Carel van Helsdingen, Chief Executive Officer, 2getthere
“We are hardly some inexperienced startup.”
Dutch technology company 2getthere, which specializes in the development of automated vehicles, is set to open a new office in Silicon Valley in January 2017. From its new base in the world’s leading technology hub, the Utrecht-based company intends to conquer the third major international market for automated transit solutions, following Asia (Singapore) and the Middle East (Dubai). 2getthere is the leading company worldwide with many years of experience in developing and operating automated, driverless vehicles that transport thousands of passengers a day. The company – which currently employs around 50 developers, IT specialists and engineers – estimates it will be able to sell a minimum of three to five of these types of solutions in the US annually within the next several years, accounting for a total of $150 million to $300 million in new orders.
Although 2getthere delivered its first automated transit system to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol as early as 1997, the company remains a relatively unknown player in the Dutch manufacturing industry. Its core markets are located in Asia and the Middle East, where its mobility solutions (driverless taxis and minibuses) have been part of the urban infrastructure for some time. The opening of the new San Francisco office is part of the company’s strategy to break into the high-potential US market.
The company states that its decision to set up a base in the heart of high-tech hub Silicon Valley was prompted not only by the fact that all leading developers of automated transit systems and the related technologies are based there, but also by the immense market potential to be found in the area.
2getthere CEO Carel van Helsdingen: ‘The rapid growth of sprawling corporate campuses is particularly exciting to us in terms of the opportunities it offers. There’s the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, for example, the Tesla manufacturing facility in Nevada, and the Apple and Cisco campuses in California. Automated mobility solutions are the most obvious alternative for business parks on that scale.’
Having what it takes
2getthere currently has more experience in developing automated vehicles than any other company worldwide. The various applications it develops are used to transport around 80,000 passengers a month who collectively travel more than 100,000 kilometers. Van Helsdingen feels his company has got what it takes to achieve success in this market: ‘We are hardly some inexperienced startup – we specialize in developing vehicle software, traffic control systems, dispatch software (that is, the coordinating software used to manage a fleet) and in integrating the software for various types of sensors. We are currently in talks with several potential partners in Silicon Valley to see where we might be able to find synergies. That process will undoubtedly be boosted by the fact that we will now actually be physically based there as well,’ Van Helsdingen said.
COO Robbert Lohmann pointed out that 2getthere has a unique edge when it comes to the real-world implementation of these systems. ‘There may be a large number of pilot projects around, but in order to develop a 100% safe system with an uptime rate of 99.8%, like the one we built in Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, you also need to have an in-depth understanding of planning aspects and traffic flows. As far as I know, we are the only company worldwide that combines all those different types of knowledge and expertise.’
Entering the US market marks a new stage in the evolution of the fast-growing company, which will be moving into new premises in Utrecht in the coming year, including its own test courses. The company is currently involved in more than a dozen scheduled projects across the US, including a project in Jacksonville, Florida and one in Greenville, South Carolina. Lohmann: “You don’t break into this market overnight – it can take up to several years for a project to be completed. But having realized successful applications already, we are often automatically shortlisted for public and private tenders.”
2getthere has already teamed up with the US-based company Oceaneering, working on various projects. The company states that finding strong partners is a priority when it comes to reducing the time needed to develop the market for its products. Van Helsdingen: ‘We provide mobility solutions but remain the actual owner of the system. That means we’re looking for companies undaunted by the idea of partnering with us for a period of 10 or even 20 years, as is the case with United Technical Services in the United Arab Emirates and SMRT in Singapore. Both these companies are currently shareholders in 2getthere. We are confident we will be able to find similar partners in Silicon Valley relatively quickly.’
2getthere also believes there is great commercial potential in the development of transit systems for large theme parks and medium-sized airports (1.5 million+ passengers a year). Lohmann believes orders to the tune of 50 to 100 million dollars a year would not be unrealistic. ‘If we get the opportunity to partner with one of the major technology companies, that figure could turn out to be even higher.’
For the longer term, Lohmann also has high expectations of the development of what are known as ‘smart cities’ – cities investing in integrating data available locally in order to improve quality of life. ‘Automated transit is absolutely one of the key elements in that process, and that includes Automated People Mover Systems, Automated Transit Networks and Shared Autonomous Vehicles. The city of Columbus, Ohio is currently in the process of building such a system, and that’s exactly the type of project in which our company would like to get involved and share its expertise.’