As Lithuania, and the European Union as a whole, is increasingly looking at the calendar – from 2030 one half of new cars sold must be electric or powered by renewable energy sources, and by 2050 all of them must be electric or powered by renewable – Darius Antanaitis, one of the founders of Ostaralab UAB and the head of Ostara UAB, a nationally known defence expert, together with his team, proposes to meet the epochal European directive without headaches and stress, and without spending thousands by installing the Ostaralab-developed hybrid powertrain into older vehicles.
This way, for example, waste collectors, road workers, firefighters, ambulances and other public service vehicles with diesel engines would not have to replace their entire fleet to meet environmental requirements.
"Such cars with our integrated hybrid drive would be particularly indispensable in old towns, which are often difficult to access and where ecological and public health reasons make it impossible to drive diesel cars," Antanaitis said.
Currently Ostaralab is already actively looking for contacts with municipalities as well as logistics companies, yet another important segment of the new company's potential customers.
The entrepreneur has no doubt that these companies would benefit – why buy a new car when you can save a lot of money by integrating a hybrid powertrain?
A new diesel city bus can cost around one half million euros, while an all-electric bus can cost around one million euros.
"Passenger transport companies will be able to save millions by integrating our solution and technology into their currently used diesel buses," says D. Antanaitis.
Ostara, UAB has recently completed development of two products and separated its activities. The newly established company Ostaralab is developing a hybrid drive system based on the beastly, remote-controlled Krampus Mk1 SUV, which has already been tested.
Until now, Ostara and Darius himself have probably been better known for his hybrid electric-diesel special-purpose vehicle constructed for security, defence or industrial needs.
This metal beast of a buggy was born as an auxiliary tool for border guards, environmentalists and mining companies, but it has also been looked at by the defence industry.
The designers of the Krampus also studied the lessons of the war in Ukraine; from the outset the SUV designed by Lithuanians was militarily focused on three potential functions - anti-aircraft, anti-tank and anti-artillery.
"We offered a platform that was hard to see with the human eye and thermal imaging devices would not see it at all. It is also completely inaudible. A soldier shouldn't have to worry about how to crawl up to a tank - the machine has to do it. This is what we were aiming for," said D. Antanaitis, a participant in many international exhibitions and defence conferences, and a retired major of the Lithuanian Armed Forces.
But he makes no secret of the fact that defence markets are not easy to enter, as every government in every country, including Lithuania, seeks to protect its own manufacturers first.
Ostara was on the lookout for investors for Krampus, but realised that the rigid requirements would make it difficult to find one.
"Working in the military industry, an investor can be a burden or a risk that is hard to measure – it is difficult to verify the investor's links to, say, China or Iran. That is why we worked alone," said D. Antanaitis.
According to the entrepreneur, the biggest help that the government can provide in defence and defence-related innovation is not adding unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles and having a strategic vision.
"If developers of advanced technologies in the defence sector do not know what the vision of the end customer – i.e. the government – is, they may be wasting their precious resources in vain. We have a deep understanding of the military and security markets and can help to develop new products and enter the global market," emphasised D. Antanaitis.
The Krampus project is now complete - it has been developed for two purposes: as an off-road vehicle for the special services and as a platform on the grounds whereof a hybrid powertrain has been developed.
In addition, Ostara is developing another product, which is more entertainment-oriented – the Trollhuset (Troll's House), an off-road camper-trailer.
However, according to D. Antanaitis, the frame of this trailer can be used for other off-road applications: generators, liquid tanks, cargo and so on.
By the way, Ostara means the vernal equinox in March.
"It is the day that the company was acquired. The equinox means fullness, fertility and rebirth," says D. Antanaitis.
Darius's head is filled with innovative ideas for which he draws on his memorable life experiences as a participant in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially those received in the battlefield.
"My experience as a former military officer led me down the entrepreneurial path of developing a hybrid electric autonomous vehicle for the defence industry," says Darius.
