a scottish company The company has raised $14m (£11m) in Series A funding to build one of the UK’s first all-electric intercity bus networks as the company looks to expand its operations across the country.

Building any bus network from scratch (electric or otherwise) is not something anyone can imagine overnight with a laptop and endless cups of coffee. The bus network needs buses, and lots of them. That’s what Keith Bradbury and Pierce Glennie have been doing since they founded Ember in Edinburgh in 2019, initially sourcing a car from one of the few manufacturers willing to take them seriously.

“In 2019, we didn’t [web] The domain name… we actually have nothing,” Bradbury told TechCrunch. “We’re approaching these companies and telling them we want to buy ‘an’ electric bus because that’s all we have the money for. Apparently no one takes you seriously when you say you want to buy an electric bus. Some companies laugh at us in our faces. “

One company willing to do business is China’s Yutong Bus and its UK distributor Pelican, which sold Ember its first bus with little customization other than what materials they wanted the seats to be made of. Ember launched its first bus route in late 2020, connecting the Scottish capital of Edinburgh with the city of Dundee (the birthplace of Grand Theft Auto, FYI), and expanded to Glasgow, Stirling, Perth in subsequent years and other smaller sites and between these cities.

Today, Ember has 24 buses in operation, but it has just taken delivery of another 14 next-generation vehicles from Yutong, which are equipped with larger 563 kWh batteries and can travel 510 kilometers on a single charge – compared to Yutong’s cruising range is approximately 380 kilometers. Previous generation buses.

“Now that we’re up to 38 vehicles, we have the option to actually discuss the significant numbers with Yutong Bus and start building the vehicles to our specifications,” Bradbury said. “Our next-generation car didn’t actually exist 18 months ago. While it wasn’t specifically built for Ember, product development has had a lot of input from us – we were closely involved in the design, the battery layout and the actual physical aspects of the vehicle. Architecture. There are some things we can’t change and there are some things we can change, but we’ve been able to really invest in the process.”

The company has raised over $2.3 million in seed funding to date from European climate tech investors including Blue Impact, Pale Blue Dot, Contrarian Ventures, Monzo co-founder Tom Blomfield and Edinburgh Unicorn co-founder Gareth Williams sky searcher. With the fresh injection of cash, the company is preparing to expand in Scotland and the wider UK market.

Ember’s Series A round was led by Inven Capital, 2150 and AENU, with participation from existing backers.

The company is taking a “full-stack” approach to its fleet development, controlling nearly every aspect of the fleet, from manufacturing and charging infrastructure, to customer service and all the underlying software that brings everything together.

full stack

Ember’s electric bus

Ember’s electric bus Image Source:ember

Both old and new versions of Ember buses are powered by lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, which contain no cobalt and are considered more environmentally friendly. However, as well as having greater capacity, the latest version also charges faster at 600 kW – a 400% improvement meaning its buses can be fully charged in less than an hour.

Most importantly, the buses are larger, seating 53 passengers compared to the previous vehicle’s 38 passengers, while luggage capacity has more than doubled.

The interior of the bus is equipped with 5G Wi-Fi and USB charging ports.

inside the ember

inside the ember Image Source:ember

Ember currently has a main charging center in Dundee with a charging capacity of 1,200kW, supported by on-site wind turbines. However, the company plans to add a further 4MW of charging capacity at other locations across Scotland this year, with the arrival of a fleet of new buses and plans to extend its network further afield.

“Charging centers will be located in private and public locations and will vary in size,” Bradbury said.

The Ember uses a CCS (Combined Charging System) electric car charging system, which supports AC and DC charging via a single plug – this is a common standard in Europe and elsewhere, meaning they’re not technically exclusive to the Ember. In theory, Ember could help alleviate the long-term charging infrastructure issues plaguing the UK (and most other countries), although Bradbury believes the UK’s own operations will likely require much of this infrastructure.

“Our daily usage is so intensive that we have limited spare capacity to share access with third parties,” he said. “However, we do envisage this being implemented in some places as the network develops, particularly for commercial fleets that require more space and higher charging speeds.”

Ember Charging Center in Dundee

Ember Charging Center in Dundee Image Source:ember

Behind the scenes, Ember’s proprietary EmberOS software automates many of the processes involved in managing a fleet. For example, it automatically assigns drivers and vehicles to specific shifts and routes, and if one of the buses is scheduled for maintenance on a particular day, Ember removes it from the roster so there aren’t any unexpected issues with vehicle shortages.

