Camera manufacturer turns Ars comment section into makeshift AMA

Light's depth perception relies on trigonometry and allows it to measure the distance to each pixel out to 1,000 m.

Enlarge / Light’s depth perception relies on trigonometry and allows it to measure the distance to each pixel out to 1,000 m. (credit: Light)

Last year, I took a look at a new depth-perceiving sensor system called Clarity from a company called Light. Originally developed for smartphone applications, Light pivoted a couple of years ago to develop its technology for automotive applications like advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving.

A lengthy comment thread followed, with plenty of questions about how Light’s technology works. The people at Light read the entire thread, then spoke with me to answer your questions.

The Ars commentariat’s questions fell into four themes: whether or not Clarity can work in low-light situations; the similarities to human vision and parallax; Clarity’s accuracy and reliability compared to other sensor modalities like lidar, and whether it’s similar to Tesla’s vision-only approach.

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#adas, #autonomous-driving, #cars, #clarity, #depth-perception, #lidar, #light

Volvo’s 2023 electric SUV will use lidar to drive itself

Volvo Concept Recharge lidar

Enlarge / Volvo’s future SUV will probably resemble something like the Concept Recharge first introduced in June 2021. (credit: Luminar)

Level 3 autonomous driving appears poised to debut in the US as soon as next year.

At the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show yesterday, Volvo announced that it intends to offer its Ride Pilot feature to customers in California, pending regulatory approval. The automaker has been testing the system in Sweden, and it will begin testing in California later this year. It plans to ship the feature with its forthcoming all-electric SUV, due in 2023.

Volvo chose California because “the climate, traffic conditions, and regulatory framework provide a favorable environment for the introduction of autonomous driving,” the company said.

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#autonomous-driving, #cars, #ces-2022, #level-3, #lidar, #volvo

This camera system is better than lidar for depth perception

Light's depth perception relies on trigonometry and allows it to measure the distance to each pixel out to 1,000 m.

Enlarge / Light’s depth perception relies on trigonometry and allows it to measure the distance to each pixel out to 1,000 m. (credit: Light)

So far, almost every autonomous vehicle we’ve encountered uses lidar to determine how far away things are, just as the winners of the DARPA Grand Challenges did back in the early 2000s. But not every AV will use lidar in the future; there are other sensors reaching maturity, some of which may even do a better job. One sensor that recently caught my eye is developed from smartphone camera tech by a company called Light.

Light pivoted from its original position as a provider of cameras for smartphones to become a company that uses imaging technology for automotive applications like advanced driver assistance systems (aka ADAS) and AVs.

Specifically, Light developed an optical camera system, called Clarity, that can also calculate the distance to every pixel it sees. Knowing the exact distance to objects means there is no need for a separate lidar sensor, and it also means more accurate data for machine-learning algorithms (a billboard of a face wouldn’t be recognized as an actual human by Clarity, for example).

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#adas, #autonomous-driving, #camera, #cars, #clarity, #lidar, #light, #sensors

Chinese tech giant Baidu begins publicly testing Apollo Go robotaxis in Shanghai

Chinese search engine giant Baidu has begun publicly testing its Apollo Go robotaxi mobile platform in Shanghai, marking the company’s continued expansion of its footprint in China. 

While Baidu says its robotaxis have achieved Level 4 capabilities, a human safety operator will be present during all rides, which are open to the public as of Sunday, in order to comply with local regulations. The Society of Automotive Engineers defines an L4 autonomous car as one that doesn’t require human interaction in most cases and can only operate in limited areas. Companies like Waymo, Cruise, Motional, Pony.AI and Yandex are all using a similar combination of lidar, radar, cameras and GPS to build a vehicle brain that’s capable of L4 autonomy. 

Shanghai’s fleet will be made up of Baidu’s electric Hongqi EVs, its fourth generation autonomous vehicles produced with FAW. The company did not disclose how many vehicles it has initially launched, but a Baidu spokesperson told TechCrunch that the goal is to make it to around 200 vehicles in Shanghai. In total, Baidu says it is either testing or publicly deploying about 500 AVs across 30 cities. 

While Baidu does have a permit to test its driverless tech in California, it hasn’t yet deployed any service and is instead putting most of its resources towards scaling up in China. There’s a huge increase in demand for robotaxi services at home, says a company spokesperson, so Baidu is focusing on improving its technology, building lots of vehicles and ensuring a good user experience. Shanghai marks the fifth city where the Apollo Go robotaxi service is open to the public, including Changsha, Cangzhou, Beijing and Guangzhou. 

Just a few weeks ago, Baidu expanded its Apollo Go services in Beijing into the Tongzhou District, which is considered to be the eastern gateway into the city, adding 22 new stations over 31 miles. In April, the company launched 10 fully driverless robotaxis in the capital city’s Shougang Park, a 1.2 square mile area that has become the testing ground for China’s first commercialized robotaxi operations. No human safety operator sits behind the wheel of these cars, only a safety member in the passenger seat to provide riders with reassurance. Each ride costs 30 yuan ($4.60) and is open to passengers aged 18 to 60. Everywhere else, including Shanghai, rides are free because the service is still in its trial phase.

Riders in Shanghai can use the Apollo Go app to call a robotaxi from 9:30am to 11pm and be picked up or dropped off at one of 150 stations across the Jianding District, which is home to Shanghai University, the Shanghai International Circuit and many tourist attractions. 

Shanghai is also the location of Baidu’s Apollo Park, an autonomous vehicle facility for operation, testing and R&D. The 10,000 square meter space will house the 200 AVs Baidu hopes to bring to the city, which would make it the site of the largest self-driving fleet in East China. 

Baidu’s long game is to deploy 3,000 AVs in the next two to three years across 30 cities in China. Considering the company has been investing in R&D for AV tech since 2013 and has been running the Apollo project since 2017, Baidu is poised to do just that. In June, Baidu and BAIC Group unveiled plans for the Apollo Moon, which is set to be mass-produced with a per unit manufacturing price of 480,000 yuan, or about $75,000, which is actually pretty cheap, all things considered. Baidu says it will produce 1,000 of these vehicles over the next couple of years, as well as different models yet to be announced, in order to supply its growing fleet. 

Infrastructure is a big part of Baidu’s goals to expand Apollo Go. A spokesperson from Baidu said the company is also investing in building 5G-powered, V2X infrastructure in hundreds of intersections throughout major Chinese cities. Baidu is already installing sensors like cameras and lidar, coupled with edge compute systems that can transfer road information to autonomous systems, in order to reduce traffic congestion. In the long term, smart infrastructure will help AVs perform more robustly and serve to offset some of the huge costs associated with onboard sensors and computing power, according to the company. 

While Baidu says its robotaxis currently still rely on onboard capabilities to achieve L4 autonomy, the company sees V2X as the future of large scale deployment.

#asia, #automotive, #autonomous-driving, #baidu, #robotaxi, #tc, #transportation

Volkswagen and Argo AI reveal first ID Buzz test vehicle for autonomous driving

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, a standalone VW brand responsible for the development and sales of light commercial vehicles, and Argo AI, an autonomous driving technology company, unveiled the first version of the ID Buzz AD (Autonomous Driving) on Sunday.

