Parallel Systems Emerges From Stealth With $50 Million For Autonomous Electric Trains—But Will Its Plan Work?

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Parallel Systems
Image courtesy of Parallel Systems

Parallel Systems has big dreams for the future of railway freight operations, and it seems that the venture capital world has taken notice.

The Los Angeles-based transportation startup announced a $49.55 million Series A funding round as it emerged from stealth mode on Wednesday. The round was led by Anthos Capital, with additional investments from the likes of Congruent Ventures, Riot Ventures and Embark Ventures.

Comprised of former SpaceX, Google and Tesla engineers, Parallel Systems is aiming to develop autonomous and electric freight train cars that would make the American shipping industry greener and more efficient.


“We’ve been pretty quiet about what we’ve been doing,” Parallel Systems CEO Matt Soule, formerly the principal avionics engineer at SpaceX, told dot.LA. “Our website has been pretty barren.” Soule co-founded the company two years ago with fellow former SpaceX engineers John Howard and Ben Stabler. Including $3.6 million in seed funding, the startup has now raised more than $53 million to date.

Parallel Systems’ technology relies on replacing traditional diesel-powered locomotives with battery-powered freight cars. In its model, each train car is self-powered, and can break apart from or join together with other cars as needed. In theory, this ability to autonomously break apart and reassemble as needed would reduce the need for switching stations, where trains are reorganized and rerouted manually.

It could also drastically reduce the significant physical footprint of trains, converting them from two-mile-long behemoths into “platoons” of 20-to-50 cars that wouldn’t require massive terminals for loading and unloading. Smaller trains would be able to travel closer to their final destinations before being unloaded—reducing trucking emissions, which account for roughly 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., in the process.

“The opportunity we’ve been after is kind of decarbonizing freight from a new angle,” Soule said.

All of these ideas would be beneficial toward alleviating America’s clogged supply chains and reaching its ambitious carbon emission goals—if they were able to be integrated into America’s existing rail infrastructure. On that front, some experts are skeptical.

“My first instinct was that this looks like SpaceX engineers getting bored and working on something that they know nothing about,” Chris Caplice, executive director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Transportation & Logistics, told dot.LA. “They didn’t think about the larger system—whether it's regulatory, the network itself, the rail operations or the labor involved. I think they just found a technological solution to a problem they wanted to solve.”

From left: Parallel Systems co-founders Ben Stabler, Matt Soule and John Howard.Courtesy of Parallel Systems

Caplice worries that Parallel Systems’ technology fails to consider the realities of America’s existing rail network. Today, rail lines are divided into signal blocks, which can range from less than a mile to 15 miles long; these blocks are in fixed geographic positions, and only one train at a time is permitted into any signal block. For the new autonomous, single-car system to work, “you would have to put in thousands more control points in different places to get the network chopped down small enough to do this,” according to Dale Lewis, the former director of strategic analysis for CSX Transportation.

Even then, it likely still wouldn’t look like what Parallel Systems is imagining, with cars continuously breaking in and out of platoons. To realize what the company is pitching, Lewis says you’d need a complete revamp of the entire rail system.

“If [Parallel Systems] can bring in a couple people who have deep experience in operations planning…and sit with them for a day to go through how this would fit in the system, they’d probably come to some different conclusions about what they’ve got,” he said.

While the startup doesn’t employ any full-time railway operations specialists, Soule says Parallel Systems has brought in “veterans from the industry” who have helped them “understand the business.” He says safety is a top priority for the company; indeed, their vehicles would feature AI that would allow them to come to a stop quicker than traditional trains. No one is going to argue against safer trains—though most modern trains already come equipped with a system known as Positive Train Control, which autonomously prevents train-to-train collisions and other human errors.

Still, the 24-person firm is planning to hire heavily on the software side as it tries to figure out how to integrate its ambitious designs into the existing infrastructure. On the hardware side, Parallel Systems is working toward the second iteration of its prototype battery-electric rail vehicle, and testing it on a closed track in California.

“We’re going as fast as we can in terms of building the tech,” Soule said.

Parallel Systems Explainer VideoVideo via www.youtube.com

🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

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Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

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A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


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  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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