The rise of robotaxis in China

AutoX, Momenta and WeRide took the stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to discuss the state of robotaxi startups in China and their relationships with local governments in the country.

They also talked about overseas expansion — a common trajectory for China’s top autonomous vehicle startups — and shed light on the challenges and opportunities for foreign AV companies eyeing the massive Chinese market.


Enterprising governments

Worldwide, regulations play a great role in the development of autonomous vehicles. In China, policymaking for autonomous driving is driven from the bottom up rather than a top-down effort by the central government, observed executives from the three Chinese robotaxi startups.

Huan Sun, Europe general manager at Momenta, which is backed by the government of Suzhou, a city near Shanghai, said her company had a “very good experience” working with the municipal governments across multiple cities.

In China, each local government is incentivized to really act like entrepreneurs like us. They are very progressive in developing the local economy… What we feel is that autonomous driving technology can greatly improve and upgrade the [local governments’] economic structure. (Time stamp: 02:56)

Shenzhen, a special economic zone with considerable lawmaking autonomy, is just as progressive in propelling autonomous driving forward, said Jewel Li, chief operation officer at AutoX, which is based in the southern city.

#adas, #aptiv, #artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #av, #china, #early-stage-2021, #ec-mobility-hardware, #ec-techcrunch-mobility, #ev, #robotaxi, #saic, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #techcrunch-mobility-event-2021, #transportation, #waymo

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Why Mate Rimac is working on electric robotaxis

Mate Rimac, the founder and CEO of Croatian electric hypercar and components developer Rimac Automobili, started a separate company nearly three years ago to work on electric robotaxis.

Little is known about the company, which still operates in stealth. Rimac told TechCrunch this week at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 he hopes to keep this separate company under wraps until the team is ready to showcase what it has been working on.

Rimac did provide some details on what he described as an electric robotaxi company. He said the company has offices in Croatia and the U.K. and could expand to other locations. Rimac also said the company intends to be a global operator and he expects to reveal what the team has been working on early next year.

“Why stealth mode?,” Rimac asked during the interview. “Because there’s so much hot air in this industry, and so many PowerPoint companies, you know, announcing big things and not delivering and so on. We didn’t want to be that company, we wanted to do a lot of stuff — and like under-promise, over-deliver.”

Few even knew of the company’s existence until last month when local media discovered a Croatia Ministry of Transport filing that described a proposed project involving an urban mobility ecosystem that used electric autonomous vehicles. While Rimac noted that was an unfortunate discovery, he wants to reveal their work properly.

“People see us as the hypercar company,” Rimac said, noting the company is viewed as one focused on ultra-high net worth individuals. (Indeed, Rimac Automobili unveiled a production version of its Concept 2 vehicle. The renamed Nevera has a $2.44 million price tag.) “We have many other things cooking and have a longer-term outlook. I think that the new mobility will be really a shift in society. Just like phones didn’t just change the phone industry. Apple didn’t just disrupt Nokia, but changed our lives. I think the next big change that we’ll have is mobility.”

Rimac didn’t get into details about the autonomous driving system, sensors or design of the vehicle.

“We think that a lot of people are missing the bigger picture and focusing on some of the building blocks, like the autonomous driving system itself,” he said. “We believe maybe that’s not the differentiator itself, that there are some other differentiating factors within the ecosystem of autonomous mobility.”

Rimac later added that the user experience of the robotaxi is one area that he is focused on and believes it can be different than what others are developing.

#automotive, #electric-robotaxis, #event-recap, #mate-rimac, #rimac-automobili, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #transportation

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Volkswagen says a vendor’s security lapse exposed 3.3 million drivers’ details

Volkswagen says more than 3.3 million customers had their information exposed after one of its vendors left a cache of customer data unsecured on the internet.

The car maker said in a letter that the vendor, used by Volkswagen, its subsidiary Audi, and authorized dealers in the U.S. and Canada, left the customer data spanning 2014 to 2019 unprotected over a two-year window between August 2019 and May 2021.

The data, which Volkswagen said was gathered for sales and marketing, contained personal information about customers and prospective buyers, including their name, postal and email addresses, and phone number.

But more than 90,000 customers across the U.S. and Canada also had more sensitive data exposed, including information relating to loan eligibility. The letter said most of the sensitive data was driver’s license numbers, but that a “small” number of records also included a customer’s date of birth and Social Security numbers.

Volkswagen did not name the vendor, and a company spokesperson did not immediately comment.

It’s the latest security incident involving driver’s license numbers in recent months. Insurance giants Metromile and Geico admitted earlier this year that their quote forms had been abused by scammers trying to obtain driver’s license numbers. Several other car insurance companies have also reported similar incidents involving the theft of driver’s license numbers. Geico said it was likely an effort by scammers to file and cash fraudulent unemployment benefits in another person’s name.

Volkswagen’s letter, however, did not say if the company had evidence that the data exposed by the vendor was misused.

 

#articles, #audi, #automotive, #berkshire-hathaway, #canada, #car-insurance, #driver, #geico, #metromile, #security, #united-states, #volkswagen

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Apple confirms hiring of Ulrich Kranz, former CEO of EV company Canoo

Apple has hired the former co-founder and CEO of electric vehicle company Canoo to help with the development of the Apple Car, Bloomberg first reported, citing unnamed sources. Apple has confirmed to TechCrunch it has hired Kranz, but did not provide further details into his job responsibilities or title.

Kranz resigned his position at Canoo in April after steering the company toward public listing and a new leadership team, and he is reported to have been scooped up by Apple within weeks. The news comes a couple of months after Apple CEO Tim Cook dropped hints that the mysterious Apple Car would include autonomous vehicle technology as a key feature. Hiring an executive with decades of experience at the cutting edge of the auto industry is a clear sign that Apple is moving ahead with its vehicle manufacturing plans.

Apple is keeping a tight lip on its plans for its vehicle. According to a Reuters report from December, Apple intends to produce an electric passenger vehicle with “breakthrough battery technology” and automated vehicle technology by 2024. Other than that, no one knows what the car will look like or who, if anyone, will be the manufacturer, although it’s not outlandish to imagine Apple creating both the hardware and software.

#apple, #apple-car, #automotive, #canoo, #electric-vehicles, #personnel, #transportation, #ulrich-kranz

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Electric Vehicle Orders Are Zooming at Ford

Consumers want the racy Mustang Mach-E coupe and the powerful F-150 Lightning pickup truck

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#automotive, #sustainability

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Waymo and JB Hunt partner to bring autonomous trucks to Texas in new pilot

Waymo will be moving freight for a major customer of transportation logistics company J.B. Hunt Transport Services under what the two companies are calling a “test run” that will take place in one of the country’s busiest trade corridors.

Waymo Via, the company’s trucking and cargo transportation service, will transport goods along Interstate 45 between Houston and Fort Worth, Texas. The trucks will be powered by the Waymo Driver autonomous platform, though a Waymo “autonomous specialists,” a commercially-licensed truck driver and a software technician will be riding in each truck to monitor the operations.

This is not the first time J.B. Hunt and Waymo, an Alphabet subsidiary, have worked together. It seems the companies have been preparing for a trial deployment of autonomous trucks for some time.

“We’ve also worked closely with J.B. Hunt for some time now on operational and market studies and will continue to do so as we roll out autonomous driving technology,” Waymo said in a blog post. “We’ve explored topics such as best practices for regular maintenance, what future facility layouts will look like, and which lanes are best suited for autonomous driving technology, to help ensure long-term preparedness on both sides.”

Waymo declined to share with TechCrunch the specific number of trucks that will be used for the test run, but a spokesperson said that it will be a limited duration pilot “with the goal of jointly developing a long term plan for how our companies can work together.”

Waymo Driver is a Level 4 platform, meaning that it could theoretically operate without a human safety driver behind the wheel, but only under certain conditions (like clear weather).

The autonomous driving company has also partnered with Daimler Trucks to equip Daimler freightliners with the Waymo Driver. That’s in addition to partnerships with Volvo to develop electric robotaxis, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for autonomous cargo vans.

#automotive, #autonomous-driving, #autonomous-transportation, #autonomous-trucking, #autonomous-trucks, #transportation, #waymo

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Swedish company Northvolt raises $2.75B to accelerate European battery production

Swedish battery developer and manufacturer Northvolt AB has raised $2.75 billion in capital as it prepares to ramp up to an annual production capacity of 150 GWh in Europe by 2030.

The funding round – Northvolt’s largest thus far – was co-led by existing investors Goldman Sachs and Volkswagen, and new investors including the Swedish pension funds AP1-4, and OMERS, one of Canada’s largest pension plans. AMF, ATP, Baillie Gifford, Baron Capital Group, Bridford Investments Limited, Compagnia di San Paolo through Fondaco Growth, Cristina Stenbeck, Daniel Ek, IMAS Foundation, EIT InnoEnergy, Norrsken VC, PCS Holding, Scania and Stena Metall Finans also participated in the raise.

Volkswagen’s investment came to €500 million ($620 million), the OEM said Wednesday, maintaining its 20% stake in the battery manufacturer.

CNBC reported that Northvolt’s valuation now stands at $11.75 billion. The company declined to comment on the specific valuation figure to TechCrunch.

Northvolt has already scored major deals with automakers like Volkswagen and BMW. In July 2020, the company inked a $2.3 billion contract with BMW for batteries; more recently in March, Volkswagen put in a $14 billion order over a ten-year period. The two deals bring Northvolt’s total contracts to $27 billion. Other notable customers include Swedish heavy duty truck manufacturer Scania and energy storage company Fluence.

This brings Northvolt’s total raised to more than $6.5 billion since the company was founded in 2016. The manufacturer’s first gigafactory in Skellefteå, Sweden, will be expanded from 40 GWh to 60 GWh, in part due to increased demand from the Volkswagon order, the company said in a statement. That facility will commence production later in 2021.

Northvolt’s overarching plan is to ramp up to at least 150 GWh of annual battery production across Europe by 2030. To meet this massive target, the company is considering at least two additional gigafactories, including one in Germany.

Northvolt is one of Europe’s largest battery manufacturers. Company shareholder EIT InnoEnergy said in a statement Wednesday that the funding is key to Europe achieving its Green Deal objectives, which includes creating a European battery value chain.

The Swedish company aims to distinguish itself from other battery manufacturers by producing batteries using renewable energy for the manufacturing process. Northvolt says its batteries have an 80% lower carbon footprint than those made with coal power. It also recycles batteries in-house and reuses the raw materials in its production process.

#automotive, #bmw-group, #ev-batteries, #northvolt, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #tc, #transportation, #volkswagen

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EV startup Fisker sets moonshot goal of making a climate neutral EV by 2027

Electric vehicle startup Fisker Inc. has set a moonshot goal of creating its first climate neutral car by 2027.

Fisker has yet to bring a vehicle to market — climate neutral or not — making this an ambitious target. The all-electric Fisker Ocean SUV, which is still on track to go into production in November 2022, will not be climate neutral, according to CEO Henrik Fisker who laid out the target as part of a broader update Tuesday to investors. Instead, this will be another yet to be announced vehicle.

Henrik Fisker, a serial entrepreneur who rose to fame as the designer behind iconic vehicles like Aston Martin V8 Vantage, the production launch design of the Aston Martin DB9 and BMW Z8 roadster, also provided a few other updates during the investor call. He said the Ocean will have an anticipated range of up to 350 miles, beyond the previously estimated 300 miles. The company has received more than 14,000 reservations for the Ocean as of March, according to an annual report distributed to shareholders.

Fisker, which went public via a merger with special purpose acquisition company Apollo Global Management Inc. in October at a valuation of $2.9 billion, aims to have four vehicles to market by 2025. One of those, Fisker hinted at Tuesday, could be a luxury vehicle which he called the “UFO” that will use the company’s FM29 platform architecture.

Fisker’s carbon neutral plan

Other companies across industries have made promises to hit that carbon neutral goal before. Henrik Fisker emphasized to investors that the company will not purchase carbon offsets to accomplish that climate neutrality goal. Carbon offsets are credits that companies can purchase to “claim” a reduction in CO2 toward their project or product. Instead, Fisker said they will work with suppliers to develop climate neutral materials and manufacturing processes.

The company lays out some of its proposed strategies on its website, where it splits the vehicle lifecycle into five phases: upstream sourcing, manufacturing and assembly, logistics, the use phase, and end-of-life. For each phase, the company lists a few bullet points, such as localizing manufacturing. Even with these plans, achieving climate neutrality in vehicle production will be extremely difficult. Vehicles use materials and components such as steel that are notoriously hard to decarbonize, for example.

Fisker said that the company’s manufacturing partners have climate neutral goals of their own, which is true for automotive contract manufacturer Magna Steyr. The company inked a deal with Fisker to exclusively manufacturer the Fisker Ocean in Europe. Magna set a target of climate neutrality for its European operations by 2025 and globally by 2030. Foxconn, Fisker’s other major partner for its second, lower-price vehicle dubbed Project PEAR, also has a net-zero emissions goal, but it is set for the middle of the century.