The two companies shared plans to test and commercially scale the jointly developed, fully-electric self-driving van over the next four years at the VW night event ahead of the 2021 IAA Mobility Event in Munich. Testing of the prototype, one of the first five planned test vehicles, has already begun and will continue at Argo’s development center in Neufahrn, near Munich, as well as at Argo’s nine hectare closed course near the Munich airport, which tests for a variety of traffic situations unique to European driving conditions, and Argo’s test track in the United States.

“Building on our five years of development and learnings from our operations in large, complex U.S. cities, we are excited to soon begin testing on the streets of Munich in preparation for the launch of the self-driving commercial ridepooling service with MOIA,” said Bryan Salesky, founder and CEO of Argo AI, in a statement. 

In 2025, MOIA, a subsidiary of the VW Group that works with cities and local public transport providers on mobility solutions, will be commercially launching the ID Buzz in Hamburg as part of a self-driving ride-pool system. The ride-pool service is designed to leverage the power of autonomous systems to relieve inner-city congestion.

At the event, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, which has developed a separate businesses unit devoted to autonomous driving and acquired a stake in Argo AI, demonstrated how ride-pooling via a self-driving system can help with managing traffic flows.

“An environment recognition system from six lidar, eleven radar and fourteen cameras, distributed over the entire vehicle, can capture much more than any human driver can from his seat,” said Christian Senger, head of autonomous driving at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said at the event.

VW first revealed the ID Buzz as a concept vehicle back in 2017, a futuristic take on the classic microbus that invokes nostalgia as a family camper van. The final product looks a bit different than the iconic campers, now containing all of the bells and whistles of autonomy, such as Argo’s proprietary sensor Argo Lidar, which sits on top of the Buzz’s roof. According to Argo AI, its lidar can detect objects from a distance of more than 1,300 feet, or 400 meters. Four years ago, Argo acquired lidar company Princeton Lightwave, which has allowed the company to produce this new, highly accurate sensor with patented Geiger-mode technology that can detect a single photon, the smallest of light particles, so that it can capture, detect and precisely represent objects with low reflectivity like black vehicles.

Argo AI’s entire system consists of sensors and software that give the computer a 360 degree awareness of the vehicle’s environment, allowing it to “predict the actions of pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles, and direct the engine, braking and steering systems so that the vehicle moves safely and naturally, like an experienced driver,” according to a statement from VW.

This isn’t the first time Argo’s tech will be used to transport humans where they need to go. In July, Argo and Ford announced plans to launch at least 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network over the next five years in cities like Miami and Austin. In the same month, the California Public Utilities Commission issued Argo a Drivered AV pilot permit so it could start testing on public California roads. Argo AI recently also received a $7.5 billion valuation, nearly two years after the VW Group finalized its $2.6 billion investment in the company.

#argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-driving, #moia, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #transportation

Hyundai’s sharp-looking Ioniq 5 EV is Motional’s new robotaxi

In 2023, Motional will begin operating Hyundai Ioniq 5 robotaxis.

Enlarge / In 2023, Motional will begin operating Hyundai Ioniq 5 robotaxis. (credit: Motional)

In 2023, you’ll be able to take Lyft rides in autonomous Hyundai Ioniq 5s with self-driving systems provided by Motional—as long as you live in the right city. This week, we got our first look at the sensor-bedazzled battery-electric vehicles, which add lidar, radar, and cameras to one of the best-looking new vehicles we’ve seen in some time.

Motional was created in 2020 by Hyundai Motor Group and automotive supplier Aptiv, which had been testing its level 4 autonomous vehicles in Las Vegas for years. When I rode in an autonomous Aptiv vehicle during CES in 2018, it was with a safety driver behind the wheel. But in February of this year, Motional began fully driverless testing in Las Vegas. The company said it completed over 100,000 passenger rides without incident between beginning operations and removing the safety drivers.

Motional has worked with Hyundai to integrate the sensor suite and other hardware into the Ioniq 5, and Motional President and CEO Karl Iagnemma told TechCrunch that the robotaxis will roll off the line in South Korea, just like normal Ioniq 5s. “This is not a scenario where we’ll take a base vehicle, move it to a different line, take the components off, and then reintegrate or retrofit it,” he said. The cars will still have steering wheels, and passengers will not be allowed to ride in that seat.

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#aptiv, #autonomous-driving, #cars, #hyundai, #ioniq-5, #las-vegas, #motional, #robotaxis

Yandex buys out Uber’s stake in Yandex Self-Driving Group, Eats, Lavka and Delivery for $1B

Russian internet and ride-hail giant Yandex has acquired Uber’s stake in its Self-Driving Group (SDG), as well as Uber’s indirect interest in Yandex.Eats, Yandex.Lavka and Yandex.Delivery. The total cost of the deal came to $1 billion, giving the Russian company 100% ownership over all four businesses.

Yandex SDG is an autonomous technology spinout from MLU B.V., the ride-hailing and food delivery joint venture Yandex formed with Uber in 2018 by merging Yandex.Taxi and Uber’s Russian operations. At the time, Uber had a 36.6% stake in the new company. Last year, when SDG was spun out into a separate business, Uber was left with an 18.2% stake in the company, which has just been bought out by Yandex. Yandex also purchased Uber’s 33.5% collective interest in Yandex’s food delivery service, last-mile logistics service and 15-minute convenience store delivery service.

Back in 2019, Yandex and Uber were reportedly considering an IPO for their JV, which Morgan Stanley estimated to be valued at around $7.7 billion. Yandex says autonomous driving technology is “highly synergistic to the Yandex ecosystem, which includes ride-hailing, e-commerce and food-tech businesses.” It makes sense that the company would want to control all of that potential growth. Uber, which reported a Q2 loss of $509 million before EBITDA this year, might be looking to make a lucrative exit and refocus its priorities closer to home. 

“This acquisition will enable Yandex to further increase its capacity for strategic management and flexibility when it comes to self-driving technology,” a Yandex spokesperson told TechCrunch. “It will unlock further growth potential for both Yandex and Yandex SDG, creating new sources of value for shareholders.”

The acquisitions are part of a larger restructuring of the MLU B.V. and Yandex SDG joint ventures, according to Uber’s SEC filing on Monday. They will happen in two stages. Stage 1, which is expected to close by the end of Q3 this year, will give Yandex a 4.5% interest in the newly restructured MLU, which will focus on mobility businesses like ride-hailing and car-sharing. This gives Yandex a total of 71% ownership in the JV, 2.8% of which is reserved for an employee equity incentive program. Uber’s total 18.2% stake in SDG is also expected to be sold during the first stage.

Stage 2, which is expected to close by the end of this year, includes the demerger of Yandex.Eats, Yandex.Lavka and Yandex.Delivery from MLU and subsequent acquisition of Uber’s interest in these businesses.

Yandex will also receive a two-year American call option to acquire the rest of Uber’s interest in MLU at a more or less fixed price of $1.8 billion, depending on agreed increases over the option period. This number will increase to $2 billion if exercised in 2023. The Russian company will also continue to use the Uber brand exclusively in Russia and other countries until August 2030.

Yandex will also get an extension of the current license for the exclusive right to use the Uber brand in Russia and certain other countries until August 2030, assuming the exercise of the option. Yandex’s stock was up 5.16% on Tuesday at market close.

