A briefing session with Mihkel Ilp, CSO at Clevon.
Clevon, an Estonia-based technology company, focuses on developing and manufacturing robots, mainly used for last-mile delivery services. In 2022, the company spun off from Cleveron, an innovator and manufacturer of pick-up lockers and robotic parcel terminals. Having been a part of Cleveron and the rapidly evolving robotics and logistics industry put Clevon in a very favorable position due to the team's know-how about how to scale state-of-the-art technology globally and how to provide remote and local support to their clients and end-users.
Clevon has a strong operational base in European countries and has recently extended its arms in the North American region by opening the Center of Excellence and U.S. headquarters in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex at the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone. The company currently has permits to drive its Autonomous Robot Carriers (ARCs) on public streets in Estonia, Belgium, Lithuania, and across several states in the US. The team is also working to get more ARCs on roads in other countries to validate different use cases and meet the interest of various industries.
The company has been actively testing its driverless ARCs since 2019 and actively offering delivery services since mid-2022. This testing has occurred across several sectors, such as logistics, meal, and grocery order home delivery. Some use cases illustrating Clevon's last-mile autonomous delivery operations include collaborations with DPD Estonia and DHL Express Estonia for parcel delivery, KFC for fast-food delivery, and transporting patient blood samples for Viljandi Hospital. Outside Estonia, Clevon has partnered with LastMile and IKI Supermarkets (owned by REWE Group) for home delivery of groceries in Lithuania and Collect&Go, an online shopping service of the Colruyt Group based in Belgium.
Clevon aims to make last-mile delivery more sustainable by building electric, emission-free, energy-efficient, and lightweight robots. In May 2022, the company released its third-generation all-electric carrier called CLEVON 1, a multi-functional delivery platform. This product offers unique flexibility and can be turned, for example, into a Flatbed Truck, a Mini Truck, a Security & Monitoring, or into a dangerous household waste collection unit. As the hardware and software of ARCs are solely developed by Clevon, all client and operational domain-specific adjustments can be easily accommodated.
The robot is designed to operate in AutoPilot mode but depending on the environment it operates and the traffic intensity, it is either telesupervised or teleoperated for safety reasons.
Safety is a major priority for Clevon and hence the company is raising the level of autonomy on public roads step by step. And to achieve this, the company is strategically partnering and collaborating with different stakeholders in the automotive space. To get an idea about Clevon’s position in the autonomous driving space and its long-term strategic plans, M14 Intelligence got an opportunity last week to speak with one of Clevon’s team members.
The intent of the discussion was to gain an in-depth understanding of Clevon’s technology breakthroughs in the autonomous vehicle industry, an overview of Clevon’s version of autonomous on-road last-mile carriers, its competition, business model, and perspective on the market.
Below is just an excerpt of the extensive dialogue with the Chief Sales Officer at Clevon, Mr. Mihkel Ilp.
Are Clevon’s autonomous robots designed to focus completely on Last-mile delivery operations?
Mihkel: No. Clevon’s ARCs are not limited to last-mile operations. They are designed to adapt to a variety of business cases, but we see that their operational sweet spot is in suburbs and inner cities where people are more excited to see a lightweight, all-electric, and quiet delivery robot rather than a large van that may not follow the specified speed limits or break other road rules.
What is the level of autonomy of vehicles that Clevon is focusing on?
Mihkel: We see ourselves that our key IP lies with our Autonomous Driving System, which is the secret sauce when it comes to bringing autonomous robots safely onto public roads. The level of autonomy is really a function of the robot’s software capabilities and the environment where the ARC needs to operate. In some areas, we can drive fully autonomously already today, but in others, we use our trained teleoperators to monitor or assist our robots. We have successfully mastered the teleoperation of our robots and believe that this strategy, using teleoperation where needed, allows us to build delivery fleets and rapidly scale together with our clients.
What is the sensor content of Clevon’s autonomous vehicles?
Mihkel: Clevon’s vehicles use multiple deep neural networks, fusing camera and radar data to detect and identify the dynamic environment. We use a number of cameras providing us with a good 360-degree day and nighttime vision and radars for object detection. These, combined with the precise GPNSS location information, have allowed us to operate our robot fleets on public roads with 0 accidents. We do not use LiDAR as it doesn’t fit our idea of a cost-efficient model and technology just yet.
What are your plans for attracting investments for Clevon?
Mihkel: Developing and designing something innovative requires funding for research & development and for use case validation. So far, we have achieved a lot with very little, but we are continuously working with local and global investors that share our vision and want to join our mission of changing how goods will be delivered tomorrow.
A good example of a wider interest in our technology is the signing of an MoU with the Ministry of Investment of Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has impressive goals when it comes to new technology, reduction of carbon emissions, and upskilling the local labor force within their 2030 Vision. Clevon is the perfect partner for this and with the support of the Saudi investors, we plan to address the interest from the Middle East region.
How big is the current fleet of Clevon ARC’s and what timeline do you see for mass-production?
Mihkel: We have a current fleet of 20+ robots and we are gradually growing this together with our commercial clients who are in the stages of moving from pilot projects into fleet deployments. We have a modular and proven approach when it comes to the manufacturing of robotic products and can scale our manufacturing quickly and cost-efficiently. At this stage, we are manufacturing our robots in small patches and are preparing to start our mass production in 2025.
Who do you consider your biggest competitors?
Mihkel: The autonomous delivery vehicle industry is still in its early stages, and companies are experimenting with different approaches. As the technology is complex and it has become quite difficult to raise capital just with an idea or a product that is not scalable, we feel that we are in the right place and at the right time with our product. We see that from the point of payload, speed, and functionality, we outperform, one way or the other, drone companies and sidewalk pod manufacturers. When it comes to the on-road delivery robots then our extensive experience the AV legislation development and significant on-road service experience sets us apart from others.
What challenges have you faced to get regulatory approvals/ permits for your AVs?
Mihkel: We have permits to drive our ARCs on the public roads of several EU countries and US states. There is obviously a lot of ‘gray area’ in the legislation that needs to be accommodated with best practices from the industry and sensible approaches related to on-road safety, teleoperation, and general legal obligations of AV operators. But we have worked with these topics for years, we believe that the new EU laws that are currently developed will allow this technology to scale in the next two or three years. For now, companies can still move ahead with limited pilots and small-scale service fleets. In the US, the legislation is more favorable to us, and in a number of states, there are no scaling limitations for Clevon ARCs.
What is your business model?
Mihkel: We do not sell our robots but offer them a Robotics-as-a-Service model. This offers maximum flexibility and convenience to our clients and will help them to scale their fleets with low CAPEX.
From where do you see more traction coming from?
Mihkel: We have already created a solid base in the U.S. and Europe markets. Also, we are looking to expand our operations to Saudi Arabia. Due to the size of the market and the freedom to operate, we see great potential in the US that is backed up by client interest. Saying that the Middle East has its big targets and the funds to make change happen quickly. Europe has also taken a decisive turn towards a greener future, and large companies want to find ways to reduce their logistics operations' carbon footprint. So, I’m happy to say that the interest is strong from different parts of the world.
Autonomous delivery vehicles
Get the detailed analysis on autonomous technology penetration in logistics vehicle industry
Robotic delivery services or automated deliveries are emerging as a viable path toward commercial scale and profitability. The autonomous logistics vehicles (L4 and L5) are anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 87% from 2022 to 2030