Moonshot goals such as this one could help push innovation in manufacturing processes and encourage other automakers and suppliers to reach for the same targets. Other automakers such as Polestar and Porsche have all made carbon neutral promises with deadlines of 2030, while Mercedes has said it will hit that target in 2039.

Fisker does seem to have a plan for how it might be able to recycle or reuse some of its EV batteries once they’re no longer useful in the vehicle. The company plans to extend its leasing program across the entire estimated 15-year lifespan of the vehicle, which would theoretically ensure that Fisker will be in possession of a number of its vehicles when they reach end-of-life.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #fisker, #fisker-ocean, #foxconn, #henrik-fisker, #magna, #transportation

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ISEE brings autonomy to shipping yards with self-driving container trucks

Robotaxis may still be a few years out, but there are other industries that can be transformed by autonomous vehicles as they are today. MIT spin-off ISEE has identified one in the common shipping yard, where containers are sorted and stored — today by a dwindling supply of human drivers, but tomorrow perhaps by the company’s purpose-built robotic yard truck. With new funding and partnerships with major shippers, the company may be about to go big.

Shipping yards are the buffer zone of the logistics industry. When a container is unloaded from a ship full of them, it can’t exactly just sit there on the wharf where the crane dropped it. Maybe it’s time sensitive and has to trucked out right away; maybe it needs to go through customs and inspections and must stay in the facility for a week; maybe it’s refrigerated and needs power and air hookups.

Each of these situations will be handled by a professional driver, hooking the container up to a short-haul truck and driving it the hundred or thousand meters to its proper place, an empty slot with a power hookup, long term storage, ready access for inspection, etc. But like many jobs in logistics, this one is increasingly facing a labor shortage as fewer people sign up for it every year. The work, after all, is fairly repetitive, not particularly easy, and of course heavy equipment can be dangerous.

ISEE’s co-founders Yibiao Zhao and Debbie Yu said they identified the logistics industry as one that needs more automation, and these container yards especially. “Working with customers, it’s surprising how dated their yard operation is — it’s basically just people yelling,” said Zhao.  “There’s a big opportunity to bring this to the next level.”

Two ISEE trucks without containers on the back.

Image Credits: ISEE

The ISEE trucks are not fully custom vehicles but yard trucks of a familiar type, retrofitted with lidar, cameras, and other sensors to give them 360-degree awareness. Their job is to transport containers (unmodified, it is important to note) to and from locations in the yards, backing the 50-foot trailer into a parking spot with as little as a foot of space on either side.

“A customer adopts our solution just as if they’re hiring another driver,” Zhao said. No safe zone is required, no extra considerations need to be made at the yard. The ISEE trucks navigate the yard intelligently, driving around obstacles, slowing for passing workers, and making room for other trucks, whether autonomous or human. Unlike many industrial machines and vehicles, these bring the current state of autonomous driving to bear in order to stay safe and drive as safely as possible among mixed and unpredictable traffic.

The advantage of an automated system over a human driver is especially pronounced in this environment. One rather unusual limitation of yard truck drivers is that, because the driver’s seat is on the left side of the cabin, they can only park the trucks on the left as well since that’s the only side they can see well enough. ISEE trucks have no such limitation, of course, and can park easily in either direction, something that has apparently blown the human drivers’ minds.

Overhead view of autonomous and ordinary trucks moving around a shipping yard.

Image Credits: ISEE

Efficiency is also improved through the infallible machine mind. “There are hundreds, even thousands of containers in the yard. Humans spend a lot of time just going around the yard searching for assets, because they can’t remember what is where,” explained Zhao. But of course a computer never forgets, and so no gas is wasted circling the yard looking for either a container or a spot to put one.

Once it parks, another ISEE tech can make the necessary connections for electricity or air as well, a step that can be hazardous for human drivers in bad conditions.

The robotic platform also offers consistency. Human drivers aren’t so good when they’re trainees, taking a few years to get seasoned, noted Yu. “We’ve learned a lot about efficiency,” she said. “That’s basically what customers care about the most; the supply chain depends on throughput.”

To that end she said that moderating speed has been an interesting challenge — it’s easy for the vehicle to go faster, but it needs the awareness to be able to slow down when necessary, not just when there’s an obstacle, but when there are things like blind corners that must be navigated with care.

It is in fact a perfect training ground for developing autonomy, and that’s kind of the idea.

“Today’s robots work with very predefined rules in very constrained environments, but in the future autonomous cars will drive in open environments. We see this tech gap, how to enable robots or autonomous vehicles do deal with uncertainty,” said Zhao.

ISEE co-founders Yibiao Zhao (top), Debbie Yu (left), and Chris Baker.

ISEE Founders

“We needed a relatively unconstrained environment with complex human behaviors, and we found it’s actually a perfect marriage, the flexible autonomy we’re offering and the yard,” he continued. “It’s a private lot, there’s no regulation, all the vehicles stay in it, there are no kids or random people, no long tail like a public highway or busy street. But it’s not simple, it’s complex like most industrial environments — it’s congested, busy, there are pedestrians and trucks coming in and out.”

Although it’s an MIT spinout with a strong basis in papers and computer vision research, it’s not a theoretical business. ISEE is already working with two major shippers, Lazer Spot and Maersk, which account for hundreds of yards and some 10,000 trucks, many or most of which could potentially be automated by ISEE.

So far the company has progressed past the pilot stage and is working with Maersk to bring several vehicles into active service at a yard. The Maersk Growth Fund has also invested an undisclosed amount in ISEE, and one detects the possibility of an acquisition looming in the near future. But the plan for now is to simply expand and refine the technology and services and widen the lead between ISEE and any would-be competitors.

#artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #autonomous-trucks, #autonomous-vehicles, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hardware, #isee, #logistics, #recent-funding, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #self-driving-trucks, #shipping, #startups, #tc, #transportation

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AI pioneer Raquel Urtasun launches self-driving technology startup with backing from Khosla, Uber and Aurora

One of the lingering mysteries from Uber’s sale of its Uber ATG self-driving unit to Aurora has been solved.

Raquel Urtasun, the AI pioneer who was the chief scientist at Uber ATG, has launched a new startup called Waabi that is taking what she describes as an “AI-first approach” to speed up the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles, starting with long-haul trucks. Urtasun, who is the sole founder and CEO, already has a long list of high-profile backers, including separate investments from Uber and Aurora. Waabi has raised $83.5 million in a Series A round led by Khosla Ventures with additional participation from Uber, 8VC, Radical Ventures, OMERS Ventures, BDC, Aurora Innovation as well as leading AI researchers Geoffrey Hinton, Fei-Fei Li, Pieter Abbeel, Sanja Fidler and others.

Urtasun described Waabi, which currently employs 40 people and operates in Toronto and California, as the culmination of her life’s work to bring commercially viable self-driving technology to society. The name of the company —  Waabi means “she has vision” in Ojibwe and “simple” in Japanese —  hints at her approach and ambitions.

Autonomous vehicle startups that exist today use a combination of artificial intelligence algorithms and sensors to handle the tasks of driving that humans do such as detecting and understanding objects and making decisions based on that information to safely navigate a lonely road or a crowded highway. Beyond those basics are a variety of approaches, including within AI.

Most self-driving vehicle developers use a traditional form of AI. However, the traditional approach limits the power of AI, Urtasun said, adding that developers must manually tune the software stack, a complex and time-consuming task. The upshot, Urtasun says: Autonomous vehicle development has slowed and the limited commercial deployments that do exist operate in small and simple operational domains because scaling is so costly and technically challenging.

“Working in this field for so many years and, in particular, the industry for the past four years, it became more and more clear along the way that there is a need for a new approach that is different from the traditional approach that most companies are taking today,” said Urtasun, who is also a professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto and a co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI.

Some developers do use deep neural nets, a sophisticated form of artificial intelligence algorithms that allows a computer to learn by using a series of connected networks to identify patterns in data. However, developers typically wall off the deep nets to handle a specific problem and use a machine learning and rules-based algorithms to tie into the broader system.

Deep nets have their own set of problems. A long-standing argument is that they can’t be used with any reliability in autonomous vehicles in part because of the “black box” effect, in which the how and the why the AI solved a particular task is not clear. That is a problem for any self-driving startup that wants to be able verify and validate its system. It is also difficult to incorporate any prior knowledge about the task that the developer is trying to solve, like, oh, driving for instance. Finally, deep nets require an immense amount of data to learn.

Urtasun says she solved these lingering problems around deep nets by combining them with probabilistic inference and complex optimization, which she describes as a family of algorithms. When combined, the developer can trace back the decision process of the AI system and incorporate prior knowledge so they don’t have to teach the AI system everything from scratch. The final piece is a closed loop simulator that will allow the Waabi team to test at scale common driving scenarios and safety-critical edge cases.

Waabi will still have a physical fleet of vehicles to test on public roads. However, the simulator will allow the company to rely less on this form of testing. “We can even prepare for new geographies before we drive there,” Urtasun said. “That’s a huge benefit in terms of the scaling curve.”

Urtasun’s vision and intent isn’t to take this approach and disrupt the ecosystem of OEMs, hardware and compute suppliers, but to be a player within it. That might explain the backing of Aurora, a startup that is developing its own self-driving stack that it hopes to first deploy in logistics such as long-haul trucking.

“This was the moment to really do something different,” Urtasun said. “The field is in need of a diverse set of approaches to solve this and it became very clear that this was the way to go.”

#aurora-innovation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #khosla-ventures, #raquel-urtasun, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #transportation, #uber, #uber-atg, #venture-capital

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Chinese lidar maker Hesai lands $300M led by Hillhouse, Xiaomi, Meituan

The rush to back lidar companies continues as more automakers and robotaxi startups include the remote sensing method in their vehicles.

Latest to the investment boom is Hesai, a Shanghai-based lidar maker founded in 2014 with an office in Palo Alto. The company just raised over $300 million in a Series D funding round led by GL Ventures, the venture capital arm of storied private equity firm Hillhouse Capital, smartphone maker Xiaomi, on-demand services giant Meituan and CPE, the private equity platform of Citic.

Hesai said the new proceeds will be spent on mass-producing its hybrid solid-state lidar for its OEM customers, the construction of its smart manufacturing center, and research and development on automotive-grade lidar chips. The company said it has accumulated “several hundred million dollars” in funding to date.

Other participants in the round included Huatai Securities, Lightspeed China Partners and Lightspeed Venture Capital, as well as Qiming Venture Partners. Bosch, Baidu, and ON Semiconductor are also among its shareholders.

Another Chinese lidar startup Innovusion, a major supplier to electric vehicle startup Nio, raised a $64 million round led by Temasek in May. Livox is another emerging lidar maker that was an offshoot of DJI.

Lidar isn’t limited to powering robotaxis and passenger EVs, and that’s why Hesai got Xiaomi and Meituan onboard. Xiaomi makes hundreds of different connected devices through its manufacturing suppliers that could easily benefit from industrial automation, to which sensing technology is critical. But the phone maker also unveiled plans this year to make electric cars.

Meituan, delivering food to hundreds of millions of consumers in China, could similarly benefit from replacing human riders with lidar-enabled unmanned vans and drones.

Hesai, with a staff of over 500 employees, says its clients span 70 cities across 23 countries. The company touts Nuro, Bosch, Lyft, Navya, and Chinese robotaxi operators Baidu, WeRide and AutoX among its customers. Last year, it kickstarted a partnership with Scale AI, a data labeling company, to launch an open-source data set for training autonomous driving algorithms, with data collected using Hesai’s lidar in California. 

Last July, Hesai and lidar technology pioneer Velodyne entered a long-term licensing agreement as the two dismissed legal proceedings in the U.S., Germany and China.

#asia, #automotive, #baidu, #bosch, #china, #funding, #hillhouse-capital, #lidar, #lightspeed, #lightspeed-venture-capital, #meituan, #qiming-venture-partners, #shanghai, #temasek, #transportation, #venture-capital, #xiaomi

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The executive in charge of the Tesla Semi has left the company

Jerome Guillen, a critical executive at Tesla who was working on the development and eventual production of the Tesla Semi has left the company, the automaker said Monday in a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Guillen had a decade-long career at Tesla and held numerous roles, including his most recent position as head of heavy duty trucking. He started as the acting VP of vehicle engineering in 2012 before becoming program director of the Model S. He was later appointed president of automotive before becoming president of heavy duty trucking in March 2021.

The Tesla Semi, a battery electric semi-truck, is still in development. Earlier this month, the company announced that the first Tesla Semi Megacharger would be installed at Frito-Lay’s Modesto, California delivery center. The Megacharger charging stations will be capable of serving up to 100 Tesla Semi trucks.

It was reported earlier this year that Tesla is building a new production line for its Semi model near its Nevada Gigafactory location, with the aim of producing five semi-trucks per week.