#autonomous-driving, #tc, #transportation, #uber, #yandex

Waymo will stop selling its self-driving LiDAR sensors to other companies

Just months after a CEO shakeup, Waymo is officially halting sales of its custom sensors to third parties. The move sees the Alphabet-owned self-driving company unwinding a business operation just two years into its lifespan. Waymo confirmed the decision to Reuters, adding that it’s now focusing on deploying its Waymo Driver tech across its Waymo One ride-hailing and Waymo Via trucking divisions.

The decision comes in the wake of long-term CEO John Krafcik’s departure, who was replaced at the helm by Waymo execs Tekedra Mawakana and Dmitri Dolgov. Some suggested that Krafcik’s deliberate approach was hindering the company’s push toward commercialization. Earlier this month, Waymo hit a milestone of 20 billion miles driven in simulations, with 20 million on public roads. Just days ago, it brought its robotaxis to vetted riders in San Francisco.

Waymo began selling LiDARs — the tech that measures distance with pulses of laser light — to companies barring its autonomous vehicle rivals in 2019. It initially planned to sell its short-range sensor (known as Laser Bear Honeycomb) to businesses in the robotics, security and agricultural technology sectors. A form on its website also lists drones, mapping and entertainment as applicable industries.

Waymo’s fifth-generation Driver technology uses an array of sensors — including radar, lidar, and cameras — to help its cars “see” 360 degrees during the day and night, and even in tough weather conditions such as rain or fog. While its simulated and real world driving tests have helped it to amass a massive dataset that is crunched using machine learning-based software. According to anonymous sources cited by Reuters, Waymo intends to use in-house tech and external suppliers for its next-gen LiDARs.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.

#autonomous-driving, #autonomous-trucking, #av, #column, #lidar, #tc, #tceng, #waymo

Cruise is buying solar energy from California farmers to power its electric, self-driving fleet

Cruise, the self-driving car company under General Motors, has launched a new initiative called Farm to Fleet that will allow the company to source solar power from farms in California’s Central Valley. The San Francisco Chronicle was the first to report the news that Cruise is directly purchasing renewable energy credits from Sundale Vineyards and Moonlight Companies to help power its fleet of all-electric autonomous vehicles in San Francisco.

Cruise recently secured a permit to shuttle passengers in its test vehicles in San Francisco without a human safety operator behind the wheel. The company is also ramping up its march to commercialization with a recent $5 billion line of credit from GM Financial to pay for hundreds of electric and autonomous Origin vehicles. While this partnership with California farmers is undoubtedly a boon to the state’s work in progressing renewable energies while also providing jobs and financial opportunities to local businesses, Cruise isn’t running a charity here.

The California Independent System Operator has been soliciting power producers across western United States to sell more megawatts to the state this summer in anticipation of heat waves that will boost electricity demand and potentially cause blackouts. Power supplies are lower than expected already due to droughts, outages and delays in bringing new energy generation sources to the grid, causing reduced hydroelectric generation. To ensure California’s grid can handle the massive increase in fleet size Cruise is planning, it seems that the company has no choice but to find creative ways to bolster the grid. Cruise, however, is holding firm that it’s got loftier goals than securing the energy from whatever sources available.

“This is entirely about us doing the right thing for our cities and communities and fundamentally transforming transportation for the better,” Ray Wert, a Cruise spokesperson, told TechCrunch.

With droughts continuing to plague California farmers, converting farmland to solar farms is a potential way to help the state meet its climate change targets, according to a report from environmental nonprofit Nature Conservancy. Which is why Cruise saw the logic in approaching Central Valley farmers now.

“Farm to Fleet is a vehicle to rapidly reduce urban transportation emissions while generating new revenue for California’s farmers leading in renewable energy,” said Rob Grant, Cruise’s vice president of social affairs and global impact, in a blog post.

Cruise is paying negotiated contract rates with the farms through its clean energy partner, BTR Energy. The company isn’t disclosing costs, but says it’s paying no more or less than what it would pay for using other forms of renewable energy credits (RECs). RECs are produced when a renewable energy source generates one megawatt-hour of electricity and passes it on to the grid. According to Cruise, Sundale has installed 2 megawatts of solar capacity to power their 200,000 square footage of cold storage, and Moonlight has installed a combined 3.9 MW of solar arrays and two battery storage system for its sorting and storage facilities. So when Cruise buys credits from these farms, it’s able to say that a specific amount of its electricity use came from a renewable source. RECs are unique and tracked, so it’s clear where they came from, what kind of energy they used and where they went. Cruise did not share how many RECs it plans to purchase from the farms, but says it will be enough to power its San Francisco fleet.

“While the solar power still flows through the same grid, Cruise purchases and then ultimately ‘retires’ the renewable energy credits generated by the solar panels at the farms,” said Wert. “Through data that we submit to the California Air Resources Board quarterly, we retire a number of RECs equivalent to the amount of electricity we used to charge our vehicles.”

Wert says using fully renewable power is actually profitable for Cruise in California due to the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which is designed to decrease the carbon intensity of transportation fuels in the state and provide more low-carbon alternatives. Cruise owns and operates all of its own EV charging ports, so it’s able to generate credits based on the carbon intensity score of the electricity and amount of energy delivered. Cruise can then sell its credits to other companies seeking to reduce their footprints and comply with regulations. 

Aside from practicalities, Cruise is aiming to set a standard for the industry and create demand for renewable energy, thus incentivizing more people and businesses to create it. 

“Transportation is responsible for over 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is why we announced our Clean Mile Challenge in February, where we challenged the rest of the AV industry to report how many miles they’re driving on renewable energy every year,” said Wert. “We’re hoping that others follow our lead.”

#automotive, #autonomous-driving, #cruise, #general-motors, #self-driving, #solar-energy, #tc, #transportation

Musk admits Full Self-Driving system “not great,” blames a single stack for highway and city streets

It hasn’t even been a week since Tesla hosted its AI Day, a live-streamed event full of technical jargon meant to snare the choicest of AI and vision engineers to come work for Tesla and help the company achieve autonomous greatness, and already CEO Elon Musk is coming in with some hot takes about the “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) tech.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Musk said: “FSD Beta 9.2 is actually not great imo, but Autopilot/AI team is rallying to improve as fast as possible. We’re trying to have a single tech stack for both highway & city streets, but it requires massive [neural network] retraining.”

This is an important point. Many others in the autonomous space have mirrored this sentiment. Don Burnette, co-founder and CEO of Kodiak Robotics, says his company is exclusively focused on trucking for the moment because it’s a much easier problem to solve. In a recent ExtraCrunch interview, Burnette said:

One of the unique aspects of our tech is that it’s highly customized for a specific goal. We don’t have this constant requirement that we maintain really high truck highway performance while at the same time really high dense urban passenger car performance, all within the same stack and system. Theoretically it’s certainly possible to create a generic solution for all driving in all conditions under all form factors, but it’s certainly a much harder problem.

Because Tesla is only using optical cameras, scorning lidar and radar, “massive” neural network training as a requirement is not an understatement at all.

Despite the sympathy we all feel for the AI and vision team that may undoubtedly be feeling a bit butthurt by Musk’s tweet, this is a singular moment of clarity and honesty for Musk. Usually, we have to filter Tesla news about its autonomy with a fine-tuned BS meter, one that beeps wildly with every mention of its “Full Self-Driving” technology. Which, for the record, is not at all full self-driving; it’s just advanced driver assistance that could, we grant, lay the groundwork for better autonomy in the future.

