Picture yourself driving a car in Finland in November. A wet mass of sleet covers the roads like an icy porridge. And beneath this freezing blanket, slippery black ice may lurk the unsuspecting driver at any turn.
For Sensible 4 — the developer of the world's first all-weather self-driving technology — these changing, extreme conditions offered the perfect foundation to become the best company in the world in autonomous driving technology.
"We realised the problem of autonomous vehicle technology: scalability. If the technology doesn't work in all weather conditions, you can't scale your business," says Harri Santamala, CEO of Sensible 4.
So, whether it's the Finnish winter of ice and snow or the pouring rain of Singapore, self-driving technology needs to work year-round, in any weather and for all vehicles.
Sensible 4 wins investment and sets focus on Asia and Europe
For now, Sensible 4 may be best known for GACHA — the first self-driving shuttle bus for all weather conditions in the world — that the Espoo-based startup developed in cooperation with the Japanese retail giant Muji in 2018. Last year, however, the startup hit the gas pedal, and its business shows no sign of slowing down.
In spring 2020, Sensible 4 received a €6 million Series A round investment from Nordic Ninja, an over €100 million Nordic/Japanese deep tech fund, and ITOCHU, one of the biggest Japanese trading companies. Having a strong Japanese connection on board for the ride, the startup uses the investment to boost expansion in Asia and Europe.
Next year, Sensible 4's business is set to take another leap with the launch of a new last-mile self-driving software called Dawn. Dawn is the first commercial all-weather solution in the autonomous technology industry.
"If the technology doesn't work in all weather conditions, you can't scale your business."
Sensible 4 renews urban mobility systems — sustainability benefits come as part of the package
In less than four years since its founding in 2017, Sensible 4 has developed a one-of-a-kind self-driving technology that enables any vehicle to operate safely in any weather or environment. With its SAE Level 4 autonomous driving kit, vehicle manufacturers can build advanced shared driverless vehicles — for example, autonomous shuttle buses and robot taxis — and turn regular cars into self-driving ones easily.
"Through our technology, we want to bring new pieces to the shared mobility ecosystem that enables the use of services that currently are not possible to produce in an economically feasible way," says Santamala.
The services that Santamala talks about improve mobility and logistics in all kinds of municipal areas: city centres, campuses, business parks, and event and recreational venues. However, Sensible 4's autonomous services' impacts go far beyond just improving mobility in the last mile.
"Sustainability benefits come part of our package. We don't believe that the need for people and goods to move will decrease. So, we need to build solutions that make mobility more sustainable and decrease the problems mobility causes."
How is it then that Sensible 4's autonomous solutions reduce the harmful impact of increased mobility on the climate and quality of living? For one thing, there would be fewer cars on city streets, and air quality would improve. Cities would become safer and more accessible, and people could move more freely as autonomous vehicles can operate anytime, anywhere. Also, self-driving cars are cost and energy-efficient.
"Enter Espoo helped us get first contacts to Nordic Ninja who then invested EUR 6 million with ITOCHU in Sensible 4."
Espoo provides the mobility testbed and helps startups to grow
It's no miracle that Finland is among the leaders in the changing mobility field. One reason for this is that Finnish legislation allows autonomous driving. Another factor is that Finns embrace new technology. As a result, when future-oriented cities like Espoo are happy to offer their public areas as testbeds, companies get more opportunities to pilot their technologies and innovations.
Sensible 4 piloted GACHA in Espoo on the Nokia and Aalto University campuses and tested the technology in Helsinki and Oslo, Norway. Because Sensible 4's key target groups are automotive companies that produce new vehicles and sell solutions and services to public operators, it was essential for the startup to test the tech on public roads.
In addition to cities and municipalities, Sensible 4 has got concrete help from local partners like Enter Espoo. Using Enter Espoo's growth services, the startup found important contacts on its path to success.
"Enter Espoo helped us get first contacts to Nordic Ninja who then invested EUR 6 million with ITOCHU in Sensible 4," Santamala says.
"In addition, Enter Espoo has continuously provided intros to Japanese companies and invitations to events with a Japanese business focus. Also, through Muji cooperation, our partnership with Enter Espoo has deepened, which has been a real help to us since we target the Japanese market."
In the end, Sensible 4's success boils down to two things: The startup offers unique solutions in a rapidly changing industry and has connections with the right people in a forward-looking innovation ecosystem.
Oh yes, and there's the third one — the harsh weather of Finnish winter.
Image: Sensible 4
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