Developing …

#automotive, #elon-musk, #tesla, #transportation

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Bosch opens $1.2 billion chip plant in Germany

Germany technology and parts supplier Robert Bosch opened a €1 billion ($1.2 billion) chip factory in Dresden, Germany on Monday, the single largest investment in the company’s history. The plant, which will mainly supply automotive customers, is a major signal that connected and electric vehicles are here to stay.

“Regardless of which powertrain we talk about … always we need a semiconductor and sensor,” Bosch’s executive vice president of automotive electronics Jens Fabrowsky told TechCrunch.

The plant will handle front-of-the-line processing, or wafer fabrication, in the semiconductor manufacturing process. The 300-millimeter wafers will be sent to partners, typically in Asia, to do packaging and assembly of the semiconductors.

300 millimeters is a “new field of technology,” Fabrowsky explained. As opposed to the 150- or 200-millimeter wafers that are produced at Bosch’s nearby factory in Reutlingen, Germany, the larger wafer size offers greater economies of scale because you can produce more individual chips per wafer.

The 77,500-square-foot plant will run on what Bosch calls “AIoT,” a term that combines artificial intelligence and Internet of Things to denote a fully connected and data-driven system that’s unique to the facility. Bosch will not only have real-time data on the approximately 100 machines, but also on the power, water and other aspects of the facility — up to 500 pages of data per second, Fabrowsky said. The AI-driven algorithm should detect an anomaly from any of the connected sensors immediately.

Despite its high levels of automation, the plant will employ around 700 people once it is fully operational.

It is unclear whether the plant will help resolve the ongoing global semiconductor shortage, which has forced automakers like General Motors and Ford to slash production volumes and temporarily shutter manufacturing facilities.

“At the point when we decided [to build the plant] it was purely driven by technology,” Fabrowsky said. “It was clear we needed to go into 300 [millimeters], and we needed to invest in some more capacity.”

The facility will begin production in July with chips for power tools before beginning production on automotive chips in September. It generally takes over 20 weeks to make a semiconductor chip, Fabrowsky said, including 600 individual steps in the wafer facility alone.

The company will also be investing €50 million ($61 million) to extend the clean room facilities at its Reutlingen plant, Bosch board member Harald Kroeger said at a media briefing Monday.

Bosch has applied to Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy under a microelectronics investment program to subsidize expenditures for the plant of up to €200 million ($244 million). It must submit evidence of expenditures before it receives the funds, a Bosch spokesperson told TechCrunch.

#automotive, #bosch, #semiconductors, #tc, #transportation

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The Station: Aurora gets closer to a SPAC deal, Spin’s new strategy and Waymo One app numbers

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

We are days away from TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a one-day virtual event scheduled for June 9 that is bringing together some of the best and brightest minds in transportation. I’ll keep it short and sweet.

If you want to check things out but are short on cash, register and type in “station” for a free pass to the expo and breakout sessions. If you want access to the main stage — where folks like Mate Rimac, Chris Urmson and GM’s Pam Fletcher will be interviewed — then type in “Station50” to buy a full access pass for a 50% discount. Tickets can be accessed here.

Buying a ticket will also give you a months-free subscription to Extra Crunch and access to all the videos of the conference. We have a star-studded group of folks coming from Aurora, AutoX, Gatik, GM, Hyundai, Joby Aviation, Motional, Nuro, Rimac Automobili, Scale AI, Starship Technologies, Toyota Research Institute, WeRide, and Zoox. (to name a handful).

Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

The big micromobility news of the week revolves around Spin, and it’s not about whether or not Ford is spinning out the company; they kept a pretty tight lip on that, but clearly big changes are happening. Co-founder Derrick Ko is stepping down as CEO and moving into an advisory role, along with his other two co-founders Zaizhuang Cheng and Euwyn Poon. In Ko’s place is Ben Bear, who previously served as CBO of Spin.

Along with this news came a flurry of other announcements, but it makes sense to start with Spin’s latest public strategy for winning the e-scooter business. Spin is actively seeking out limited vendor permits with cities. In other words, the company doesn’t want to see its cities messing around with other operators. Spin is seeking exclusive partnerships and is prepared to better itself to get them. It’s positioning itself as the most desirable for cities as it shares even more news…

If Spin wants to have a kind of deal that Lyft-owned CitiBike has with NYC, then it needs to bring more to the table. It’s starting with e-bikes. 5,000 of them, to be specific, in the coming months, starting with Providence, RI in June and spreading outward into a few other mid-tier cities over the summer.

Spin is also flexing its tech that will help make its scooters safe and reliable — just what a city wants in a long-term commitment. This week, it brought its Drover AI-equipped scooters to Milwaukee (with plans to launch in Miami, Seattle and Santa Monica, as well) that are equipped to detect sidewalk and bike lane riding and validate parking. Seattle, Santa Monica and Boise, Idaho will soon be graced by Spin’s new S-200, a three-wheeled adaptive scooter built with Tortoise’s repositioning software that allows a remote operator to move scooters out of gutters or into more dense urban areas.

Tier gets some more money

Berlin-based Tier Mobility, which recently won a London permit, has raised $60 million so it can expand its fleet of vehicles and battery charging networks. Technically, it’s a loan. The asset-backed financing comes from Goldman Sachs.

Let’s talk about bikes

Lyft has got a new e-bike piloting this month, starting in San Francisco, then Chicago and New York. It’ll be dropping the sleek, white bikes with soft purple LEDs at random around the city for people to test out. TechCrunch’s Brian Heater gave it a spin, and his general consensus was, Yeah, it’s a good bike. Can’t complain.

While Lyft may have anti-theft protection on its e-bikes, the rest of us are not so lucky. According to market research company NPD Group, we saw a 63% YOY growth for bike sales in June. Bike Index, a national bike registry group, tells us that the number of bikes stolen has seen similar increases. The number of bikes reported stolen to the service was a little over 10,000 between April and September, compared to nearly 6,000 during the same period in the previous year. That’s an uptick of nearly 68%. So, when are apartment complexes going to be forced to build bike storage rather than car parks?

Best cities for biking

If you are going to risk theft and bike around, you’ll want to do it in one of the cities PeopleForBikes just announced are the best for biking.

“Topping this year’s ratings in the United States are Brooklyn, NY; Berkeley, CA and Provincetown, MA (each ranking first in the large, medium and small U.S. city categories, respectively). Top international performers include Canberra and Alice Springs in Australia; Utrecht and Groningen in the Netherlands and Gatineau, Longueuil and Montreal in Canada, all located in the province of Quebec.”

Biking is not all about fun and commuting. For some of us, it’s work. URB-E, the compact container delivery network that wants to replace trucks with small electric bikes, has announced PackItFresh as its final-mile refrigeration provider. PackItFresh’s totes can keep food at safe temperatures for up to 24 hours, yet another reason supermarkets need to be nixing the delivery trucks in favor of these more sustainable alternatives.

 — Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

 

I hesitate to put this one under deal of the week, because, well, the deal ain’t done. But it is interesting, and this is my show, so here we are. I’m talking about Aurora, the autonomous vehicle company, and a potential merger with a special purpose acquisition company.

Here’s the tl;dr for those who didn’t catch my Friday story. Several sources within the financial sector told me that Aurora is close to finalizing a deal to merge with Reinvent Technology Partners Y, the newest special purpose acquisition company launched by LinkedIn co-founder and investor Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus and managing partner Michael Thompson. It appears the valuation is going to be somewhere in the $12 billion neighborhood. The deal is expected to be announced as early as next week. I should add that both Aurora and Reinivent declined to comment.

The Hoffman, Pincus, Thompson trio, who are bullish on a concept that they call “venture capital at scale,” have formed three SPACs, or blank-check companies. Two of those SPACs have announced mergers with private companies. Reinvent Technology Partners announced a deal in February to merge with the electric vertical take off and landing company Joby Aviation, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange later this year. Reinvent Technology Partners Z merged with home insurance startup Hippo.

Is it possible that the deal could fall apart? Sure. But my sources tell me that it has progressed far enough that it would take a significant issue to derail the agreement. One more note: there is the tricky issue of Hoffman and Reinvent’s existing relationship with Aurora. Hoffman is a board member of Aurora and Reinvent is an investor. While Hoffman and Reinvent showing up on two sides of a SPAC deal would be unusual, it is not unprecedented. Connie Loizos’s accompanying article digs into the increasing cases of conflicts of interest popping up in SPAC deals.

Other deals that got my attention …

Getir, the Istanbul-based grocery delivery app, raised $550m in new funding. This latest injection of capital, which tripled its valuation to $7.5 billion, came just three months after its last financing, the Financial Times reported. The company, which just started to expand outside of Turkey in early 2021, is now planning a U.S. launch this year.

Faction Technology, the Silicon Valley-based startup building three-wheeled electric vehicles for autonomous delivery or human driven jaunts around town, raised $4.3 million in seed funding led by Trucks VC and Fifty Years.

Flink, a Berlin-based on-demand “instant” grocery delivery service built around self-operated dark stores and a smaller assortment (2,400 items) that it says it will deliver in 10 minutes or less, has raised $240 million to expand its business into more cities, and more countries.

FlixMobility, the parent company of the FlixBus coach network and the FlixTrain rail service, has closed more than $650 million in a Series G round of funding that values the Munich-based company at over $3 billion. Jochen Engert, who co-founded and co-leads the company with André Schwämmlein, described the round in a press call that TechCrunch participated in as a “balanced” mix of equity and debt, and said that the plan will be to use the funds to both expand its network in the U.S. market as well as across Europe.

Locus, a startup that uses AI to help businesses map out their logistics, raised $50 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its presence. The new round, a Series C, was led by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC. Qualcomm Ventures and existing investors Tiger Global Management and Falcon Edge also participated in the round, which brings the startup’s to-date raise to $79 million. The new round valued the startup, which was founded in India, at about $300 million, said a person familiar with the matter.

Realtime Robotics announced a $31.4 million round. The funding is part of the $11.7 million Series A the company announced all the way back in late 2019. Investors include HAHN Automation, SAIC Capital Management, Soundproof Ventures , Heroic Ventures, SPARX Asset Management, Omron Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Scrum Ventures and Duke Angels.

Roadster, the Palo Alto-based digital platform that gives dealers tools to sell new and used vehicles online has been acquired for $360 million by retail automotive technology company CDK Global Inc. As part of the all-cash deal, Roadster is now a wholly owned subsidiary.

Sennder, a digital freight forwarder that focuses on moving cargo around Europe (and specifically focusing on trucks and “full truck load”, FTL, freight forwarding), has raised $80 million in funding, at a valuation the company confirms is now over $1 billion.

Toyota AI Ventures, Toyota’s standalone venture capital fund, dropped the “AI” and has been reborn as, simply, Toyota Ventures. The firm is commemorating its new identity with a new $300 million fund that will focus on emerging technologies and carbon neutrality. The capital is split into two early-stage funds: the Toyota Ventures Frontier Fund and the Toyota Ventures Climate Fund. The introduction of these two new funds brings Toyota Ventures’ total assets under management to over $500 million

Trellis Technologies, the insurance technology platform, raised $10 million in Series A funding led by QED Investors with participation from existing investors NYCA Partners and General Catalyst.

VTB, Russia’s second-largest lender, has bought a $75 million minority stake in car-sharing provider Delimobil, Reuters reported.

Waymo: by the numbers

the station autonomous vehicles1

Waymo has been on my mind lately — and not because of the executive departures that I wrote about last month. No, I’ve been thinking about Waymo and how, or if, it’s been scaling up its Waymo One driverless ride-hailing service, which operates in several Phoenix suburbs. The latest example is that Waymo One can now be accessed and booked through Google Maps.

But what about ridership? The folks at Sensor Tower, the mobile app market intelligence firm, recently shared some numbers that give the tiniest of glimpses into who is at least interested in trying the service.

First, a bit of history. Waymo started an early rider program in April 2017, which allowed vetted members of the public, all of whom signed NDAs, to hail an autonomous Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan. All of these Waymo-branded vans had human safety operators behind the wheel.

In December 2018, the company launched Waymo One, the self-driving car service and accompanying app. Waymo-trained test drivers were still behind the wheel when the ride-hailing service began. Early rider program members were the first to be invited to the service. As these folks were shifted over to the Waymo One service, the NDA was lifted.

The first meaningful signs that Waymo was ready to put people in vehicles without human safety operators popped up in fall 2019. TechCrunch contributor Ed Niedermeyer was among the first (media) to hail a driverless ride. These driverless rides were limited and free. And importantly, still fell under the early rider program, which had that extra NDA protection. Waymo slowly scaled until about 5 to 10% of its total rides in 2020 were fully driverless for its exclusive group of early riders under NDA. Then COVID-19 hit.

In October 2020, the company announced that members of Waymo One — remember this is the sans NDA service — would be able to take family and friends along on their fully driverless rides in the Phoenix area. Existing Waymo One members were given first access to the driverless rides. The company started to welcome more people directly into the service through its app, which is available on Google Play and the App Store.

Waymo said that 100% of its rides would be fully driverless, which it has maintained. Today, anyone can download the app and hail a driverless ride.

