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Former SpaceX engineers founded startup lands $49.55M to build autonomous battery-electric rail vehicles

Parallel Systems
Image credits: Parallel Systems

Last year, three former SpaceX engineers – Matt Soule, John Howard, and Ben Stabler, recognised an opportunity to decarbonize the freight industry by increasing the utilisation of the rail network. 

As a result, they co-founded Parallel Systems with a vision to reimagine the rail industry with innovative software and hardware. 

The US company aims to increase the utilisation of today’s rail network by converting some of the $700B US trucking business to rail.

Raised $49.55M 

Recently, the Los Angeles-based company secured $49.55M funding in a Series A round led by Anthos Capital with participation from Congruent Ventures, Riot Ventures, Embark Ventures, and others.

The funds will enable the company to build a fleet of rail vehicles, accelerate advanced testing programs and grow the team. To date, the company has raised $53.15M in funding. 

Image credits: Parallel Systems

Autonomous battery-electric rail vehicles: How does it work?

The company has created autonomous battery-electric rail vehicles to move freight cleaner, faster, and more cost-effectively than traditional trains or trucks.

The company’s autonomous battery-electric rail vehicles loads and transports standard shipping containers as a single or double-stacked load. 

The railcars, which are individually powered, can join together to form “platoons” or split off to multiple destinations while en route. 

Check out the preliminary specification of the rail vehicle below:

What are the benefits?

Rail vehicles are more flexible than traditional trains. Unlike freight trains, Parallel’s platoons do not need large quantities of freight to make service economical. 

This reduces the waiting times associated with loading trains that are miles long, says the company. Also, the system can support service at a range of distances, from across a city to across the country. 

Parallel Systems says its freight transportation solution is more energy-efficient than freight trains because it is lighter and more aerodynamic. 

Parallel’s vehicles use just 25% of the energy compared to a semi-truck and offer the lowest operational cost of any surface freight transportation mode. 

In this case, less energy means smaller batteries, less strain on the grid, and lower charging infrastructure costs. Parallel’s zero-emission vehicles will dramatically reduce the freight industry’s carbon emissions. 

Image credits: Parallel Systems


Further, the company is working on new levels of railway safety that are possible due to the vehicle’s ability to rapidly detect hazards, such as a vehicle on the track. 

The railcars, which feature a camera-based perception system and redundant braking, can stop safely and autonomously up to 10 times quicker than a train. 

This means the vehicles can perform an emergency stop within the line of sight that the sensors perceive an object, claims the company in the press release. 

Image credits: Parallel Systems

Machine learning

At present, the company is developing software that allows its vehicles and platoons to safely integrate with existing rail operations.

The fully-automated connected system leverages machine learning to optimise vehicle routing, traffic scheduling, and energy consumption. 

25 engineers

The company employs around 25 engineers from Google, Tesla, Uber, SpaceX, and more. The company is headquartered in Culver City, California, with an office in Palo Alto, California. 

Parallel is currently testing its autonomous battery-electric rail vehicles on a closed track in Los Angeles.

“We founded Parallel to allow railroads to open new markets, increase infrastructure utilization, and improve service to accelerate freight decarbonization,” said Matt Soule, Co-founder, and CEO, Parallel Systems. “Our business model is to give railroads the tools to convert some of the $700 billion U.S. trucking industry to rail. The Parallel system can also help alleviate the supply chain crisis by enabling low cost and regular movement of freight in and out of ports. Parallel’s competitive edge is our autonomous battery-electric rail vehicles, which are designed to move freight cleaner, faster, safer, and more cost-effectively than traditional trains or trucks.”

Here’s how it works:

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