Musk followed up the tweet by saying that he just drove the FSD Beta 9.3 from Pasadena to LAX, a ride that was “much improved!” Do we buy it? Musk is ever the optimist. At the start of the month, Musk said Tesla would be releasing new versions of its FSD every two weeks at midnight California time. Then he promised that Beta 9.2 would be “tight,” saying that radar was holding the company back and now that it’s fully accepted pure vision, progress will go much faster.

Perhaps Musk is just trying to deflect against the flurry of bad press about the FSD system. Last week, U.S. auto regulators opened a preliminary investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot, citing 11 incidents in which vehicles crashed into parked first responder vehicles. Why first responder vehicles in particular, we don’t know. But according to investigation documents posted on the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s website, most of the incidents took place after dark. Poor night vision is definitely a thing with many human drivers, but those kinds of incidents just won’t fly in the world of autonomous driving.

 

#automotive, #autonomous-driving, #autopilot, #computer-vision, #elon-musk, #full-self-driving, #tc, #tesla, #transportation

Waymo launches robotaxi service in San Francisco

Waymo, the self-driving vehicle company under Alphabet, has launched a robotaxi service that will be open to certain vetted riders in San Francisco.

On Tuesday, the company officially kicked off its Waymo One Trusted Tester program in the city with a fleet of all-electric Jaguar I-PACEs equipped with the company’s fifth generation of its autonomous vehicle system. This AV system, which has been branded the Waymo Driver, is informed by 20 million self-driven miles on public roads and over 10 billion miles driven in simulation, according to Waymo.

The so-called Waymo One Trusted Tester program mirrors the company’s strategy in Phoenix, where it rolled out its first commercial ride-hailing service several years ago. The Trusted Tester program is a rebranding of Waymo’s previous Early Rider Program that it launched in Metro Phoenix in April 2017. Seeing as it’s been over four years, those riders are no longer exactly “early,” so a name change was in order, according to a Waymo spokesperson.

In Phoenix, Waymo eventually invited some of the early riders to move over to the Waymo One service, which let users publicly share their impressions on the service and invite friends or family member who weren’t part of the early rider program. Waymo then opened up the service to everyone.

San Franciscans can download the Waymo One app and express their interest in joining the program, which will begin with an initial select group from diverse backgrounds with varied transportation needs, including wheelchair accessibility, according to Waymo. The company would not share how many riders would be included in the initial group, nor how many Jaguars it will have roaming the city, but it did say riders would have to be willing to offer a lot of detailed feedback on their riding experience and sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Waymo will encourage riders to use its autonomous service to help them with their everyday mobility needs. The rides are free for now, and will start out in an initial territory in parts of San Francisco, including the Sunset, Richmond, Pac Heights, Noe, the Castro, Haight Ashbury and more, with expectations to expand over time. The service will be offered 24 hours per day, seven days per week, the spokesperson told TechCrunch. 

The company will have so-called “autonomous specialists” — another term for human safety operators — sitting in the front seat to monitor the ride and ensure a safe experience. These safety drivers are contract workers, and employed by Transdev. Waymo has long partnered with Transdev to provide staffing for some of its operations.

Waymo’s rider support team will also be available at the tap of the button on the in-car screen or through the app if riders have any questions during their rides, the spokesperson said.

Waymo’s first ride-hailing service launched in Phoenix, but its roots are in California, notably the Silicon Valley enclave of Mountain View. It’s been testing in the greater San Francisco Bay area for more than a decade.

The company began testing its robotaxi service by offering autonomous rides to its employees in the city earlier this year.

The news about the Trusted Tester launch comes a week after Waymo announced that it’s scaling up its Waymo Via autonomous trucking operations in Texas, Arizona and California and is building a trucking hub outside of Dallas. The company has also been testing its fifth generation Driver on Class 8 trucks in Texas, hauling freight for carriers like J.B. Hunt, so this newest application of the Driver is a sign that Waymo is either succeeding at its push to full autonomy, or that it’s putting the recent $2.5 billion in funding to good use.

#automotive, #autonomous-driving, #robotaxi, #tc, #transportation, #waymo-driver

The cost of Velodyne’s internal drama is starting to add up

Velodyne Lidar, the sensor company that went public a year ago when it merged with special purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp., reported its second quarter earnings Thursday, results that show a company spending more to find new customers for its products while grappling with an increasingly expensive internal drama.

Just a few weeks ago, Velodyne’s CEO Anand Gopalan resigned, taking $8 million in equity compensation with him, according to the company’s second-quarter report. At the time of Gopalan’s resignation, the company restated its business outlook for 2021 revenue, noting that its guidance of between $77 million and $94 million remained unchanged.

Earlier in the year, founder David Hall was removed as chairman of the board and his wife, Marta Thoma Hall, lost her role of chief marketing officer following an investigation by the board into the couple for “inappropriate behavior.” The legal fees involved in this debacle set the company back $1.4 million this quarter, and $3.7 million for the first half of 2021, according to Velodyne CFO Drew Hamer.

The board’s fight with the Halls has escalated. In a May letter, David Hall blamed the SPAC, specifically the SPAC-appointed members of the combined company’s board, for its poor financial performance, and called for the resignation of Gopalan and two board members.

During a call with investors Thursday, Hamer also said general and administrative expenses are expected to increase by about 35% in 2021 due to increased public company and legal expenses, meaning the struggle is not over. From the first quarter to the second, there was already a 21% increase, from $17 million to $20.6 million.

The “general and administrative expenses” category falls under the company’s broader operating expenses, which were $84.8 million this quarter, about double last quarter’s spend. 

Rising legal costs at the company are only part of its accelerating cost profile. The company is also investing heavily in growth, namely in sales and marketing.

A large majority of operating expenses were spent on sales and marketing. Velodyne spent $47.2 million in the second quarter, which is up massively from $7.1 million in the first quarter.

On average, companies spend about 11.3% of their total revenue on marketing budgets, according to a 2020 CMO survey, though that is a broad metric. It’s important to note that the full impact of sales and marketing spend is never fully realized in the quarter in which that capital is put to work. In other words, we don’t know if Velodyne’s expanded Q2 sales and marketing spend has brought in more business.

The company’s revenue eased between the first and second quarters, falling from $17.7 million to $13.6 million. For a company investing so heavily in sales to see revenue decline is not encouraging, even if the bulk of results stemming from Q2 spend may not show up until the company’s third-quarter earnings report.

Velodyne is betting that its efforts will lead to accelerating sales in coming quarters. 

The company said it expects to make an additional $46 to $62 million revenue in the second half of the year due to an increase in demand for lidar products. While Q2’s total revenue was actually less than Q1’s, the company’s product-based revenue rose around 30%, which Hamer attributed to “renewed demand for lidar sensors from customers with delayed purchases due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Our pipeline continues to grow,” said Hamer. “We had 213 projects on August 1, up from 198 projects at May 1…Included in the signed and awarded pipeline are new ADAS multiyear agreements, which we expect will begin to ramp starting in 2026.”

Hamer estimated that through 2025, Velodyne has the opportunity for more than $1 billion in revenue from signed and awarded projects, plus a pipeline of projects that are not yet signed and awarded that could bring the company to $4.5 billion in potential revenue. 