OK, back to the numbers. Sensor Tower shared monthly estimates for Waymo’s installs from the U.S. App Store and Google Play. The company said that most of the installs are on iOS, as it looks like the Waymo app only became available on Android in April 2021. This isn’t a ridership number. It does show how interest has grown, and picked up since February 2021.

Waymo one app data

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Hi folks, welcome back to Policy Corner.

Another infrastructure bill was proposed in Washington this week. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure introduced a new bill that would invest $547 billion over the next five years on surface transport. While much of those funds would go toward improving America’s roads, bridges, and passenger rail, the INVEST in America Act would dedicate around $4 billion in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and around $4 billion to invest in zero-emission transit vehicles.


And that’s in addition to major infrastructure bills already proposed by President Joe Biden and House Democrats. It’s likely that this bill, should it pass, would be significantly scaled back — just as Congressional Republicans are attempting to do with Biden’s infrastructure plan. You can read more about the bill here.

President Biden has set his sights on battery manufacturing as a way to recover and reuse critical minerals in the EV supply chain. This is after it was reported that he walked back earlier signals that he might support domestic mining for these minerals, like lithium. Instead, it looks like his plan is to push for continued importing of the metals from foreign countries and then to recycle and reuse them at the end of a battery’s life.

This news is a blow to America’s mining industry but sure to be a boost for metal recyclers, like Redwood Materials in Nevada and Canadian company Li-Cycle, which is expanding its operations in the States.

Some of the biggest pushback against mining has come from environmental and conservation groups. A good example is the situation currently unfolding out in Nevada, where a proposed lithium mine may be halted due to the presence of a rare wildflower. Conservation groups want to get protected status for the flower. If they succeed? No more mine.

The final piece of news this week is a recent survey from Pew Research Center which found that 51% of Americans oppose phasing out the production of gas-powered cars and trucks. The report also found that those reported hearing “a lot” about EVs were more likely to seriously consider one for their next vehicle purchase. Also, while Americans are roughly in agreement that EVs are better for the environment, they’re equally in agreement that they’re more costly.

The upshot is that more and more Americans are coming around to the idea of EVs and the question of their benefits (on the environment, for example) is pretty well understood. But policymakers and OEMs clearly still have a ways to go in convincing a huge swathe of Americans to get on board.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

A few more notes

 

I won’t be providing the looooonnnnggggg roundup of news this week, but here are a few little bits including some hires and other tidbits.

7-Eleven said it plans to install 500 direct-current fast charging ports at 250 locations across North America by the end of 2022. These charging ports will be owned and operated by 7-Eleven, as opposed to fuel at its filling stations, which must be purchased from suppliers.

Baraja, the lidar startup, appointed former Magna and DaimlerChrysler veterans to its executive team, including Paul Eichenberg as chief strategy officer and Jim Kane as vp of automotive engineering.

Brian Heater, hardware editor here at TechCrunch, covered a recent gathering of ride-hailing drivers in Long Island City, Queens. The group protested outside of Uber’s offices ahead of a proposed state bill. The drivers support the proposed bill that would make it easy for gig economy workers in the state to unionize.

Cruise, the autonomous vehicle subsidiary of GM that also has backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, Microsoft and Honda, has secured a permit that will allow the company to shuttle passengers in its test vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel.

The permit, issued by the California Public Utilities Commission as part of its driverless pilot program, is one of several regulatory requirements autonomous vehicle companies must meet before they can deploy commercially. This permit is important — and Cruise is the first to land this particular one — but it does not allow the company to charge passengers for any rides in test AVs.

DeepMap has developed a crowdsourced mapping service called RoadMemory that lets automakers turn data collected from their own fleets of passenger vehicles and trucks into maps. The company says the tool is designed to expand geographic coverage more quickly and support hands-off autonomous driving features everywhere.

Joby Aviation is partnering with REEF Technology, one of the country’s largest parking garage operators, and a real estate acquisition company Neighborhood Property Group to build out its network of vertiports, with an initial focus on Los Angeles, Miami, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Populus, the platform that helps cities manage shared mobility services, streets and curbs, launched a new digital car-sharing parking feature in Oakland. The gist is that this feature helps cities collect data on car-sharing and deploy curbside paying payments. The company launched this particular product in 2018 and has been expanding to different cities.

Starship Technologies, the autonomous sidewalk delivery startup, has hired a new CEO. The company tapped Alastair Westgarth, the former CEO of Alphabet’s Loon, to lead the company as it looks to expand its robotics delivery service. Loon, Alphabet’s experiment to deliver broadband via high-altitude balloons, was shut down for good at the beginning of this year. Prior to working at Loon, Westgarth headed the wireless antennae company Quintel Solutions, was a vice president at telecommunications company Nortel and director of engineering at Bell Mobility.

Yuri Suzuki, a partner at design consultancy firm Pentagram, recently conducted a research project into the crucial role electric car sound has on a user’s safety, enjoyability, communication and brand recognition, out of which he developed a range of car sounds.

#apps, #aurora-innovation, #automotive, #cruise, #gm, #hyundai, #nuro, #reid-hoffman, #rimac-automobili, #starship-technologies, #toyota, #transportation, #venture-capital, #waymo

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Cruise can now give passengers rides in driverless cars in California

Cruise, the autonomous vehicle subsidiary of GM that also has backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, Microsoft and Honda, has secured a permit that will allow the company to shuttle passengers in its test vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel.

The permit, issued by the California Public Utilities Commission as part of its driverless pilot program, is one of several regulatory requirements autonomous vehicle companies must meet before they can deploy commercially. This permit is important — and Cruise is the first to land this particular one — but it does not allow the company to charge passengers for any rides in test AVs.

“In order to launch a commercial service for passengers here in the state of California, you need both the California DMV and the California PUC to issue deployment permits. Today we are honored to have been the first to receive a driverless autonomous service permit to test transporting passengers from the California PUC,” Prashanthi Raman, Cruise’s director of Government Affairs said in an emailed statement to TechCrunch.

There are two regulatory bodies, the CPUC and the California Department of Motor Vehicles, that dictate the testing and eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles. The California DMV regulates testing of autonomous vehicles with and without safety operators. About 55 companies have permits to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver. Driverless testing permits, in which a human operator is not behind the wheel, have become the new milestone and a required step for companies that want to launch a commercial robotaxi or delivery service in the state. AutoX, Baidu, Cruise, Nuro, Pony.ai, Waymo, WeRide and Zoox have driverless permits with the DMV.

The final step with the DMV, which only Nuro has achieved, is a deployment permit. This permit allows Nuro to deploy at a commercial scale. Nuro’s vehicles can’t hold passengers, just cargo, which allows the company to bypass the CPUC permitting process.

Over at the CPUC, there are “drivered” and “driverless” permits, which allow companies to give rides in their autonomous vehicles. Aurora, AutoX, Cruise, Deeproute.ai, Pony, Voyage (which was acquired by Cruise) Waymo and Zoox all have “drivered” permits. Cruise is the first to snag the driverless permit.

Any company that wants to eventually shuttle and charge passengers for rides in their robotaxis have to secure all of these permits from the DMV and CPUC.

“Issuance of this first driverless permit for the CPUC’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot Programs is a significant milestone. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to transform our transportation system and communities by solving individual mobility needs, improving roadway safety, and moving goods throughout the state sustainably and efficiently,” Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma said in statement. “The effective deployment of autonomous vehicles can also transform vehicle manufacturing, maintenance, and service business models to create new jobs and industries for the California workforce.”

Last year, the CPUC approved two new programs to allow permitted companies to provide and charge for shared rides in autonomous vehicles as long as they can navigate the lengthy regulatory process. The decision came after months of lobbying by the AV industry pushing the CPUC to consider a rule change that would allow for operators to charge a fare and offer shared rides in driverless vehicles.

The CPUC said Cruise, along with any other company that eventually participates in the pilot, must submit quarterly reports about the operation of their vehicles providing driverless AV passenger service. Companies must also submit a passenger safety plan that outlines their plans for protecting passenger safety for driverless operations.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #cruise, #tc, #transportation

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Autonomous vehicle startup Aurora in final talks to merge with Reid Hoffman’s newest SPAC

Autonomous vehicle startup Aurora is close to finalizing a deal to merge with Reinvent Technology Partners Y, the newest special purpose acquisition company launched by LinkedIn co-founder and investor Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus and managing partner Michael Thompson, according to several sources familiar with the talks.

One of the sticking points is the targeted valuation, which had been as high as $20 billion. It is now closer to $12 billion and the deal is expected to be announced as early as next week, said multiple sources who have asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to discuss the deal. Aurora declined to comment. Reinvent also declined to comment.

The Hoffman, Pincus, Thompson trio, who are bullish on a concept that they call “venture capital at scale,” have formed three SPACs, or blank-check companies. Two of those SPACs have announced mergers with private companies. Reinvent Technology Partners announced a deal in February to merge with the electric vertical take off and landing company Joby Aviation, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange later this year. Reinvent Technology Partners Z merged with home insurance startup Hippo.

Their latest SPAC, known as Reinvent Technology Partners Y,  priced its initial public offering of 85 million units at $10 per unit to raise $850 million. The SPAC issued an additional 12.7 million shares to cover over allotments with total gross proceeds of $977 million, according to regulatory filings. The units are listed on the Nasdaq exchange and trade under the ticker symbol “RTPYU.”

Aurora already has a relationship with Hoffman. In February 2018, Aurora raised $90 million from Greylock Partners and Index Ventures. Hoffman, who is a partner at Greylock, and Index Ventures’ Mike Volpi became board members of Aurora as part of the Series A round. The following year, Aurora raised more than $530 million in a Series B round led by Sequoia Capital and included Amazon and T. Rowe Price Associates. Lightspeed Venture Partners, Geodesic, Shell Ventures and Reinvent Capital also participated in the round, as well as previous investors Greylock and Index Ventures.

While Hoffman and Reinvent showing up on two sides of a SPAC deal would be unusual, it is not unprecedented. For instance, a blank-check company formed by T.J. Rodgers announced in February a merger with Enovix, a battery technology company that he has been a director of since 2012 and is its largest shareholder, Bloomberg reported at the time. In this case, Hoffman is a board member, but not its largest shareholder.

Aurora, which was founded in 2017 by Sterling Anderson, Drew Bagnell and Chris Urmson, has had a high-flying year. In December, the company reached an agreement with Uber to buy the ride-hailing firm’s self-driving unit in a complex deal that valued the combined company at $10 billion.

Aurora did not pay cash for Uber ATG, a company that was valued at $7.25 billion following a $1 billion investment in 2019 from Toyota, DENSO and SoftBank’s Vision Fund. Instead, Uber handed over its equity in ATG and invested $400 million into Aurora. The deal gave Uber a 26% stake in the combined company, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (As a refresher, Uber held an 86.2% stake (on a fully diluted basis) in Uber ATG, according to filings with the SEC. Uber ATG’s investors held a combined stake of 13.8% in the company.)

Since the acquisition, Aurora has spent the past several months integrating Uber ATG employees and now has a workforce of about 1,600 people. Aurora more recently said it reached an agreement with Volvo to jointly develop autonomous semi-trucks for North America. That partnership, which is expected to last several years and is through Volvo’s Autonomous Solutions unit, will focus on developing and deploying trucks built to operate autonomously on highways between hubs for Volvo customers.

In March, Aurora disclosed in a regulatory filing, that it has sold $54.9 million in an equity offering that kicked off in March 2021.

#aurora, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #tc, #transportation, #venture-capital

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Rebranded Toyota Ventures invests $300 million in emerging tech and carbon neutrality 

Toyota AI Ventures, Toyota’s standalone venture capital fund, has dropped the “AI” and is reborn as, simply, Toyota Ventures. The fund is commemorating its new identity by investing an additional $300 million in emerging technologies and carbon neutrality via two early-stage funds: the Toyota Ventures Frontier Fund and the Toyota Ventures Climate Fund. 

The introduction of these two new funds, each worth $150 million, brings Toyota Ventures’ total assets under management to over $500 million. With the new capital infusion into the Frontier Fund comes an expansion of Toyota Ventures’ core thesis, which previously focused on AI, autonomy, mobility, robotics and the cloud, and now is adding smart cities, digital health, fintech and energy. So while Toyota Ventures’ investment approach isn’t changing, it’s broadening the scope of startups it will consider investing in. 

“AI is kind of shrinking as a proportion of everything,” Jim Adler, founding managing director of Toyota Ventures, told TechCrunch. “The first mission of the Frontier Fund has always been to discover what’s next for Toyota. Toyota pivoted to cars in the 1930s, and Toyota will grow to other businesses in the future. Startups are experiments in the marketplace, and this is a way for us to understand and get comfortable with where innovations are coming from.” 

Toyota as a global company has more than 370,000 employees that cover a range of business units in which the company at large stands to benefit from investing, such as financial technology. The Frontier Fund is a step outside of mobility. It not only seeks to bring emerging tech to market, but it also wants to bring new innovations onboard, whether as a customer or an acquisition, according to Adler. 