"I believe that the most successful innovations are born out of practical needs, when we are trying to solve very specific problems or challenges, and the battlefield has many of them," says D. Antanaitis.
One of them is the provision of supplies in hazardous locations, especially on the battlefield or in a combat zone. This is most often the case for manned military transport columns, which are at risk of ambush and attack. Another challenge is patrolling near enemy lines. This is also very dangerous because, says Darius, military units carrying out such tasks often find themselves in the crosshairs of enemy weapons.
"This naturally raises questions about what would make a soldier's daily routine easier and reduce the risk of human casualties and material damage, but still allow him or her to carry out necessary tasks or manoeuvres. This is how the idea of a fast, manoeuvrable and silent buggy with autonomous driving capability was born," recalls Ostara's founder.
As he watched some of the work being done in mining, environmental protection, border guarding and other areas, he has repeatedly observed that very often money is wasted.
Even where it is not needed, people are still doing the work that can be done by machines.
The entrepreneur is convinced that it is modified motors – electric-hybrid – that will win the tectonic battle of the ages in the near future.
"The Krampus Hybrid Drive was developed with the aim that cars with an internal combustion - diesel – engine could be converted into electric-hybrid vehicles. Today, around 80 percent of our customers are in the civil sector, with another 20 percent in the military sector," says D. Antanaitis.
Statistics show that in state-owned companies and the public sector, diesel vehicles comprise the majority. And with the technology and equipment developed by Ostaralab, even military diesel vehicles can be converted into hybrid-electric vehicles.
"In the military sector, we work more with equipment manufacturers, equipment that we can evaluate, calculate, design and install, and then the equipment manufacturer can offer new options to its customers," says Darius.
To make all his dreams come true, he is looking for someone to rub shoulders with and pool resources together.
Investors, where are you?
"It is much more rational to use existing industrial capacities than to build from scratch a costly production base for innovative technology equipment. That is why I believe that a large manufacturing company with the appropriate technology and equipment will emerge among the investors," said Mr Antanaitis.
The investors' funds are planned to be used to complete the development of the second Krampus hybrid SUV, to reach the 7th technological development level, i.e. the production level, for certification and, of course, for the start of production.
According to Darius, an investor is welcome to invest in the product that has been developed and is operational and can already be "felt and touched upon".
"In other words, we save the investor at least five years of waiting for a return, because the investment cycle from mature idea to production usually takes about 10 years. We have already worked for five years on the prototype and we plan to produce a commercial product in a couple of years and start the certification process. We plan to go into series production in 5-7 years. And then the investor will already see a return on his investment," D. Antanaitis reveals his plans.
Ostaralab is looking most for the investors who have experience in production, financial management, so that we can shorten as much as possible the time period that is needed to begin mass production. All the investor's funds would go towards preparing the prototype for commercial production.
D. Antanaitis' team consists of a team of employees where four out of five are highly qualified engineers with academic degrees, some of them even have PhDs. Around seven others work on all the company's products.
"They have already proven their skills," said the businessman. - Business can never be just about money and profit. For me, it is first and foremost about self-expression, drive, invention, greater functionality, new technologies, making dreams come true."
By the way, Ostaralab employees can all become shareholders in the company.
"It is important for me to motivate my people so that they earn money by feeling the importance and benefits of their work," emphasised Darius.
When this period of time is so turbulent or even unpredictable, the retired major is putting the finishing touches on a place in a remote rural homestead where, in the event of an emergency or a war, his family - his wife and daughter - can be safe, with food, electricity and water.
"We will be able to live there an indefinite period of time, but of course we are still thinking about what we can do to improve it," said D. Antanaitis.
Just like Krampus, the homestead is self-contained: it has a pond to provide water, plenty of fish have been bred for food, trees have been planted and a shelter has been built.
"It was much easier to build the homestead than to earn and win a place in the market with the Ostaralab hybrid drive, but I am convinced that we are on the right track," says Darius.