At the end of April, Velodyne was selected by EV company Faraday Future as an exclusive lidar supplier for its flagship luxury electric car FF 91, which is due to be launched next year. Faraday’s cars would use the Velarray H800 lidar sensors to power their autonomous driving system. 

Velodyne has some other existing partnerships, but it faces steep competition in the automotive space.

Luminar, for example, has deals with major OEMs like Volvo and Toyota, and it recently bought one of its chip suppliers so that it wouldn’t have to be held up like everyone else in the industry, including Velodyne, by the semiconductor shortage. Hesai is also seeing some traction with customers like Lyft, Nuro, Bosch, Navya and Chinese robotaxi operators Baidu, WeRide and AutoX. 

Velodyne, which has long been the dominant supplier in the industry, has lost some customers more recently.

For instance, Ford, which had originally backed Velodyne, divested its stake in the company and placed its bets on Argo AI, which is supplying the automaker with its the autonomous vehicle technology. Argo had upped its game by drastically improving its in-house lidar sensor, meaning it would no longer need to rely on Velodyne. That had a ripple effect and impacted Veoneer, which had partnered with Velodyne to produce the lidar for Ford.

#adas, #argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-driving, #earnings, #ford, #lidar, #q2-earnings, #transportation, #velodyne

Waymo to open offices in Pittsburgh, an AV tech hub

Waymo, Google’s former self-driving car project that’s now an independent business unit under Alphabet, is expanding its presence in the eastern U.S. The company said Thursday it would be opening offices in Pittsburgh, joining a growing suite of companies developing and testing autonomous vehicle technology in the Steel City.

The company will start by hiring around a dozen engineers, a source familiar with the move told TechCrunch, and they’ll co-locate in Google’s existing offices in the Bakery Square district. As of Thursday, only around three open positions for the Pittsburgh area were listed on Waymo’s website, but the company will be adding more roles soon.

Some of the new team will come from Pittsburgh-based RobotWits, a tech startup focused on autonomous vehicle decision-making. That includes RobotWits’ founder and CEO Maxim Likhachev, and other members of its engineering and technical team. While Waymo did not technically acquire the startup, it did acquire RobotWits’ IP rights, the source said.

There are no current plans to deploy the so-called Waymo Driver, its autonomous driving platform, in Pittsburgh, the source added. Instead, the new team will work on motion planning development, real-time route planning and developing Driver. Thus far, Driver has seen deployment in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area. Its Waymo Via trucking and cargo service will be deployed in a test run with trucking logistics company J.B. Hunt Transport Services in Texas.

AV tech rivals Aurora, Motional, Argo AI have already established offices in the city; combined with talent at Carnegie Melon University, the city has established itself as a bona fide hub for autonomous engineering development. Pittsburgh is also home to many smaller AV startups, including Locomation, which is working on autonomous trucks.

Waymo’s Pittsburgh location will join its network of offices in Mountain View, San Francisco, Phoenix, New York, Dallas and Hyderabad, India.

#automotive, #autonomous-driving, #autonomous-trucking, #autonomous-vehicles, #pittsburgh, #transportation, #waymo, #waymo-driver

Consumer Reports concerned Tesla uses owners to test unsafe self-driving software

A Tesla in full self-driving mode makes a left turn out of the middle lane on a busy San Francisco street. It jumps in a bus lane where it’s not meant to be. It turns a corner and nearly plows into parked vehicles, causing the driver to lurch for the wheel. These scenes have been captured by car reviewer AI Addict, and other scenarios like it are cropping up on YouTube. One might say that these are all mistakes any human on a cell phone might have made. But we expect more from our AI overlords. 

Earlier this month, Tesla began sending out over-the-air software updates for its Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta version 9 software, an advanced driver assist system that relies only on cameras, rather than cameras and radar like Tesla’s previous ADAS systems.

In reaction to videos displaying unsafe driving behavior, like unprotected left turns, and other reports from Tesla owners, Consumer Reports issued a statement on Tuesday saying the software upgrade does not appear to be safe enough for public roads, and that it would independently test the software update on its Model Y SUV once it receives the necessary software updates. 

The consumer organization said it’s concerned Tesla is using its existing owners and their vehicles as guinea pigs for testing new features. Making their point for them, Tesla CEO Elon Musk did urge drivers not to be complacent while driving because “there will be unknown issues, so please be paranoid.” Many Tesla owners know what they’re getting themselves into because they signed up for Tesla’s Early Access Program that delivers beta software for feedback, but other road users have not given their consent for such trials. 

Tesla’s updates are shipped out to drivers all over the country. The electric vehicle company did not respond to a request for more information about whether or not it takes into account self-driving regulations in specific states — 29 states have enacted laws related to autonomous driving, but they differ wildly depending on the state. Other self-driving technology companies like Cruise, Waymo and Argo AI told CR they either test their software on private tracks or use trained safety drivers as monitors. 

“Car technology is advancing really quickly, and automation has a lot of potential, but policymakers need to step up to get strong, sensible safety rules in place,” says William Wallace, manager of safety policy at CR in a statement. “Otherwise, some companies will just treat our public roads as if they were private proving grounds, with little holding them accountable for safety.”

In June, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a standing general order that requires manufacturers and operators of vehicles with SAE Level 2 ADAS or SAE levels 3, 4 or 5 automated driving systems to report crashes. 

“NHTSA’s core mission is safety. By mandating crash reporting, the agency will have access to critical data that will help quickly identify safety issues that could emerge in these automated systems,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s acting administrator, in a statement. “In fact, gathering data will help instill public confidence that the federal government is closely overseeing the safety of automated vehicles.” 

The FSD beta 9 software has added features that automates more driving tasks, like navigating intersections and city streets with the driver’s supervision. But with such excellent graphics detailing where the car is in relation to other road users, down to a woman on a scooter passing by, drivers might be more distracted by the tech that’s meant to assist them at crucial moments. 

“Tesla just asking people to pay attention isn’t enough — the system needs to make sure people are engaged when the system is operational,” said Jake Fisher, senior director of CR’s Auto Test Center in a statement. “We already know that testing developing self-driving systems without adequate driver support can — and will — end in fatalities.”

Fisher said Tesla should implement an in-car driver monitoring system to ensure drivers are watching the road to avoid accidents like the one involving Uber’s self-driving test vehicle, which struck and killed a woman in 2018 in Phoenix as she crossed the street. 

#automotive, #autonomous-driving, #electric-vehicles, #tesla-model-y, #transportation

Volkswagen’s new business strategy puts software and autonomous driving front and center

Volkswagen will ramp up its software, mobility as a service and battery tech to stay competitive in the coming decades, as it and other automakers prepare for the largest transition in personal mobility since the invention of the car.

Laying out the company strategy Tuesday, Chief Executive Officer Herbert Diess emphasized a top-to-bottom transformation in everything from manufacturing to revenue streams. If revenue was historically driven by sales of internal combustion engine vehicles, Volkswagen CFO Arno Antlitz said the rest of the decade bring income derived not only from electric vehicle sales, but also software, autonomous driving and even ridesharing.

To that end, the company has been busy, planning six battery Gigafactories in Europe and an €800 million ($944 million) hardware platform research and development facility in West Berlin. The company’s also beefing up its in-house automotive software arm Cariad, which VW said could generate as much as €1.2 trillion ($1.4 trillion) in revenue by 2030, via subscriptions and other sales.

