldn’t get their hopes up. Yet.
  • Otto – You may have heard mention of this autonomous long haul trucking startup founded by ex-Googlers and acquired by Uber this year. It just made its first delivery of 50,000 beers last month so things are looking bright.

Autonomous Boats

Although we are still a ways away from huge autonomous shipping freighters, autonomous boats might present a serious opportunity with companies like Rolls Royce digging into this as we highlighted in a past article titled “Drone Boats and Drone Cargo Shipping by 2025“. The application in the transportation and shipping industries is apparent, but the scientific applications are also intriguing. With research vessels costing somewhere around $80,000 a day to operate, the idea of having an autonomous boat collecting research data is quite appealing.


Companies to watch for autonomous boats:

  • Sail Drone – Carbon fiber sailboats with sensors that collect oceanographic data and are more responsive and flexible than stationary buoys
  • Sea Machines – Startup looking to address all kinds of autonomous boat applications like tug boats and rescue boats
  • SeaCharger – SeaCharger aims to be the first unmanned surface vehicle (USV) to cross an ocean on solar power alone.

Autonomous Robots

Autonomous robots have already started making their way into the warehouses of some of the largest companies in the world and will continue to rise in popularity. Robots that have been designed for very specific purposes are available for purchase today. Companies like Clearpath Robotics already have more than 11 different autonomous robots available for purchase for usage on land, air, sea, and in industrial applications.


Companies to watch for autonomous robots:

  • Autonomous Solutions – This company has been around a while and is targeting mining, farming, military, orchard, security, and pretty much anything else you can think of
  • Clearpath Robotics – We highlighted this company recently so best just to read our article titled “Clearpath Robotics – Autonomous Robots for All
  • Torco Robotics – Enabled engineers to rapidly integrate robotic systems through a suite of modular products
  • Aethon -Robots that deliver things around hospitals like specimens, materials, linens, and medicines

Autonomous Planes and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Autonomous planes or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have rapidly grown popularity as drones have become widely available through retail. Unmanned aerial vehicles have long been used in military applications, but are poised for widespread growth in commercial applications as well. Companies like China’s EHang are investing in autonomous planes for human transportation. In March, they announced the EHANG184, a transportation drone and the world’s first autonomous aerial vehicle that is capable of carrying a 220-pound payload up to 10 miles.


Companies to watch for autonomous planes:

  • EHANG – Chinese startup which has taken in $52 million in funding so far from investors that include Microsoft. More information can be found in our article titled “EHang Plans to Sell Drone Airplanes“.

On this same thread, you may also be interested in reading our article titled “9 Companies Building Flying Cars“.

Autonomous Trains

Because trains are fixed to a track and have relatively few navigational choices that need to be made when traveling, the technology to drive trains autonomously has been possible for many years. Several major regulatory hurdles have slowed adoption. However, the CEO of German Railways (Europe’s largest railway operator), RuedigerGrube, recently announced plans to convert part of their railway network to be fully autonomous by sometime in the early 2020s. This could serve as a catalyst for other companies and state-run organizations to make the move to autonomous trains as well.


Companies to watch for autonomous trains:

  • Deutsche Bahn – The second-largest transport company in the world and the largest railway operator and infrastructure owner in Europe which carries about 2 billion passengers each year.

Autonomous Buses

Public transportation represents a huge investment opportunity in the future of autonomous vehicles. There are more than 1.2 billion vehicles navigating roads around the world today. With the automobile industry embracing autonomous automobiles, it is a safe bet that public transportation will not be far behind. Cities, states, and municipalities have a lot to gain in the way of cost-cutting by reducing employment for public transportation drivers and making the move to autonomous vehicles. Currently, there are several companies that are in the process of developing the first autonomous electric buses.

Electric Bus Teaser

Companies to watch for autonomous buses:

  • Navya – 23 installations so far, mostly on private sites, through which they have managed to transport more than 15,000 passengers successfully.
  • Auro Robotics – Building driverless electric shuttles that are retro-fitted on Polaris GEM e4 golf carts.
  • Varden Labs – Claims to have built in a single month, with just a few thousand dollars, the first self-driving vehicle driven on Canadian Roads called Marvin.
  • Local Motors – Doesn’t stop at bus stops but rather uses people’s smartphones to determine where to stop.
  • Easy Mile – Since 2008, a fleet of autonomous shuttles have been servicing recreation parks in Europe with over 1.5 million passengers transported so far.

Interested in learning more about these companies? Check out our article on “5 Companies Building an Autonomous Electric Bus“.

Autonomous Tractors

With autonomous vehicles making their way toward a road near you soon, it was only a matter of time until we started to see other, industrial and agricultural applications. Autonomous tractors would be able to seamlessly integrate into existing tractor fleets, reduce costs, and help farmers to get more out of each acre of farmland. In fact, Goldman Sachs has predicted that farm technologies will become a $240 billion market opportunity for agricultural suppliers.


Companies to watch for autonomous tractors:

  • CNH Industrial – Global leader in agriculture and farm equipment, privately owned by a rich Italian family, developer of the concept vehicle you see in the above picture
  • Autonomous Tractor – Some experienced farmhands with extensive entrepreneurial experience want to build a fully autonomous tractor that uses GPS and LiDAR


The Hyperloop is a much-discussed technology that was popularized by Elon Musk and his team at Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. The proposed Hyperloop technology uses capsules to transport humans and cargo long distances at speeds faster than the speed of sound. Although the futuristic technology originally appeared to be decades away from realization, recently a Los Angeles-based startup, Hyperloop One announced plans to explore the possibility of launching the first Hyperloopsystem, connecting Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The planned system would allow for travel between the cities in 12 minutes. Traveling between the two cities by car currently takes around 2 hours.

hyperloop autonomous vehicle
Source: Transpod

Companies to watch for Hyperloop technology:

  • Hyperloop Transportation Technologies – An incredibly original startup that actually uses crowdfunding and crowdsourcing for funds and labor respectively
  • Hyperloop One – Strong ties to Elon Musk, and the Board of Directors is full of heavy hitters like the co-founder of Palantir, the Chairman and CEO of the X-Prize Foundation
  • Transpod – Working closely with the University of Toronto, this Canadian startup expects to have a commercial prototype by 2020.

Read more about these 3 Hyperloop companies in our article titled “3 Companies Building Elon Musk’s Hyperloop“.


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