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Estonian autonomous vehicle company Auve Tech is poised to usher in the post-car era

Estonia’s hydrogen-powered baby unicorn is introducing its vision of environment-friendly commuting. At Unicorn59, Auve Tech Chairman Taavi Rõivas laid out the company’s ambitious plans for the next phase in urban transportation.

The world’s population keeps growing and urbanisation is on the rise. More and more people and goods are on the move — to the point where road transport is responsible for 20% of CO2 emissions globally. “We can’t fight climate change without addressing road transportation,” says Auve Tech Chairman and former Prime Minister of Estonia, Taavi Rõivas.

Rõivas points out that while electric cars will be a big part of the solution, simply building better private cars is not enough — because that still leaves us with too many cars on the roads. “Electric cars don’t solve the problem of congestion, and we’re reaching bottlenecks in charging them. So we need to provide other tools to create better living environments.”

Auve Tech’s answer to the problem is simple, yet ambitious: “We have a solution that reduces the number of trips you use your personal car for, contributing to protecting the environment. Not just making better cars, but getting people to use cars less.”

Enter the world’s first hydrogen-powered autonomous vehicle

Auve Tech’s self-driving shuttle grew out of cooperation with the Tallinn University of Technology. In 2021, the hydrogen shuttle drove its first test kilometres and was authorised by the Estonian Road Administration for public traffic. Powered by low-temperature hydrogen cells developed at the University of Tartu, the vehicle’s main goal is enhancing last-mile transportation by getting people to their end destination as conveniently as their own car would.

With sights set on a more sustainable future through autonomous last-mile transport, Auve Tech is building a solid case to demonstrate that their vehicles are safer and more efficient than a human driver.

“Where we can really change the world is by offering connections between bus stops and doorsteps,” says Rõivas. “We’re taking commuting beyond cars.”

Another thing that sets apart Auve Tech’s solution is that it offers positive incentives for choosing public transport over private cars. Instead of making driving worse — more expensive or otherwise inconvenient — Auve Tech’s shuttles simply make public transport better.

Is this the beginning of the post-car era?

With their solution, Auve Tech is poised to have a huge impact on the way people commute.

“Taking technology that performs a task better than a human while also fighting climate change — that’s a powerful solution,” Rõivas says. “Our ambition is nothing less than introducing people to the next level of urban commuting — to the post-car era.”

The post car-era may still sound like a pipe dream to many today, but there’s no doubt that the number of personal cars in city traffic can’t keep growing. And there are clear signs pointing towards a shift.

According to Rõivas, the main advantages of driving a personal car — comfort and getting you exactly where you need to go — are gradually fading away. “The comfort just isn’t there anymore if you’re stuck in traffic. So when public transport can get you there quicker and more comfortably than your personal car, that’s now the best available solution.”

When the Estonian city of Tartu made their biggest car-free avenue for a month in 2021, Auve Tech shuttles filled in the mobility gap. The experiment was a rousing success, demonstrating that our living environments can and will thrive with fewer cars.

Indeed, Rõivas believes that we are witnessing a generational shift in how we think of cars. “For my grandfather, a car is pretty much real estate. For me, it’s just another monthly cost. For our children, it won’t even be about the car, but about the best way of getting from A to B.”

Innovating in the unicorn factory

A notable enabler for Auve Tech’s rapid success has been its Estonian home base. “Estonia has the best business climate to grow a startup,” Rõivas says. “We’re innovating hardware, software, and business model at the same time, and we need people who are able to do that. We’re doing things that no one in the world has done yet. That requires a high level of education.”

As a result of being able to grow in the fertile soil of Estonia’s technology and business environment, Auve Tech can now claim to be one of just three companies able to actually deploy a fleet of autonomous cars — three times faster than their closest competitor. “There are a lot of companies in the autonomous sector still testing prototypes,” Rõivas notes. “Our acceleration over the past couple of years has allowed us to put effort into R&D and develop a deployable fleet, which has given us a considerable competitive advantage. We believe that if technology can do a task equally or slightly better than a human being, it will take over at some point. We are in a space where we have technology that can drive better, more safely, and eventually more cheaply than a human being.”

But ultimately, Rõivas says, it’s not just about the excitement of developing state-of-the-art technology. “It’s about changing the way the world commutes.”

If you’re passionate about sustainable transport and want to help usher in the post-car era by investing in Auve Tech – or another Estonian startup – get in touch via our e-Consulting service — and maybe you can catch a ride on Estonia’s next unicorn.

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