Volkswagen also has big plans for autonomous driving. The company wants to take a chunk of the market share from ridesharing and car rental, and it sees an integrated AV platform as the way to do it. Executives painted a vivid picture of customers being able to request a Volkswagen electric AV taxi or shuttle by the end of the decade, one that may not even include a steering wheel or driver’s seat, according to renderings shown during the presentation.

“Imagine that your grandmother or your eight-year-old son can hop in a Volkswagen cab to visit one another, whenever they want, without mom or dad behind the wheel,” Diess suggested. “You can use one of our mobility apps, and an ID Bus will pick you up and your friends.”

Personal vehicles will be powered by Cariad, which the OEM said will have “level 4 readiness” by 2025. Shared mobility vehicles, like shuttles or taxis, will also be VW-owned and operated, and run on tech developed by AV company Argo AI. Volkswagen closed a $2.6 billion investment in the startup last June.

Europe’s largest automaker anticipates its investments in MaaS will pay off: the company expects annual revenues of over $70 billion in the five largest European markets alone by 2030, Christian Senger, CTO of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said. The autonomous rideshare ID Bus, which is being tested in a pilot project in Munich, will be rolled out as a commercial service in Hamburg in 2025, followed shortly by the U.S.

In line with these estimates, the automaker anticipates BEV sales will account for 25% of sales by 2025 and 50% by 2030. ICE margins will likely come under increased pressure due to declining demand, tighter emissions regulations and comparative tax disadvantages, so Volkswagen plans to decrease its number of ICE models by 60% in Europe by 2030. Cost parity between ICE and BEV should be achieved within two to three years, Antlitz said, thanks to economies of scale and lower factory costs.

It’s an optimistic future, but one in which Volkswagen is fully confident: the company upped its profit target for 2025 to 8-9%, from 7-8%.

“Until 2030, the world of mobility will have seen the greatest transformation since the transition from horses to cars at the beginning of the 20th century,” Diess said. “The future of cars, the future of individual mobility will be bright.”

#argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-driving, #electric-vehicles, #transportation, #volkswagen, #vw

No driver? No problem—this is the Indy Autonomous Challenge

INDIANAPOLIS—At a block party down the road from Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) the day before the Indy 500, engineering students from across the world gathered for a very different kind of car reveal. The AV-21, with its sharp, green-blue Dallara chassis, looks like a typical Indy Lights racecar. However, there’s one notable exception: no driver. Its cockpit is crammed with wires, processors, sensors, and a motherboard—essentially, a supercomputer.

“It’s shaped like a car, but I don’t view it as one,” said Chanyoung Jung, an engineering student from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. “I view it as a robot.”

Automobile, robot, or something in between, the AV-21’s unveiling was a significant step for the Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC), a competition set for October 23 in which driverless cars will race wheel-to-wheel around IMS at potential speeds of more than 180 mph. The winning team will earn a $1.5 million university prize. Organized by IMS and Energy Systems Network (ESN), an Indianapolis-based nonprofit, the race seeks to significantly advance the safety and speed of autonomous vehicles.

Read 27 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#autonomous-cars, #autonomous-driving, #cars, #indianapolis-motor-speedway, #indy-500, #indy-autonomous-challenge, #indycar, #racing, #roborace, #self-driving-vehicle

The Station: Bird has drama in San Francisco, drone delivery startup Zipline raises $250M

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.

Happy 4th of July! For those of you who are actually checking your emails today while getting some sun at an overcrowded beach or diligently grilling hot dogs, 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.

Kirsten Korosec, your usual host, is off enjoying the great American outdoors, so please enjoy this takeover all the way from Auckland, New Zealand! Despite the winter chill down under and my singularity as an American on this island, I’m feeling particularly patriotic today. It was on this day 245 years ago that the 13 colonies declared themselves free and independent states, with all the power to establish commerce and pursue happiness and what not. 

As I sit here, a journalist, with a front row seat to the history of technological advancement, I can’t help but notice that the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, one that rebuffs authority for freedom to act as one chooses, is alive and well in the startup world. Technology, even in the transportation space, soars ever upward, unshackled in many cases by corresponding rules and regulations, and the government hastens to catch up. 

Don’t know what I mean? I had a conversation today with Lacuna CEO Hugh Martin, and he mentioned something that stayed with me and found its way into this rant. Venture capital is pouring into startups creating technology like eVTOL, air taxis, rockets and drones, but consider this: What is the ratio of startups building such futuristic tech compared to departments of transportation with aviation departments? Public private partnerships need to step up, and fast. 

Ok, rant over. Enjoy your firecrackers. 

Email me at rebecca.techcrunch@gmail.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also follow me on Twitter, but please don’t DM me. — @rebeccabellan.

Micromobbin’

Bird is having a tough week, pulling operations in San Francisco and Santa Monica, as well as Zaragoza in Spain. Both California cities had new scooter permits beginning on July 1, but there hasn’t been a Bird in sight since June 30.

In San Francisco, Bird goes by Scoot, the company it acquired in June 2019 that has been in SF for around a decade. Bird previously operated in the city, but was kicked out in 2018, along with Lime, so this was an off-hand way of making it back into the Golden City. This time around, the SFMTA is asking Bird to halt its operations, even as the 2021 permit program begins without it, and is also levying fines to the tune of $105,600 against the company. Apparently, Bird got caught implementing its fleet manager program with unauthorized subcontractors. The permit does allow for scooter companies to use subcontractors, but they need prior approval and proof of insurance, which Bird did not provide for at least three subcontractors. The SFMTA is currently deferring its decision on letting Bird back in until it has conducted an investigation into the matter.  

“Scoot is proud to have partnered with the city for nearly a decade providing shared micro electric vehicles for San Francisco,” a Bird spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are cooperating fully with the SFMTA to swiftly resolve the clerical error that occurred while urgently providing existing local businesses an alternative source of revenue during the pandemic. We apologize for the inconvenience to our riders during this evaluation period and are eager to once again serve San Francisco residents and visitors as soon as possible.” 

Lime and Spin, on the other hand, have been asked to stay in San Francisco, so congrats to them. They’ll also be operating in Santa Monica, where Bird was again not chosen for the 2021 scooter program in large part because the city found Bird’s service to be lacking in safety and rider features, affordability and customer service, according to the Santa Monica selection committee scorecard shared with TechCrunch. The company filed an appeal and threatened litigation back in May, but was denied this week and basically told it didn’t have a legal basis for suing, according to letters between Bird’s attorneys and the City of Santa Monica shared with TechCrunch. 

Veo and Wheels will also be operating in Santa Monica. Meanwhile in Spain, the Zaragoza City Council asked Bird to cease operations from September onward due to noncompliance issues. 

Speaking of Veo, the company has been on a bit of a roll after winning the New York permit. This week, Veo unveiled what might be the industry’s first e-scooter with integrated turn signals, a sweet new safety feature that hopefully the rest of the industry will pick up on. Veo will deploy these scooters in Santa Monica and NYC next week. 

Forget sharing scooters. Go get your own.