“I think the vision of the company really is that machines are here to stay, they amplify the human experience, and Toyota understands how machines amplify humans really well for the benefit of society, which sounds incredibly corny, but the company really believes that,” said Adler.

By that same token, the new Climate Fund seeks to invest in startups that can help Toyota accelerate its goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. The company has been investing in hydrogen for years, including a recent partnership with Japanese fuel company ENEOS, but it’s open to whatever technology will help achieve carbon neutrality, according to Adler.

“We think renewable energies will play a role,” said Adler. “Hydrogen production, storage distribution and utilization will play a role. We think carbon capture and storage will play a role. We’re not going to get dogmatic about hydrogen because we’ve been at it for decades and maybe things will change. Hydrogen hasn’t been crowdsourced across the startup community because there just wasn’t a market for it, but I think the market may be emerging.”

The fund is accepting online pitches on its website from entrepreneurs seeking early-stage funding. On Thursday, Toyota Ventures also announced it would be expanding its team and working with a new Advisor Network as a resource for founders looking for guidance on anything from product development to diversity and recruitment. 

“Toyota Ventures has been an invaluable partner for Boxbot since they invested in our seed round in 2018,” said Austin Oehlerking, co-founder and CEO of Boxbot, in a statement. “They have been instrumental in helping us to navigate complicated, existential challenges on our journey from concept to product/market fit. Jim and the team really understand how corporate venture capital should function in order to successfully partner with startups.” 

Adler says he and his team come from an entrepreneurial background, so they understand what it’s like on the other side of the table. Toyota Ventures’ focuses on early-stage startups because that’s where it believes some of the most interesting innovations come from. 

“I’m a big believer that early-stage venture capital is a telescope into the future,” said Adler. “I think we can actually find those incredibly valuable innovations that make this all worthwhile.”

#artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #cloud, #startups, #toyota, #toyota-ai-ventures, #toyota-ventures, #transportation, #venture-capital

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Aurora brings in outsiders to boost safety efforts, public trust of driverless vehicles

Aurora, the autonomous vehicle company that acquired Uber ATG last year, has assembled a team of outside experts, shared new details about its operations in a self-assessment safety report and launched a website as part of a broader effort to win over consumers wary of the technology that they may someday share the road with, or even use.

Aurora said Thursday it has tapped experts in aviation safety, insurance, medicine and automotive safety — all people from outside of the niche AV industry — to provide an outside perspective on the company’s overall approach to safety, to look for gaps in its system and advise on the best ways to share its progress and record with regulators and the public. The advisory group is designed to augment Aurora’s existing safety efforts, which includes on-road testing and development.

“I think for a while we’ve almost done the ‘Field of Dreams’ analysis where it’s like, ‘well if we build it they will come, just look at iPhones,’” Nat Beuse, Aurora’s head of safety said in a recent interview with TechCrunch. “We are always comparing it to these other consumer products, and I’m not so sure that is actually how we win over the hearts and minds of consumers in every single community in the United States.”

Beuse, who previously led the safety team at Uber ATG and once oversaw automated-vehicle developments at the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the goal is for driverless vehicles — whether that’s robotaxis shuttling people or trucks hauling freight — to be adopted broadly. That can’t happen, he said, without being able to measure and show the public that the technology is safe. He noted that public trust is one of the two biggest threats he sees to the AV industry.

“If all we worry about is a small number of people who get exposed to [AVs] we will never see the benefits of this technology and the broad scale, sweeping changes and the impact that it can have on our lives in a beneficial way,” he said. “We have to do a lot more there [gaining public trust]. Beuse added that gaining public trust should be done in concert with the government.

“I think for too long it’s been, ‘You, industry, you solve it. You’re building this stuff,’” he said. “And I really think it’s a partnership. Of course, we’re building the tech, we have a huge responsibility, but also the government has a huge, huge role to play and helping us kind of get the public on board.”

The members of the safety advisory board include Intelligent Transportation Society of America President and CEO Shailen Bhatt, Dave Carbaugh, the former chief pilot for flight-operations safety at Boeing and Victoria Chibuogu Nneji, the lead engineer and innovation strategist at Edge Case Research. Other members include Biologue President Jeff Runge, who is also a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Adrian Lund, managing member of HITCH42, LLC and former president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and GHS Aviation Group CEO George Snyder.

The committee, which has already been meeting, is comprised of people who “don’t live and breathe the tech,” Beuse said.

Most importantly, for Aurora and the rest of the industry, is addressing the looming question of ‘how safe is safe enough?’ when it comes to driverless vehicles. One metric that has been adopted, and increasingly criticized, is comparing vehicle miles traveled and vehicle miles per “disengagement,” an industry jargon term that means a human safety operator has taken over from the computer driving the vehicle.

“We’ve been pretty adamant that that’s not a real metric because you can drive around in a parking lot and generate some interactions and that’s a whole lot different than if you’re driving in a city — and oh by the way, that’s a whole lot different if you’re driving on the highway,” Beuse explained.

Aurora is part of the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium (AVSC), which includes Daimler, Ford, GM, Honda, Lyft, Motional, SAE and Toyota, that is working to come up with better safety metrics. The new Aurora safety advisory board isn’t working directly on the AVSC project, however it is providing general guidance that could help in this effort.

While there is still more work to be done to validate these new metrics, the group does have a handful that it thinks are pretty promising, Beuse said.

#aurora, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #driverless-vehicles, #mobility, #self-driving-cars, #self-driving-trucks, #tc

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Waymo’s driverless taxi service can now be accessed on Google Maps

Waymo One, the ride-hailing service that uses driverless vehicles in the suburbs of Phoenix, can now be accessed and booked through Google Maps.

This will be the first fully autonomous ride-hailing option available in the app, which will roll out first to Android users, Waymo said Thursday. The team up not only brings together two Alphabet companies, it signals Waymo’s push to become more visible and accessible to the public.

Waymo has abut 600 vehicles in its U.S. fleet. About 300 to 400 of those are in the Phoenix area, but not all of those are used in the driverless Waymo One fleet. The Waymo One service only uses driverless vehicles, which means that a safety operator is not physically behind the wheel. It also means that if it pops up on Google Maps, users can be assured that it will indeed be driverless. Some vehicles in the Phoenix area are used for testing. Waymo doesn’t share exact numbers of how many driverless vehicles it operates as part of the service.

The process still requires a bit of app hopping. There isn’t a direct way to access, book, and pay for the Waymo One rides in Google Maps. Instead, the user is brought over to the Waymo app to complete the booking.  Users first have to input directions to or from a location in Waymo’s Metro Phoenix territory, which includes parts of Chandler, Mesa, and Tempe, from an Android device. Once the user taps on the ridesharing or transit tab, they will see the estimated price and ETA of their trip with Waymo.

Existing Waymo One riders will be directed to the Waymo app to book the ride, while newcomers will be taken to the PlayStore to download it.

 

 

#android, #automotive, #autonomous, #google, #phoenix, #transportation, #waymo

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Ford officially adds Maverick, a compact pickup truck, to its lineup

Ford is adding a new entry-level truck called Maverick to its lineup as the automaker seeks to offer pickups at every price level in this increasingly competitive market.

The company said Thursday it will debut the vehicle June 8, including on its new Tiktok channel. The automaker tapped actress Gabrille Union to do the official unveiling, which will largely occur on social media. Union will show-off the all-new truck on her own Instagram and TikTok channels, on Ford’s social channels as well as on Hulu.

Little was seen of the vehicle, just a one second glimpse of it in a teaser ad on YouTube. From the photo, it is obviously a Ford and a compact one. The rest of the details will have to wait until next week, unless they’re leaked between now and then.

In Ford pickup hierarchy, that means the Maverick will sit under the mid-sized Ranger and F series models. The Ranger XL, the most affordable of the trims, starts at about $25,070 before destination fees. That means the Maverick should start at least few thousand dollars below that figure.

The automaker didn’t provide any more details about if it would be a hybrid, electric or gas-powered vehicle. However, noting the direction Ford has taken recently with the hybrid F-150 and the recently revealed all-electric F-150 Lightning, it’s likely that there will at least be a hybrid version offered.

As a reminder, the Ford F-150 is the profitable cornerstone of the U.S. automaker’s business. By adding in an electric sibling to the lineup it seemed like perhaps all the boxes had been ticked. But Ford wants to capture that entry level market of customers who want a pickup that is affordable and more suitable for city living.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #tc

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CDK Global buys vehicle the e-commerce platform Roadster for $360 million

Roadster, the Palo Alto-based digital platform that gives dealers tools to sell new and used vehicles online has been acquired for $360 million by retail automotive technology company CDK Global Inc., according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

As part of the all-cash deal, Roadster is now a wholly owned subsidiary. Roadster’s business model has evolved since its founding in 2013. The online sales platform initially hosted dealers’ inventory on its site, but handled the entire sales process with customers. Roadster now works more directly with dealerships by providing its digital retail tools directly to these businesses through its “Express” products.

These digital tools have helped dealerships enter a modern era and serve customers who have become accustomed to completing retail purchases online, particularly in the last year.

“Consumers have shown they are increasingly more willing to purchase big ticket items online, and this trend has quickly accelerated during the pandemic,” said Brian Krzanich, CDK Global’s president and CEO, in a statement. “To meet their expectations, the automotive industry requires integrations of the right technology, data and infrastructure to better connect its online and in-store experiences.”

CDK is known for making the vehicle sales process easier with digital products like Connected Store, a digital quote, loan and payment tool, or Elead CRM, a leads generating software platform. Roadster’s assets will connect CDK to dealer back-end-systems for a more seamless end-to-end sales process.

“Automotive retailing is extremely complex, and the best way to create a truly frictionless, end-to-end buying experience is to fully integrate our technology with the back-end systems that power dealership sales, finance and operations, regardless of provider,” said Andy Moss, Roadster’s founder and CEO, in a statement.

#automotive, #roadster, #transportation

0

Faction raises $4.3M to deploy 3-wheeled EVs for driverless delivery

Faction Technology founder and CEO Ain McKendrick didn’t have the $1 billion or the time that a typical automotive program might need to design and manufacture an EV that could be used for driverless delivery.

So, he turned to power sports to fulfill his vision of a micro-logistics service that can be used for driverless delivery or rented and operated by a human for jaunts around the city. Now, with prototypes built and an ambition to scale, McKendrick has raised $4.3 million in seed funding led by Trucks VC and Fifty Years.

“We keep doing the same things over and over again,” said McKendrick, who was previously VP of engineering at the now shuttered self-driving truck startup Starsky Robotics. “We keep taking legacy vehicles and trying to retrofit them for driverless technologies. Rather than do the same stuff over and over again, how about we do it a little bit differently?”

Faction, which launched last year and graduated this winter from the Y Combinator accelerator program, started with a three-wheel motorcycle platform. While the company is building the chassis from the ground up, McKendrick says it can be accomplished at a fraction of the cost of manufacturing an automobile. The vehicle costs about $30,000 in all, which McKendrick said has a payback period of two years.

These are motorcycle-class vehicles, which means they are legal for city streets and highways but don’t have some of the same requirements that passenger vehicles do.

The vehicles can deliver cargo, which is accomplished through a combination of autonomy and a remote worker using teleoperations to assist. Faction, which is about a 10-person team, is working with other companies for the autonomous vehicle stack. However, it has developed a core platform with safety features that will step in if the autonomous system fails.

“The core technology that we’re building for these vehicles is actually something we aspire to bring to other vehicle formats, as the company grows over time,” he said, adding that they have developed a digital vehicle architecture and a teleoperation system, which work together.

Image Credits: Faction Technology

Delivery, or micro-logistics as McKendrick calls it, is the first focus of the company. However, the founder also sees an opportunity to build out fleets of its three-wheeled vehicles and rent them out to people who want to use them for three- to five-mile trips around cities, or even longer distance from a city to a nearby suburb. These vehicles would be nearly the same with a few key differences, like a glass canopy for the human operator versions. The delivery vehicles would have an opaque canopy.

McKendrick envisions users being able to hail one of its vehicles through an app. The vehicle would then drive itself to the user. Once they step inside, it would be manually operated by the human driver.

McKendrick’s pitch is that users get all the convenience of a scooter or bike share, but have weather protection and highway capability.

“So if you need to run from say, San Francisco down to San Francisco Airport, this is the perfect format of vehicle to do it for you, as opposed to trying to do more four-door sedans and larger-format vehicles.”

Under the driverless delivery applications, the user would be charged on a per-mile basis. McKendrick said they may charge by the hour for the vehicle rentals.

The company is working now to form partnerships with manufacturers of light electric vehicles to scale operational fleets, and plans to announce the first customer trials later this year. McKendrick said the goal is to deploy a small fleet of about 50 vehicles for the micro-logistics pilot and start some early rider trials by the fourth quarter.