In addition to this, EmberOS monitors the service for issues such as unexpected charging issues, driver no-shows, on-board temperature control, and traffic-related delays.

“If an issue is detected, EmberOS will automatically resolve the issue, such as notifying passengers of delays or prompting drivers to turn on the heat, or flagging it to someone on the operations team,” Bradbury said. “Over time, more and more The more problems can be solved completely automatically, eliminating the need for human input.”

On the consumer side, riders can access real-time data about their bus schedules, including the buses they are currently riding, or future buses they want to ride but don’t want to wait for.

Ember Passenger App

Ember Passenger App Image Source:ember

It’s this software weakness that Bradbury believes is the secret sauce that will allow it to outperform not just traditional intercity bus companies, but also other potential rivals, including established players like the mighty Stagecoach.

“We strongly believe that the benefits of controlling the entire stack can truly deliver fundamental improvements in efficiency,” Bradbury said. “Instead of trying to make incremental improvements in a specific vertical, we’re rebuilding the entire stack to create models that don’t currently exist in the market. This is only possible by connecting the software with the hardware and operating manuals.”

story so far

Prior to joining Ember, Bradbury and his co-founder Glennie held various roles at London-based fintech company Iwoca. Going from developing credit financing software and services for small businesses to building electric buses may not be the most obvious career move, but it was one Bradbury and Glennie made after discussing the shared interests in addressing the climate crisis and the role of electrification. The decision can be played with that.

“We’re not ‘bus people’, we live in London and work for a fintech company – actually building a SaaS company,” Bradbury said. “We both decided we wanted to do something new, and we were very interested in how electrification would change the industry.”

While Bradbury said he can appreciate the broad efforts being made to combat climate change, he wants to find a solution that will see the fruits of their labor in the short term.

“I think there’s a lot of cool stuff, like ‘green concrete’ or ‘nuclear fusion’ — all of which I’d love to study in a way, but really, they’re not tangible to begin with,” Bu Radbury said. “You’re doing all this R&D working toward something that’s going to be achieved in 10 or 20 years that will have an absolutely huge impact. But we were very keen to do something that could have an impact from the get-go, so we looked at Vehicles, electrification, the possibilities of all of that.”

While big-ticket established companies such as Stagecoach have adopted electric buses, these efforts have tended to be more within city ​​instead of between City. Software also plays a minimal role in these various efforts.

“When we look at traditional industries, we don’t see innovation,” Bradbury said. “Maybe that’s how people looked at fintech in the 2000s, and a lot of great companies were born out of it. We did the same thing with transportation — we could look at it with new eyes and come up with a completely Novel approach.”

Why Scotland?

A quick look at Ember’s home city reveals at least one more novel transport plan, called Cavforth, billed as the UK’s first public self-driving bus service. The pilot scheme, run by Stagecoach, currently offers a 20-minute park and ride service in west Edinburgh, although a safety driver is on board as a precaution.

So why is Scotland attracting novel public transport services? Why launch Bradbury’s electric bus network north of the border from Bristol, where he lives? While it’s true that part of the reason is that the Scottish government has a more ambitious net zero plan than the Westminster government, Scotland’s size and layout played a big role in convincing Bradbury to set up operations in Scotland.

“Scotland is not a unique market from a public transport perspective – many countries have similar road and rail networks, similar car ownership and so on,” Bradbury said. “However, the size of the market makes it an interesting place to pilot services. It’s large enough to build a proper network but small enough to iterate quickly. Scotland is a very large area – you can build a ‘Mini scale’ to demonstrate the network. You can demonstrate network effects, you can demonstrate passenger demand, you can do all of these things without requiring huge amounts of capital.”

While Ember’s current geographical coverage is somewhat limited, Bradbury said it is gearing up for wider expansion, including deeper into Scotland, with plans for Aberdeen, Inverness, Fort William and Auburn to build a charging center. Next year, they will set their sights on England, with the exact route yet to be determined.

“There are a lot of different routes in England that would suit us, especially when you think about the range of vehicles now – they can go 500km-plus, which gives us a lot of range,” Bradbury said. “All these centers will come online [in Scotland] will allow us to ‘complete’ the Scottish network in a way that shows the approach that already serves tens of thousands of passengers every week can be adapted elsewhere too. “

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