Electric micromobility dealership Ridepanda is making it easier for the average consumer to purchase a sick light duty electric vehicle like a scooter, bike or moped. Its e-commerce platform displays vehicles that are vetted by the team to ensure high quality with replaceable parts. Once you order a vehicle that’s been curated for you and your needs, it’ll get shipped to your door (optional assembly person included). The startup just raised $3.75 million, an extension from last year’s seed round, from lead investors like Yamaha Motor Company, Porsche Ventures and Proeza Ventures.

Something for everyone?

Have you ever felt like the electric micromobility space hasn’t been badass enough? Well, Evolve Skateboards has the solution for you! Its new Hadean Series skateboard can zoom up to 31 mph, and its battery can go up to 42 miles on a single charge. Rather than a wooden board, this gnarly ride’s frame is made with forged carbon composite making it strong enough to handle increased speeds and next level ollies. The cost is in the $2,500 to $3,000 range, so it’s certainly a toy for the dedicated thrill seeker.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Drone delivery startup Zipline, a company that got its start delivering medical supplies across Africa, has raised $250 million in new funding. This latest round has vaulted the company’s valuation to $2.75 billion and will fuel further expansion of its logistics networks in Africa and the United States.

Big bets are being made in the instant logistics space. While Zipline is pretty focused on delivering health supplies at the moment, it’s open to expanding into other industries as time goes on. Either way, it’s doing very well with partnerships like UPS in Rwanda, the Toyota Group in Japan and Novant Health and Walmart in the U.S.

Other deals that caught my attention…

Microsoft and Sompo Holdings have committed a combined $25 million as part of a partnership with connected vehicle data startup Wejo that will help the company collect, store and analyze data from millions of connected vehicles around the world. This follows Wejo’s SPAC merger with Virtuoso Acquisition Corp., which should close later this year. The company’s total PIPE financing is $125 million. 

While we’re talking SPACs, electric vehicle charging station network EVgo, which announced its SPAC deal with Climate Change Crisis Real Impact I Acquisition Corp. back in January, has completed its business combination with CLII. The combined company will go by “EVgo Inc.” and has been trading as such on the NASDAQ since July 2.

Turntide Technologies, a sustainable technology developer that’s created a smart electric motor system, has announced $225 million in convertible note financing that it says will help fund projects to reduce carbon emissions in the commercial buildings, agriculture and transportation industries.The money comes from the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, Monashee Capital, JLL Spark, Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Suvretta Capital Management, bringing Turntide’s total funding to $400 million

Autonomous driving system developer Ghost Locomotion has raised a $100 million in Series D funding in a round led by Sutter Hill Ventures. Returning investor Founders Fund also participated in the round, along with Coatue. The money will be used toward R&D as the company continues to develop its highway self-driving and crash prevention technology.

Australian rocket launch startup Gilmour Space Technologies has raised $46 million in a Series C that it will use to take its small launch vehicle, Eris, to space next year. The round was led by Fine Structure Ventures and included contributions from Australian VCs Blackbird and Main Sequence, and Australian pension funds HESTA, Hostplus and NGS Super. 

You probably don’t remember, but a little while back we covered Onto, an electric vehicle subscription service in the U.K. Well, this model appears to be catching. A similar business going by imove in Norway has just raised around $19 million in a Series A led by pan-European online car market AutoScout24, venture capital player Norselab, and the Norwegian state climate investment company Nysnø.

Ghanaian-based software company Jetstream just raised $3 million in seed funding. The company aims to enable African businesses to see and control their own cross-border supply chains. It aggregates private sector logistics providers at African ports and borders, and brings them online. Local and international investors participated in the round, including Alitheia IDF, Golden Palm Investments, 4DX Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Asia Pacific Land, Breyer Labs and MSA Capital.

Electric propulsion and powertrain developer Enedym raised $15 million from a round led by P&A Paletta Giving Inc., TRIO Capital Group Inc., Napino Group, KWG Capital Inc., Pathfinder Asset Management Limited and others. The Canadian company will use the funds to accelerate its patented motor development tech and get into more of the electric motor market, including automotive, micromobility, windfarms and industrial markets.

Policy corner

the-station-deliveryHi folks, welcome back to Policy Corner. Let’s dive in.

Mayors from nine American cities, including Los Angeles and Denver, sent a letter on June 30 urging federal lawmakers to include funds for planning grants for advanced air mobility (AAM) in the massive infrastructure legislation currently being debated in Congress. The letter, shared with TechCrunch by a source familiar with the matter, argues that federal grant funding for planning studies would help cities better understand and prepare for AAM technology.

The brief letter is fuzzy on the details. The mayors request a “modest” amount of funding. The source told TechCrunch that it would likely be in the low tens of millions, with the assumption that a one-year planning study in a large metropolitan city would cost around $1 million. So the total funds would cover around 15-20 cities. The idea is that this information could inform future rule-makings or even the Federal Aviation Administration’s reauthorization bill that’s coming up in 2023.

One thing that’s notable about the letter is a line that starts, “When this new transportation technology launches in 2024 and beyond … ”. While 2024 has been publicly set as a launch target for eVTOL developer like Archer Aviation and Joby Aviation, timelines are a tricky thing for emerging technologies.

In any case, I’ll be keeping track of these developments. It’s hard to imagine Congressional Republicans agreeing to funding for AAM when they could hardly agree on electric vehicles, but we’ll see — the low tens of millions may be a blip on the budget line of such a large funding package.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on June 29 issued an order requiring OEMS and drivers of vehicles equipped with autonomous driving systems to report crashes within one day of learning about them. The order specifically relates to SAE Level 2 advanced driver assistance systems or SAE Levels 3-5 automated driving systems. Any incident that involves an injury that had to be treated at a hospital, a death, a vehicle tow-away, air bag deployment, or a pedestrian or bicyclist must be reported, the order says.

NHTSA says the data collected from this order will help identify safety issues or defects in the technology. “By mandating crash reporting, the agency will have access to critical data that will help quickly identify safety issues that could emerge in these automated systems,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s acting administrator. “In fact, gathering data will help instill public confidence that the federal government is closely overseeing the safety of automated vehicles.”

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

the station electric vehicles1

Extra Crunchy

Alex Wilhelm explored some financials about Uber and its Chinese rival Didi, which is looking to list in the U.S. The company’s IPO filing was big news, but it appears to be valued several tens of billions of dollars lower than Uber, despite the fact that it’s larger and more profitable. 

Renaissance Capital calculates Didi’s midpoint valuation using a fully diluted share count at $67.5 billion, and Yahoo Finance pegged Uber at $95.2 billion. Why the large difference? Wilhelm speculates it could have something to do with Uber’s more expanded reach and different revenue streams, like its delivery business, as Didi is mostly concentrated on its Chinese mobility business. 

Rimac Automobili sat down with Kirsten Korosec to share his lessons from bootstrapping his EV company during our TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event. 

We actually bootstrapped a car company. We had revenue from day one, not because we wanted to, but because there was no alternative and there was absolutely no other way for us. So most of the years in business, we are actually profitable. And that’s pretty tough.

You have these big electric car startups that have received billions of funding and so on. Hats off to them, great job. But we had to survive from the very beginning by the stuff that we were doing and making for other car companies.

GM’s newest startup investment BrightDrop boasts an ecosystem of EV hardware and logistical software products targeting fleet and delivery companies. GM has invested $800 million to convert a Canadian factory that currently builds the Chevy Equinox to build the EV600 delivery van.