#automotive, #autonomous-delivery, #autonomy, #delivery, #electric-vehicles, #faction-technology, #fifty-years, #recent-funding, #starsky-robotics, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #trucks-vc

0

7-Eleven to install 500 EV charging stations by the end of 2022

Convenience stores are ubiquitous – and they sell the vast majority of gas purchased by consumers in the United States. But as more Americans transition to electric vehicles, a major reason people visit convenience stores will disappear.

Industry giant 7-Eleven is looking to capture this growing market of EV drivers. The company said Tuesday it will install 500 direct-current fast charging ports at 250 locations across North America by the end of 2022. These charging stations will be owned and operated by 7-Eleven, as opposed to fuel at its filling stations, which must be purchased from suppliers.

Many charging stations from some of the country’s largest providers, like EVgo, ChargePoint or Tesla’s Supercharger network, are located in a patchwork of parking lots adjacent to shopping malls or retailers like Target. But a major draw of convenience stores like 7-Eleven is that they’re already located in areas adjacent to highways or major roads – so they may have a leg up in attracting drivers.

7-Eleven may have another advantage in choosing to install DC fast chargers as opposed to slower level 2 chargers: The majority of convenience retailers are designed for quick, in-and-out service – around the time it takes to fill a tank of gas. Many don’t offer temperature-controlled places to sit, so a longer charging time would likely pose a problem for drivers. While older EV models are limited by the amount of kilowatt charges they can accept (so the output rate of the charger is inconsequential to how long it takes to charge the battery), newer vehicles can accept a wider range of charging rates.

As charging infrastructure – or lack thereof – remains one of the largest barriers to EV adoption, planned build-outs from mainstream retailers like the one announced by 7-Eleven could help reduce some consumer hesitancy over EVs.

The 500 charging stations will join 7-Eleven’s existing network of 22 charging stations, which are located in 14 stores across four states.

#7-eleven, #automotive, #electric-vehicle-charging-station, #electric-vehicles, #ev-charging-infrastructure, #ev-charging-stations, #tc, #transportation

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Freight forwarder Sennder raises $80M at a $1B+ valuation

Freight forwarding — the process of organising how and where items will be shipped around the world, and specifically the technology that underpins that work — continues to be a huge area of the logistics market, not least because of the huge boom in e-commerce in the last year, and because of the Covid-19-mandated need to simply be more efficient in how things are being moved around. Today, one of the bigger players in that space is announcing more funding to capitalize on the opportunity.

Sennder, a digital freight forwarder that focuses on moving cargo around Europe (and specifically focusing on trucks and “full truck load”, FTL, freight forwarding), has raised $80 million in funding, at a valuation that the company confirms is now over $1 billion.

The Berlin-based startup has been on something of a funding tear this year. In January, it announced a $160 million round, and this $80 million is closing out its Series D. Baillie Gifford has led this latest Series D extension, with Hedosophia, Accel, Lakestar, HV Capital, Project A and Scania all participating in the previous part of the Series D.

The funding makes Sennder, which has now raised some $350 million, one of the most well-funded of the freight forwarders, but it’s a hot area at the moment. Another player out of Europe, Zencargo, picked up $42 million just last month. Other competitors include the likes of Flexport in the US.

Sennder is growing organically, but it’s also making some acquisitions to scale up — a mark not just of the activity in the market but also the fragmentation. In May, it acquired Cars&Cargo to give it a stronger presence in France and Benelux. Other companies that it has acquired have included Uber Freight Europe and Everoad in 2020, and it also operates a JV with Poste Italiane, Italy’s postal service. Altogether it now has eight hubs in Europe.

The plan will be to make more acquisitions of this kind, the company said, to expand a network that now covers 12,500 trucks that it says works with ten German DAX 30 and eleven Euro Stoxx 50 shippers and is expected to move more than 1 million truckloads in 2021.

“We are delighted to have carried our momentum from 2020 into 2021, having already made one acquisition and signed several strategic partnerships,” said David Nothacker, CEO and Co-Founder of sennder, in a statement. “We look to expand our European footprint, bringing more carriers and shippers onto the sennder platform, while expanding our digital offering – such as SaaS. Acquisitions and strategic partnerships are part of this strategy – the additional funds give us the flexibility to capitalize on the right opportunities. Baillie Gifford has backed a wave of revolutionary tech companies; their commitment to sennder is a vote of confidence in our team, technology, and business model.”

Stephen Paice, Co-manager, Baillie Gifford European Growth Trust PLC, added: “We are delighted to join the sennder team on its journey to disrupt Europe’s logistics industry. We strongly believe its technology has the potential to create tremendous value for stakeholders and society in an industry plagued with inefficiencies and needless CO2 emissions. What’s particularly impressive, beyond the progress shown so far, is the purpose-driven and entrepreneurial mind-set instilled within the company. This will no doubt be an important factor for long-term success.”

#automotive, #europe, #funding, #sennder, #transportation

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ChargerHelp co-founder, CEO Kameale C. Terry is heading to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Thousands of electric vehicle charging stations will be built around the country over the next decade. ChargerHelp!, founded in January 2020 by Kameale C. Terry and Evette Ellis, wants to make sure they stay up and running.

The idea for the on-demand repair app for EV charging stations came to Terry when she was working at EV Connect, where she held a number of roles including director of programs and head of customer experience. She noticed long wait times to fix non-electrical issues at charging stations due to the industry practice to use electrical contractors.

“When the stations went down we really couldn’t get anyone on site because most of the issues were communication issues, vandalism, firmware updates or swapping out a part — all things that were not electrical,” Terry said in an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year.

After Terry quit her job to start ChargerHelp!, she joined the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, where she developed a first-of-its-kind EV Network Technician Training Curriculum. Shortly after, Terry and Ellis were accepted into Elemental Excelerator’s startup incubator and have landed contracts with major EV charging network providers like EV Connect and SparkCharge.

The company uses a workforce-development approach to hiring, meaning that they only hire in cohorts. Workers receive full training, earn two safety licenses, are guaranteed a wage of $30 an hour and receive shares in the startup, Terry said.

We’re excited to announce that Kameale Terry will be joining us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a one-day virtual event that is scheduled June 9. We’ll be covering a lot of ground with Terry, from how she developed her EV repair curriculum to what she sees in the company’s future.

Each year TechCrunch brings together founders, investors, CEOs and engineers who are working on all things transportation and mobility. If it moves people and packages from Point A to Point B, we cover it. This year’s agenda is filled with leaders in the mobility space who are shaping the future of transportation, from EV charging to autonomous vehicles to urban air taxis.

Among the growing list of speakers are Rimac Automobili founder Mate RimacRevel Transit CEO Frank Reig, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler and Remix/Via co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu, who will come together to discuss how (and if) urban mobility can increase equity while still remaining a viable business.

Other guests include Motional’s President and CEO Karl Iagnemma, Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, GM‘s VP of Global Innovation Pam FletcherScale AI CEO Alexandr WangJoby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation FundQuin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct CapitalZoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

We also recently announced a panel dedicated to China’s robotaxi industry, featuring three female leaders from Chinese AV startups: AutoX’s COO Jewel LiHuan Sun, general manager of Momenta Europe with Momenta, and WeRide’s VP of Finance Jennifer Li.

Don’t wait to book your tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility as prices go up at the door. Grab your passes right now and hear from today’s biggest mobility leaders.

#alexandr-wang, #aurora, #automation, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #autox, #av, #ceo, #chargerhelp, #charging-station, #china, #chris-urmson, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #coo, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicle-charging-station, #electric-vehicles, #ev-connect, #events, #frank-reig, #jesse-levinson, #jewel-li, #joby, #joby-aviation, #joeben-bevirt, #karl-iagnemma, #linkedin, #mate-rimac, #momenta, #motional, #pam-fletcher, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #revel-transit, #rimac-automobili, #robotaxi, #robotics, #scale-ai, #science-and-technology, #sparkcharge, #startups, #tamika-l-butler, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #technology, #tiffany-chu, #transport, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #weride, #zoox

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The Station: Rivian rolls towards an IPO and Quantumscape makes a big battery hire

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

For my American readers, you might be traveling — perhaps for the first time in more than a year — because of the Memorial Day holiday. While Memorial Day is meant to honor members of the U.S. military who died while serving, the three-day weekend has become the unofficial kick off to summer. This year, those traveling by car, truck or SUV will be met by the most expensive Memorial Day weekend gas prices since 2014, according to AAA. The organization also estimates that 37 million Americans will travel by plane and automobile over the holiday — a 60% increase over the same period last year.

Be safe out on these busy roads, frens.

One story to highlight: Mark Harris dug into the contracts for the Las Vegas Loop System. He found that restrictions put in place by Nevada regulators are making it difficult for The Boring Company to meet contractual targets for its LVCC Loop, Elon Musk’s first underground transportation system. Shortly after publication, Steve Hill, president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), tweeted that a Loop test this week, with a few hundred participants, had demonstrated its planned 4,400 passenger per hour capacity, which could release $13 million in construction funds currently being held back. While this bodes well for TBC, the story lays out a number of other issues that could pose a challenge for the company. We will continue to dig into this story of tunnels and transport.


Now a request, dear reader. We’re a bit more than a week away from TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a one-day virtual event scheduled for June 9 that is bringing together some of the best and brightest minds in transportation, including Mate Rimac of Rimac Automobili, Pam Fletcher of vp of global innovation at GM, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, and investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital.

I’d love for you to join, and you can do that by clicking here and buying a ticket, which will also give you a months-free subscription to Extra Crunch and access to all the videos of the conference. But, if you can’t come, please reach out anyway and let me know if you have any questions or topics that you want addressed. I will be interviewing many of the folks coming to our virtual stage.

We just announced three more participants from automakers Hyundai, Ford and Toyota who will talk about their respective companies’ increasing interest and investment in robotics. Our three guests are: Max Bajracharya, formerly from Alphabet’s X and now vp of robotics at Toyota Research Institute, Ernestine Fu, director at Hyundai Motor Group who heads development at the new  New Horizons Studio and Mario Santillo, a technical expert at Ford who has been charged with helping lead the company’s efforts at a recently announced $75 million research facility at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

Micromobility rivals Bird and Lime have come out with news this week that they’re both marketing as sustainability initiatives. Let’s start with Bird.

Bird has unveiled its next-generation scooter, the Bird Three, that it will unveil in New York and Berlin this summer. It’s got a longer-range battery with 1kWh capacity and an improved diagnostic monitoring system to keep the battery lasting as long as possible. Bird says its better, smarter battery means it’s ultimately a more sustainable scooter because it has a longer life and needs to be charged a lot less.

Ideally, a better battery and better software will also help produce a longer-lasting vehicle so that Bird can cut down on depreciation and maintenance costs, which have really not helped the company in its push for profitability. Last week, Bird announced a SPAC merger with Switchback II. The regulatory filings that accompanied the announcement demonstrate just how difficult it is to turn a profit given the unit economics of shared scooters.

Lime is similarly positioning its updated subscription service, Lime Prime, as a sustainable initiative. With each new Prime member sign up, Lime promises to plant a tree through One Tree Planted. But more importantly, the subscription service helps the regular Lime rider perhaps save a bit of money. Members have access to waived unlock fees on any vehicle, and in markets with no start fees, the benefit will be 25% off the ride price. Additionally, riders can get free 30 minute reservations on any vehicle.

Two-wheel swag news

Zaiser Motors announced the launch of its Wefunder campaign to raise funds for development and production of its Electrocycle. It’s a good-lookin’ vehicle, charcoal-black with a design that breaks away from a super traditional gasoline-era style and looks more like something a small Batman might ride. All of the components are designed to be recyclable within the first 10 years of production, the company says. The Electrocycle has 300 miles of range, swappable batteries and is less than $25,000.

Meanwhile in scooter world, the Scotsman, a Silicon Valley-based electric scooter brand, has unveiled a scooter that’s 3D printed entirely in carbon fiber composite. And I don’t just mean some parts are composite. The whole frame, the handlebars, the stem and the baseboard are all made of this strong, sustainable, lightweight material. It also means the scooters are highly customizable, each frame printed depending on the owner’s height, weight, arm and leg lengths and riding position. At a starting price of $2,999, it’s not cheap, but that might be a signal from the industry that scooters are increasingly become viable transport options and not just toys. You can pre-order here.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

The march of IPOs appears to picking up pace. For instance, Full Truck Alliance, the Chinese digital freight platform known as Manbang Group, filed for an IPO. The filing didn’t specify the exact amount it was aiming to raise. Reuters, citing unnamed sources, reported that the company wants to raise up to $1.5 billion, which would give it a valuation of $20 billion.

Full Truck Alliance’s S-1 provides a number of interesting details, including the how much money can be captured by effectively connecting truckers with shippers. The company reported that about 20% of all China’s heavy-duty and medium-duty truckers fulfilled shipping orders on our platform in 2020. (More than 2.8 million truckers fulfilled shipping orders on its platform last year.) Full Truck Alliance said last year it facilitated 71.7 million fulfilled orders with a gross transaction value of RMB173.8 billion (US$26.6 billion).  The first quarter number show it is growing. In the first quarter, the company had  22.1 million fulfilled orders, a 170.2% increase from the same period.

