Tech

Optimal Dynamics nabs $22M for AI-powered freight logistics

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Optimal Dynamics, a New York-based startup applying AI to shipping logistics, today announced it has closed an $18.4 million round led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Optimal Dynamics says the funds will be used to more than triple its 25-person team and support engineering efforts, as well as bolstering sales and marketing departments.

Last-mile delivery logistics tends to be the most expensive and time-consuming part of the shipping process. According to one estimate, last-mile costs account for 53% of total shipping costs and 41% of total supply chain costs. With the rise of ecommerce in the U.S., retail providers are increasingly focusing on fulfilment and distribution at the lowest cost. Particularly in the construction industry, the pandemic continues to disrupt wholesalers — a 2020 Statista survey found that 73% of buyers and users of freight transportation and logistics services experienced an impact on their operations.

Founded in 2016, Optimal Dynamics offers a platform that taps AI to generate shipment plans likely to be profitable — and on time. The fruit of nearly 40 years of R&D at Princeton, the company’s product generates simulations for freight transportation, enabling logistics companies to answer questions about what equipment they should buy, how many drivers they need, daily dispatching, load acceptance, and more.

Simulating logistics

Roughly 80% of all cargo in the U.S. is transported by the 7.1 million people who drive flatbed trailers, dry vans, and other heavy lifters for the country’s 1.3 million trucking companies. The trucking industry generates $726 billion in revenue annually and is forecast to grow 75% by 2026. Even before the pandemic, last-mile delivery was fast becoming the most profitable part of the supply chain, with research firm Capgemini pegging its share of the pie at 41%.

Optimal Dynamics’ platform can perform strategic, tactical, and real-time freight planning, forecasting shipment events as far as two weeks in advance. CEO Daniel Powell — who cofounded the company with his father, Warren Powell, a professor of operations research and financial engineering — says the underlying technology was deployed, tested, and iterated with trucking companies, railroads, and energy companies, along with projects in health, ecommerce, finance, and materials science.

“Use of something called ‘high-dimensional AI’ allows us to take in exponentially greater detail while planning under uncertainty. We also leverage clever methods that allow us to deploy robust AI systems even when we have very little training data, a common issue in the logistics industry,” Daniel Powell told VentureBeat via email. “The results are … a dramatic increase in companies’ abilities to plan into the future.”

The global logistics market was worth $10.32 billion in 2017 and is estimated to grow to $12.68 billion USD by 2023, according to Research and Markets. Optimal Dynamics competes with Uber, which offers a logistics service called Uber Freight. San Francisco-based startup KeepTruckin recently secured $149 million to further develop its shipment marketplace. Next Trucking closed a $97 million investment. And Convoy raised $400 million at a $2.75 billion valuation to make freight trucking more efficient.

But Optimal Dynamics investor Mike Droesch, a partner at BVP, says demand for the company’s products remains strong. “Logistics operators need to consider a staggering number of variables, making this an ideal application for a software-as-a-service product that can help operators make more informed decisions by leveraging Optimal Dynamics industry leading technology. We were really impressed with the combination of their deep technology and the commercial impact that Optimal Dynamics is already delivering to their customers,” he said in a statement.

Including this latest series A, Optimal Dynamics has raised over $22 million. Beyond BVP, Fusion Fund, The Westly Group, TenOneTen Ventures, Embark Ventures, FitzGate Ventures, and John Larkin and John Hess also contributed .

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