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In today’s rapidly changing world, finding innovative solutions to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions is more crucial than ever. Unleash Future Boats, a German start-up headquartered in Schleswig, Germany, has emerged as a game-changer in the mobility and logistics sector. With a strong focus on sustainability, Unleash Future Boats is rewriting the rulebook of maritime transportation by developing an ecosystem around electric autonomous boats and ships, along with fully digital harbours and shipyards.
Connecting Innovators: Harnessing the Power of ESA BIC Incubation
Participating in the ESA Business Incubation Centre (BIC) Northern Germany programme has been of immense importance to Unleash Future Boats. Discovered through Gateway 49, a prominent hub in Northern Germany, the founders believe that the program’s true value lies in its network and connections, fostering collaboration with other satellite ESA BICs. As CEO Lars Engelhard emphasises, “It’s a people business. It’s not about the money.” This incubation program has provided Unleash Future Boats with the opportunity to establish meaningful relationships and tap into collective industry expertise, propelling their mission to revolutionise maritime transportation.
Recognising the Tipping Point
In 2016, Lars and Stefanie Engelhard, the founders of Unleash Future Boats, were employed in the automotive industry, specifically focusing on the development of autonomous driving. However, their enthusiasm waned as they grew disillusioned with the industry’s management decisions and the slow pace of progress. This frustration prompted them to make a pivotal decision: they chose to step away from their positions and chart a new course, setting their sights on a global sailing adventure.
Instead, the husband and wife team were called in another direction: zero-emission and autonomous shipping. “We recognised that the world had reached a tipping point which never should have been reached. This was no time to hide – someone needed to make things happen,” commented Lars Engelhard, CEO.
To tackle this challenge head-on, the founders initiated their journey in 2017 with the goal of developing emission-free and autonomous boats and ships.
Unleash Future Boats Begins
“We are more than just boats”, says Stefanie Engelhard, CTO. “We are energy politics, we are transformation in clean transportation, both in mobility and logistics. We are building up an entire ecosystem.”
In 2021, Unleash Future Boats unveiled their groundbreaking technology demonstrator, ZeroOne. It proudly holds the title of the world’s first fully autonomous and zero-emission catamaran. ZeroOne was granted an international boat number and is covered by worldwide insurance for inland, coastal, and offshore waters. This achievement was deemed a “turning point in mobility” by Dr. Bernd Buchholz, Minister for Economy, Transport, Labour, Technology, and Tourism in Schleswig-Holstein.
Unleash Future Boats offers further groundbreaking solutions that continue to contribute to their success. One such solution is Green Boats Engineering, which provides retrofit kits for converting existing boats into green vessels powered by green hydrogen and fuel cells.
Further notable offerings from Unleash Future Boats include FutureOne, a zero-emission autonomous taxi on the water (an “autonomous Uber on the water”). This innovative service will connect rural areas with cities and megacities, effectively turning rivers and waterways into valuable infrastructure for the masses. CargoOne provides a cost-efficient and scalable logistics solution, or an autonomous taxi for containers, which ranges up to 45 metres in length.
As part of their commitment to shaping the future of maritime transportation, Unleash Future Boats has taken a bold step by also acquiring a stretch of land in a nature reserve, paving the way for the Harbour of the Future. In this fully digital and zero-emission harbour autonomous maritime systems are connected with port activities and logistics solutions of the future.
Unleash Future Boats recognises the vital significance of space data in their pursuit of transforming maritime transportation. The company leverages satellite imagery and utilises the advanced capabilities of the Galileo satellite system to provide precise location data for their products, something which is paramount to their offering.
In this regard, Lars Engelhard expresses great enthusiasm for the next generation of Galileo. “Not only is it expected to offer enhanced precision, but it also incorporates encryption measures. This strategic move is smart because it ensures that the valuable precision data remains secure and protected.”
Celebrating Success: Awards and Recognition
Unleash Future Boats has garnered significant recognition recently for their innovative approach and outstanding contributions to the industry.
On 10th May 2023, Stefanie Engelhard was selected to be a core-team member of the UN-ECE Transformative Innovation Network, a strategic platform and meeting place to accelerate sustainable transformation. Additionally, Unleash Future Boats has achieved a significant milestone by reaching the final of the Mapfre Social Outreach Awards 2023, marking the first time in over six years that a German company has attained this international recognition. The Mapfre Social Outreach Awards hold immense prestige, as they focus entirely on societal impact and aiding those in need, particularly the most vulnerable.
Unleash Future Boats consistently stands out as a recipient of prestigious awards. The company received the 2022 Innovation Award Regulatory Sandbox from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Action, the 2022 German Award for Sustainability Projects in the Mobility/Logistics category for Green Boats Engineering, the Vision Award 2022, and was named Thought Leader 2021 by the Boston Consulting Group and Handelsblatt.
About ESA BIC Northern Germany
The Incubation Centre of the European Space Agency in Northern Germany (ESA BIC Northern Germany) is headquartered jointly with the Bremen aeronautics and space industries association AviaSpace Bremen at the BITZ, the largest innovation and technology centre for high-tech companies and startups in Bremen. The ESA BIC Northern Germany brings new startup opportunities to the region and thus strengthens the aeronautics and space sector in the German federal state of Bremen. AVIASPACE BREMEN e.V. supports the incubatees with its network, public relations work and targeted coaching not only during the incubation period, but also afterwards as alumni. Starthaus is the central point of contact in the Bremen startup ecosystem and supports the startups on all issues relating to business development and financing. The ESA BIC Northern Germany is managed by Anwendungszentrum GmbH Oberpfaffenhofen (AZO), an international networking and branding company for the European space programmes that also manages ESA BIC Bavaria with three locations in southern Germany.
Since 2021, ESA BIC Northern Germany has also been offering its service to space-related startups in Schleswig-Holstein. The Technikzentrum Lübeck with GATEWAY49, AviaSpace Bremen and AZO jointly operate this extension of ESA BIC Northern Germany. There are also plans to extend ESA BIC Northern Germany to the northern German federal states of Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Berlin-Brandenburg.