Full Truck Alliance raised $3.6 billion in private funding, most recently last fall at an $11.7 billion valuation, from firms like SoftBank Vision Fund (22.2% pre-IPO stake), Sequoia Capital China (7.2%), Permira, Tencent, Hillhouse Capital, GGV Capital, Lightspeed China Partners and Baillie Gifford.

The IPO about six months since the company raised $1.7 billion in a funding round that included backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, Sequoia Capital China, Permira, Fidelity, Hillhouse Capital, GGV Capital, Lightspeed China Partners, Tencent and Jack Ma’s YF Capital. A look at the S-1 shows that the principal shareholders are Softbank with a 22.2% stake, followed by 8.9% held by Full Load Logistics, a limited liability company owned by Full Truck Alliance CEO Hui Zhang. Sequoia has a 7.2% stake and Master Quality Group Limited, another organization controlled by Zhang, hold 6.6% of shares.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

E2open Parent Holdings Inc. said it will acquire logistics execution platform BluJay Solution, Freightwaves reported. The deal could be valued at $1.7 billion, consisting of $760 million in cash and 72.4 million shares.

First Move Capital, the Boulder-based venture firm that has invested in used car marketplaces Frontier Auto Group and Vroom as well as mobility-as-a-service startup Via, has closed a new $150 million fund that will focus on the automotive and transportation sectors. Proceeds from the round will be exclusively allocated to new investments; seven have already been made, including into autonomous vehicle startup Gatik, cloud-based automotive retail platform Tekion and e-commerce startup Revolution Parts.

Hydra Energy received CAD$15 million ($12 million) from Just Business to expand beyond pilots and deliver hydrogen-powered trucking, the company announced. This funding is to support the further development of Hydra’s initial waste hydrogen capture plant in British Columbia, its fueling infrastructure and conversion kits. The Canadian company has raised CAD $22 million (USD $17.2 million) to date. One other update worth sharing, Hydra’s flagship hydrogen-as-a-service project, is scheduled to break ground later this year.

Miles, the German car-sharing service has received investment from Delivery Hero CFO Emmanuel Thomassin, HelloFresh CFO Christian Gärtner, Chargepoint CFO Rex Jackson as well as Norwegian top manager Stine Rolstad Brenna. Thomassin has joined the company’s advisory board. The company disclosed to TechCrunch that it generated 20 million euros ($24.39 million) of revenue in 2020, quadruple the amount from the previous year. The results helped the company achieve profitability in October 2020. Miles is now focused on expansion. In the first four months in 2021, the company launched electric vehicles and expanded its car fleet to Munich. Miles intends to grow beyond Germany and is currently examining the best markets to launch in.

MotoRefi raised another $45 million in a round led by Goldman Sachs just five months after investors poured $10 million into the fintech startup to help turbocharge its auto refinancing business. While the company didn’t give me specifics on its revenue — CEO Kevin Bennett cited a 7x growth year-over-year but didn’t provide the baseline — it did disclose it’s on track to issue $1 billion in loans by the end of the year. That’s a fivefold increase from the same period last year.

Smart Eye, the publicly traded Swedish company that supplies driver monitoring systems for a dozen automakers, acquired emotion-detection software startup Affectiva for $73.5 million in a cash-and-stock deal. The startup, which says it developed software that can detect and understand human emotion, spun out of MIT Media Lab in 2009. Since then, it has landed a number of development and proof of concept deals as well as raised capital, but it never quite reached the mass-scale production contracts.

That’s where Smart Eye comes in. Smart Eye, which has won 84 production contracts with 13 OEMs, including BMW and GM, is keen to combine with its own AI-based eye-tracking technology. The companies’ founders see an opportunity to expand beyond driver monitoring systems — tech that is often used in conjunction with advanced driver assistance systems to track and measure awareness — and into the rest of the vehicle. Together, the technology could help them break into the emerging “interior sensing” market, which can be used to monitor the entire cabin of a vehicle and deliver services in response to the occupant’s emotional state.

Tritium, a Brisbane-based developer and producer of direct current fast EV chargers, announced a merger agreement with a special purpose acquisition company Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corp. II. The deal is expected to value the company at $1.2 billion. The transaction is expected to generate gross proceeds of up to $403 million. Tritium will be listed under the ticker “DCFC.”

This particular SPAC deal is unusual in that it does not include private investment in public equity, or PIPE — a fundraising round that typically occurs at the time of the merger and injects more capital into the company. Tritium CEO Jane Hunter told us that the company didn’t need a PIPE because DCRN is a more than $400 million SPAC and its shareholder group agreed to a minimum cash closing of just $200 million, which significantly reduces redemption risk. “Also, our revenue has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 56% since 2016 as we expand our presence in major markets where we have a significant market share, such as the U.S. and Europe,” Hunter said. “This revenue growth helps to reduce our reliance upon new funds to implement our growth strategy.”

Wejo, the connected vehicle data startup backed by GM and Palantir, plans to go public through a merger with special purpose acquisition company Virtuoso Acquisition Corp. The agreement, announced in a regulator filing, will give the combined company an enterprise valuation of $800 million, which includes debt. There were earlier reports that the SPAC deal was imminent. The filing confirms the news and provides more detail.

The deal raises $330 million in proceeds for Wejo, including a $230 million cash contribution from Virtuoso and a $100 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE. Previous strategic investors Palantir and GM anchored the transaction, according to Wejo. The company did not disclose the amounts of those investments. Current shareholders will retain 64% ownership of the company, according to its investor deck.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Senate Republicans released their response to Joe Biden’s sweeping $2 trillion investment plan, which would earmark $174 billion for electric vehicle investments. Their proposal would shrink it down to $928 billion. And that $174B for EVs? That would be reduced to just $4 billion, under the GOP plan.

It seems that the main point of contention between the President and his GOP colleagues is the definition of the word ‘infrastructure.’ Republicans are sticking to a more traditional definition, so their counterproposal still contains plenty of money for things like roads, the water system, bridges and broadband.

Biden’s plan aimed to provide consumer tax incentives and incentives for EV chargers, incentives to boost domestic manufacturing and enough funds to install at least 500,000 public charging stations across the country by 2030. A memo obtained by The Hill suggests Biden intends to hold firm to his proposal, so expect further negotiations in the coming weeks.

The Senate Finance Committee on May 26 marked up the Clean Energy for America Act, an important step before it hits the Senate floor for a vote. Among other things, the bill would remove 200,000 unit cap on tax credits for consumers buying EVs — that means the tax credit could be used toward buying a Tesla, a manufacturer that hasn’t been eligible for the credit because they’ve sold over 200,000 cars in the United States.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) added an amendment to the bill that would create an additional $2,500 consumer credit for vehicles assembled in the U.S. and another $2,500 for vehicles assembled in a unionized facility. If it passes, the additions would bring the maximum consumer tax credit for EVs to $12,500 — no small sum! The credits would expire in 2025. “Electric vehicles are part of our transportation future,” Sen. Stabenow said. “The question is not when they will be built, it’s where they will be built: in Asia or America?”

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm sold her holdings in electric bus manufacturer Proterra after Republicans criticized her for a potential conflict of interest. The GOP’s complaint arose after Biden made a virtual visit to a Proterra factory in April. The sale provided Granholm with a net gain of $1.6 million, DOE told reporters.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

I hear and see things, but we’re not selfish. Let me share.

This week, “a little bird” is all about big employment moves and departures and how one hire is connected to a potentially massive IPO.

Let’s kick things off with Celina Mikolajczak, the now former vice president of battery technology at Panasonic Energy of North America. You might recall that Mikolajczak recently took a board seat at solid state battery company QuantumScape. Welp, she is now taking a job at the company as vice president of manufacturing engineering, beginning in July. She has resigned from the board in connection with accepting the offer. In her new role, Ms. Mikolajczak will lead the transition of the Company’s tools and manufacturing processes from research and development to production, QuantumScape said in a regularly filing.

Mikolajczak has a long history researching and developing better lithium-ion batteries. Her technical consulting practice at Exponent focused on lithium-ion cell and battery safety and quality. She then took a senior management position at Tesla that was focused on cell quality and materials engineering. During her time at Tesla, Mikolajczak developed the battery cells and packs for Tesla’s Model S, Model X, Model 3 and Roadster Refresh.

After leaving Tesla, Mikolajczak went on to serve as director of engineering focused on battery development for rideshare vehicles at Uber Technologies. And in 2019, she joined Panasonic Energy of North America, where she is vice president of battery technology. While at Panasonic, Mikolajczak led a team of more than 200 engineers and other technical staff to improve lithium-ion cell manufacturing and to bring the latest cell technologies to mass production for Tesla at the Gigafactory facility in Sparks, Nevada.

Speaking of Tesla … it looks like Scott Sims, director of engineering, left the company this month. His title doesn’t quite capture his role. Sims was the person leading the design and engineering for vehicle user interfaces, streaming, video games and mobile applications. Importantly, he was responsible for cloud computing as it related to the Tesla mobile app, a critical tool for any owner.

Finally, the big news on Friday (via Bloomberg) is that Rivian has selected underwriters for an initial public offering. The company could seek an eye-popping value of $70 billion. I have confirmed some (but not all) of Bloomberg’s reporting. Obviously big news that I’ll be watching and digging into. I had heard rumbling about a potential Rivian IPO, but Bloomberg put together the critical deets.

To me, the biggest indication that Rivian was getting ready to make a move was Ger Dwyer taking the vp of business finance position at the company, which he posted about on LinkedIn. You might recall, that I scooped the news a couple of weeks ago that Dwyer was leaving his post as CFO at Waymo. I noted at the time that Dwyer’s departure comes at a time when the demand for CFOs has rocketed alongside the continuous string of public offerings, including those done via mergers with special purpose acquisition companies.

Got tips? Send them my way by email or DM me over at Twitter.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Loads and loads of news. Let’s get to it.

Autonomous vehicles

Aurora published a blog post that gives a few new details on its testing and self-driving trucks strategy in Texas. The autonomous vehicle company said its first commercial pilots will move goods on several “middle-mile” routes in Texas. A safety driver will be behind the wheel of these self-driving trucks, which will drive autonomously between hubs. The terminal or hub system is one that other AV companies have adopted — at least for now. The idea is that loads can be consolidated, which would theoretically make operations more efficient. Aurora did add, that “for shippers and carriers with existing hubs and large volumes of freight, we expect to ultimately drive the complete route with no need for an intermediate consolidation point.”

One other item that jumped out to me: the company is expanding into a second office in Texas, suggesting that they’re scaling up, at least in terms of people.

Germany’s lower house of parliament adopted legislation that will allow driverless vehicles on public roads by 2022, laying out a path for companies to deploy robotaxis and delivery services in the country at scale. While autonomous testing is currently permitted in Germany, this would allow operations of driverless vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel. The bill still needs to pass through the upper chamber of parliament, or the Bundesrat. Included in the bill are possible initial applications for self-driving cars on German roads, such as public passenger transport, business and supply trips, logistics, company shuttles that handle employee traffic and trips between medical centers and retirement homes.

PAVE, which stands for Partners for Autonomous Vehicle Education, piloted a workshop with local governments earlier this month throughout Ohio. The educational workshop, which was done in partnership with Drive Ohio, wasn’t open to the public. But my Autonocast podcast co-host Ed Niedermeyer, who also happens to be director of communications for PAVE, gave me the inside scoop on what went down.

PAVE says it doesn’t do any kind of policy advocacy; instead the aim is to arm public policymakers with the facts they need to make good policy. This pilot helped PAVE lay a foundation for a curriculum that can be used elsewhere; that might seem trivial, but the complexity of issues around AVs makes these workshops with elected officials potentially powerful tool.

Ed told me that one of the main challenges was educating on potentially controversial topics, like policy and regulation, “where we have to get facts across without imparting biases.” He noted that the organization’s public sector and academic advisory councils were both helpful as neutral authorities. Finally, he said that one of the most practical education PAVE did was around the best practices that its members and advisors have developed in early AV deployments.

Kodiak Robotics, the U.S.-based self-driving truck startup, is partnering with South Korean conglomerate SK Inc. to explore the possibility of deploying its autonomous vehicle technology in Asia. While Kodiak co-founder and CEO Don Burnette couched the initial agreement as a first step toward a commercial enterprise in Asia, the reach of SK shouldn’t be discounted. SK Inc., a holding company of SK Group, has more than 120 operating companies, including ones connected to the logistics industry.

The ultimate aim of the partnership is to sell and distribute Kodiak’s self-driving technology in the region. Kodiak will examine how it can use SK’s products, components and technology for its autonomous system, including artificial intelligence microprocessors and advanced emergency braking systems. Both companies have also agreed to work together to provide fleet management services for customers in Asia.

Electric vehicles

Ford Motor, fresh off its splashy F-150 Lightning electric truck reveal, announced it is pushing its investment in EVs up to $30 billion by 2025, up from a previous spend of $22 billion by 2023. The company announced the fresh cashflow into its EV and battery development strategy, dubbed Ford+, during its investor day.

The company said it expects 40% of its global vehicle volume to be fully electric by 2030. Ford sold 6,614 Mustang Mach-Es in the U.S. in Q1, and since it unveiled its F-150 Lightning last week, the company says it has already amassed 70,000 customer reservations.

Hyundai held the North American reveal of the upcoming all-electric Ioniq 5 crossover. One new detail that I found interesting: Hyundai developed an in-car payment system that will debut in the Ioniq 5. The feature will offer drivers the ability to find and pay for EV charging, food and parking. When the vehicle comes to North America in fall 2021, the payments system will launch with Dominoes, ParkWhiz and Chargehub.

Lordstown Motors’ cash-rich SPAC dreams have turned out to be nothin’ more than wishes, as Alex Wilhelm and Aria Alamalhodaei reported. The upshot: a disappointing first-quarter earnings that was a pile-up of red-ink-stained negativity. The lowlights include higher-than-expected forecasted expenses, a need to raise more capital and lower-than-anticipated production of its Endurance vehicle this year — from around 2,200 vehicles to just 1,000. In short, the company is set to consume more cash than the street expected and is further from mass production of its first vehicle than promised.

Lucid Motors revealed the in-cabin tech of its upcoming electric luxury Air sedan. I spoke to Derek Jenkins, who heads up design at Lucid, and he provided a detailed tour of all the tech in the vehicle. It goes far beyond the curved 34-inch display and second touchscreen, which received much of the attention. The user experience, particularly the underlying software, matters in all cars. But it can be the death of an electric vehicle model if not done properly.

It appears Lucid is on the right track. I won’t really know until I’m able to test the Air. Let’s hope that is soon.

Rivian has delayed deliveries of the R1T Launch Edition, the limited edition release of its first series of “electric adventure vehicles,” by a month. Customers who preordered can now expect to start receiving their pickup trucks in July instead of June, with Launch Edition deliveries to be completed by spring 2022. The one-month delay was due to a combination of small issues, including delays on shipping containers, the ongoing chip shortage as well as ensuring the servicing piece is properly set up. It’s worth noting that Rivian told me that it has been largely unaffected by the chip shortage compared to the rest of the industry because its products don’t require as many as other vehicles on the market today.

Tesla had a number of news items this week, so I’ll just point to the most notable ones. Tesla has established a data center in China to carry out the “localization of data storage,” with plans to add more data facilities in the future, the company announced through its account on microblogging platform Weibo. All data generated by Tesla vehicles sold in mainland China will be kept domestically. The move was in response to new requirements drafted by the Chinese government to regulate how cameras- and sensors-enabled carmakers collect and utilize data. One of the requirements states that “personal or important data should be stored within the [Chinese] territory.”

Finally, two safety-related pieces of Tesla news that seem in opposition to each other.

First, Tesla started delivering Model 3 and Model Y vehicles without radar, fulfilling a vision of CEO Elon Musk to only use cameras combined with machine learning to support its advanced driver assistance system and other active safety features. The decision has prompted blowback though from the National Traffic Highway and Safety Administration, Consumer Reports and IIHS over safety concerns.

Meanwhile, Tesla finally — and after loud and frequent urging from industry and safety advocates, activated the in-cabin camera in new Model Y and Model 3 vehicles. The camera will be used as a driver monitoring system. Tesla has been criticized for not activating the driver monitoring system within its vehicles even as evidence mounted that owners were misusing the system. Owners have posted dozens of videos on YouTube and TikTok abusing its advanced driver assistance system known as Autopilot — some of whom have filmed themselves sitting in the backseat as the vehicle drives along the highway.

Other nugs (no not that kind)

Apex.AI hired Paul Balciunas as its CFO. Balciunas was the former CFO of Canoo. He also was an executive at Deutsche Bank, where he acted as a lead underwriter of the initial public offering for Tesla in 2010, and has since focused on auto tech and new mobility players.

Blyncsy, a Utah-based startup movement and data intelligence company launched an AI-powered technology called Payver, that will use crowdsourced video data to give transport agencies up-to-date information on which roads require maintenance and improvements. Blyncsy is offering this service to governments at a reduced cost and with no long-term commitment. Utah’s DOT will be the first to pilot the program beginning June 1, deploying Payver in the Salt Lake County region, which covers more than 350 road miles. Blyncsy will be announcing other pilots in different states over the next few weeks.

Scale AI hired Mark Valentine to head up its federal-focused division. Valentine comes with experience and connections. He was  a commander in the U.S. Air Force, senior military advisor to FEMA and most recently, GM of national security for Microsoft. He will lead Scale’s government partnership efforts.

Scale has also hired Michael Kratsios, the former CTO of the White House, as managing director and head of strategy. The company said he is focused on accelerating the development of AI across industries. Michael joined at the end of Q1.

#aurora, #automotive, #bird, #chris-urmson, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #gm, #hyundai, #joby-aviation, #karl-iagnemma, #lime, #lucid-motors, #mate-rimac, #micromobility, #panasonic, #quantumscape, #reid-hoffman, #rimac, #rivian, #scooters, #tesla, #transportation, #volkswagen

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GM, Palantir-backed Wejo to go public via SPAC

Wejo, the connected vehicle data startup backed by GM and Palantir, plans to go public through a merger with special purpose acquisition company Virtuoso Acquisition Corp. The agreement, announced in a regulator filing Friday, will give the combined company an enterprise valuation of $800 million, which includes debt.

The deal raises $330 million in proceeds for Wejo, including a $230 million cash contribution from Virtuoso and a $100 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE. Previous strategic investors Palantir and GM anchored the transaction, according to Wejo. The company did not disclose the amounts of those investments. Current shareholders will retain 64% ownership of the company, according to its investor deck.

Once the transaction closes, which is expected to occur in the third quarter, Wejo will be listed on the Nasdaq public exchange.

Wejo works with automakers and tier 1 suppliers to collect data in real-time from sensors integrated in vehicles. The company’s cloud platform aggregates and normalizes data, and then shares those insights customers. By 2030, Wejo estimates a connected vehicle data market of $500 billion and a serviceable addressable market of $61 billion driven by projections of more than 600 million connected vehicles worldwide.

Wejo said the cash proceeds will fully  from the transaction will fully fund its five-year plan and help it achieve several growth goals such as onboarding automakers and other OEMs more quickly, continuing to rollout services and expanding into new markets.

#automotive, #connected-cars, #gm, #palantir, #tc

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The financial pickle facing Elon Musk’s Las Vegas Loop system

Restrictions put in place by Nevada regulators are making it difficult for The Boring Company to meet contractual targets for its LVCC Loop, Elon Musk’s first underground transportation system.

The Loop system at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) is supposed to use more than 60 fully autonomous high-speed vehicles to transport 4,400 passengers an hour between exhibition halls. However, TechCrunch has been told that Clark County regulators have approved just 11 human-driven vehicles so far, set strict speed limits, and forbidden the use of on-board collision-avoidance technology that is part of Tesla’s “full self-driving” Autopilot advanced driver assistance system. Tesla’s Autopilot system technically does not rise to the level of fully autonomous, even though it is branded as such. It is considered — even internally, according to exchanges between Tesla and California regulators — an advanced driver assistance system that can automate certain functions.

LVCC’s parent body, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Authority created a contract aimed at incentivizing Musk and ensuring promises are met. The contract is for a fixed price, and TBC has to hit specific milestones to receive all of its payments. The contract provides payments at different points in the process such as completing the bare tunnels, the entire working system, finishing a test period and safety report and then demonstrating it can carry passengers. The final three milestones relate to how many passengers it can carry. If the Loop can demonstrate moving 2,200 passengers an hour, TBC will get $4.4 million, then the same payment again for hitting 3,300, and the same again for 4,400 passengers an hour. Together, these capacity payments represent 30% of the fixed price contract.

Instead of moving more than 4,000 passengers an hour, the constrained system could limit the capacity to under 1,000, exposing The Boring Company (TBC) to hefty penalties for missing contractual targets. TBC doesn’t generate revenue from charging passengers. The rides are free.

For instance, during a large trade show like CES, the LVCC will pay TBC $30,000 for every day it operates and manages the system, according to a management agreement newly obtained by TechCrunch. However, the original contract signed by TBC in 2019 specifies a $300,000 penalty for each large convention where TBC cannot move around 4,000 people per hour.

This means that over the course of a three- or four-day event, TBC stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, above and beyond the cost of running the system. In a typical pre-pandemic year, LVCC would host around a dozen such large shows. It’s unclear if TBC is planning on another means of making money such as revenue from advertising in its cars.

This capacity issue is already costing TBC money. The contract states that if TBC misses its performance target by such a margin, Musk’s company will not receive more than $13 million of its construction budget. The convention center authority confirmed to TechCrunch that, per its contract, it is withholding that construction fee until TBC can demonstrate moving thousands of people an hour.

Smaller shows, numbering about 20 a year, carry no capacity penalties but earn TBC a much smaller fee of just $11,500 a day, according to the agreement. TBC also receives a monthly payment of $167,000 to keep the system ticking over, regardless of how many conventions are running.

A capacity test of the Loop this week reportedly involved just 300 people; a Convention Center official did say the 4,400 people-per-hour figure was “well within our sights.”

As well as its team of human drivers, TBC has to staff an operations center, a maintenance and charging facility, and provide uniformed customer service personnel, security staff, and a full-time resident manager, according to the management agreement.

The fee structure is set to be renegotiated — presumably downwards — by the end of 2021, to incorporate the “expected transition to autonomous vehicle operations.”

Image Credits: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Collision warnings out

Some of the restrictions on the Loop’s initial operation came from the Clark County Department of Building and Fire Prevention. These reportedly include a 40 mph overall speed limit, dropping to 10 mph within each of the Loop’s three stations, and a restriction to just 11 vehicles.

Deputy Fire Chief Warren Whitney of the Clark County Fire Department said that TBC had told him the company wasn’t allowed to use the Tesla’s collision warning systems within the Loop. A transportation system certificate issued by Clark County this week specified that the Loop must use “non-autonomous” “manually driven” vehicles. It was issued for the planned 62 vehicles. Neither Clark County officials nor TBC provided responses to detailed questions on the operational restrictions, nor indicated when or if they could be lifted.

Toyota has previously warned that its radar-based collision warning system may not function correctly within tunnels.

It is not clear whether the Teslas are capable of safe and “fully autonomous operation” without their collision-warning radars, although Musk has suggested — and now executed on a plan — to remove radar sensors from its vehicles and only use cameras. Tesla started delivering Model 3 and Model Y vehicles in May that do not have radar sensors. The lack of radar sensors has prompted the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration has said that Model 3 and Model Y vehicles built on or after April 27, 2021 will no longer receive the agency’s check mark for automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and dynamic brake support. the decision also prompted Consumer Reports to no longer lists the Model 3 as a Top Pick and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said it plans to remove the Model 3’s Top Safety Pick+ designation.

The Fire Department also had concerns about dealing with emergencies within the tunnels, including battery fires that can potentially last many hours. “There have been cases where electric cars have caught fire without an accident,” Whitney told TechCrunch. “Our plan right now would be just to get the people out, then pull back and let the fire continue to burn.”

Whitney noted the system has many cameras and smoke alarms, as well as a “robust” ventilation system that can move 400,000 cubic feet of air per minute in either direction down the tunnels. This should allow passengers and drivers to escape on foot around the cars. For less serious incidents, TBC has a tow vehicle (also a Tesla) to extract broken-down cars.

Neither TBC nor Clark County replied to TechCrunch queries about whether the Loop would be allowed to transport wheelchair users, children or infants usually requiring car seats, people with other mobility issues, or pets and support animals.

Firefighters have already conducted multiple drills in the underground system, including simulated accidents far from a station, with two or three other vehicles in the way. “Eleven cars is definitely doable,” says Whitney. “But when you start increasing numbers of cars, it may be a problem. [TBC] is a for-profit company and is going want to maximize the efficiency, so there may be further discussions as they try to increase the capacity.”

Expansion plans

Not only does TBC want to use more vehicles in the existing Loop, it is already planning to expand the system. At the end of March, TBC told Clark County that it had broken ground on an extension from one LVCC station to the new Resorts World hotel, and it is has permission for a similar spur to the Encore nearby.

More significantly, TBC also wants to build a transit system covering much of the Strip and downtown Las Vegas with over 40 stations connecting dozens of hotels, attractions and, ultimately, the airport. That system would be financed by TBC and supported by ticket sales.

The viability of those expansions could depend on how soon TBC can meet the technological and operational promises it made for its relatively simple LVCC Loop, and demonstrate whether taxis in tunnels can generate as much revenue as they do column inches.

#automotive, #tc, #tesla, #transportation

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