Electric vehicles 

Chinese EV maker NIO released its June delivery results. It delivered 8,083 units of smart electric vehicles which it says is a YOY increase of 116%. In Q2 in total it delivered nearly 22,000 vehicles, and in the first half of 2021, it delivered nearly 42,000 vehicles. Ok, NIO, we see you.

Honda will be selling its first electric SUV in North America in early 2024. The new car’s name, Prologue, is meant to signify the beginning of what the company called its “new electrified era.”

Revel, the company that started with electric moped shares and now has its hands in a lot of electric mobility pies, has officially launched its Superhub in Brooklyn. With 25 chargers all in one place and easily accessible, it’s the largest universal charging station in North America, the company says. 

This week Volvo Cars detailed its strategy for electrifying its entire car lineup by 2030. It plans to work with partners like Northvolt, Google and Luminar to build out its future vehicles lineup. It also unveiled the first images of “Concept Recharge,” a concept EV that has flat floors, two interior screens and rear “suicide doors” that open from the middle of the vehicle.

Autonomous vehicles

Pittsburgh-based autonomous trucking company Locomotion is pitching a convoy system in which a lead driver pilots a truck and another truck, with a human passenger/backup operator, follows it autonomously. The company told TechCrunch it thinks using such a human-guided system will be the fastest and smoothest route to commercialization. 

Aurora’s CEO Chris Urmson shared some thoughts on the progress the company has made on commercializing the Aurora Driver and delivering it at scale. 

Data is power

Kruze Consulting, a startup CFO/accounting firm with access to the books of over 450 venture-funded startups, has shared some data with TechCrunch that shows ride-share spend is rebounding in the startup world, with Uber expanding its lead against Lyft. The study also found cost per ride is higher than 2020 averages, likely due to a scarcity of drivers. 

Stockholm-based e-scooter operator Voi released a study that demonstrates how partnerships between operators and transit authorities can lead to higher public transit ridership. The study specifically details how a joint initiative with Stuttgart’s rail operator S-Bahn Stuttgart to integrate Voi and the Mobility Stuttgart app, saw at least a 35% increase in rail tickets purchased by Voi users. 

Fresh meat

Autonomous delivery company Nuro announced the appointment of James Owens as the company’s new head of Regulatory. 

Anthony Gregory, former VP of ground operations at Southwest, has joined GM-owned Cruise as the new VP of market development. 

Other tidbits

Columbus, Ohio won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge in 2015. Smart City Columbus ran from 2016 until mid-June 2021, using all kinds of new tech to improve its transportation system and general mobility. What did Columbus do with its $50 million in grant money? Check out all the tech that went into the Smart City.

BMW i Ventures, the venture capital arm of BMW Group, has announced a new $300 million fund to further its investment in technologies that make transportation, manufacturing and supply chains more sustainable. This isn’t about core car tech. It’s about everything that goes into making the cars, from sustainable materials for car seats to decarbonizing metal. 

Ford is partnering with insurance company State Farm to share vehicle data to better understand how safety features impact claims. A statement from Ford reads: “Ford’s new Vehicle Build Data product provides State Farm a comprehensive view of a vehicle’s feature content and a better understanding of how advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) impact the frequency and severity of auto claims. State Farm is also sharing claims data with Ford to help inform them on how specific vehicle features impact auto claims.” 

Last mile logistics management software company Onfleet has announced its 100 millionth delivery and significant company growth. 

General Motors has announced the creation of a new $25 million Climate Equity Fund for equitable climate action. This is intended as a complement to the automaker’s recently announced $35 billion investment into EV and AV technologies globally through 2025.

#automotive, #autonomous-driving, #bird, #electric-vehicles, #ridepanda, #tc, #the-station, #transportation, #zipline

Ghost raises $100M Series D for autonomous driving and crash prevention tech

Autonomous driving system developer Ghost Locomotion has raised a $100 million Series D funding round, led by Sutter Hill Ventures. Returning investor Founders Fund also participated in the round, along with Coatue. The money will be used toward R&D as the company continues to develop its highway self-driving and crash prevention technology.

Ghost has been working on a universal collision avoidance technology. The system is premised on the idea that an autonomous driving system doesn’t need to recognize and categorize objects prior to avoiding them – a major paradigm shift. Most systems begin by identifying an object and then use image localization to determine its size, distance and other relevant features.

“We skip that step,” Ghost CEO John Hayes told TechCrunch. “We’re going to recognize anything, any mass that appears in the scene, and then we can get a distance and relative velocity to that. We can start making decisions directly off that data before we’ve classified anything.”

Ghost instead tracks the movement of clusters of pixels in a scene. Hayes pointed to instances where an object is misclassified, or objects that the system hasn’t trained on, as possible failure modes and a reason why classification does not need to be a prerequisite for collision avoidance. Much of this comes down to the certainty of the system’s decisions. According to Ghost, an autonomous system that starts from image recognition is one loaded with lots of opportunity for uncertainty – and it argues, less safe actions on the road.

One obvious counter-argument is that objects should be classified because they behave differently – a vehicle acts differently than a pedestrian, so classification is what allows a system to predict their behavior. But Hayes said that one shouldn’t start with classification, but collision avoidance. “And then if you want to make predictions, you can still do classification,” he said.

One benefit of its system, according to Ghost, is that it requires less computational power – an important consideration for vehicle owners, as higher processing demands can translate into less fuel efficiency. It’s also important for battery electric vehicles that have autonomous driving systems, as each watt of computer power demanded by the AV system can cause a reduction in driving range. Tesla, for example, revealed in 2019 that driving range could be reduced by up to 25% when the driver-assist system was enabled.

Ghost has performed most if its tests off-road, by setting up physical obstacles or by using augmented reality up against a real vehicle. It has not yet started testing its collision avoidance system in an urban environment, where decision complexity skyrockets considerably. Nor has it started testing on public highways – that will begin this year, and scale up next year, with a human safety driver behind the wheel, Hayes said.

The company seems to have slightly altered its market roadmap since it last talked to TechCrunch in 2019. Then, Ghost was developing a consumer kit that would give privately owned passenger vehicles autonomous driving capability on highways. It had estimated that it would debut the kit in 2020, for less than Tesla’s Autopilot package (which went for around $7,000 at the time).

The company hasn’t completely closed the door on this model – Hayes said that “we want to get this in front of customers” – but now it’s also talking about working with automakers directly to get its technology stack into vehicles before they’re even sold.

“We’ll find any path to market we can take,” he added. Under the straight-to-consumer model, the company is starting with a limited number of compatible models, and the cars must be relatively new due to the minimum technological requirements of the system.

Along with the funding news, Ghost also said it had brought on Jacqueline Glassman, former Chief Counsel and Acting Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as General Counsel. She joined the company in April and will likely play a key role as Ghost joins other autonomous driving technology developers in the path to commercialization.

#automation, #automotive, #autonomous-driving, #autonomous-vehicles, #av, #ghost-locomotion, #tc, #transportation

BMW i Ventures invests in autonomous truck technology company Kodiak Robotics

BMW’s Silicon Valley-based venture capital arm is investing in Kodiak Robotics, a company that develops autonomous trucking technology. 

Kodiak will use the funds to build out a safety case for its self-driving tech stack so it can more quickly commercialize. It will also work on hiring fresh talent and expanding its truck fleet, with a stated goal of at least doubling the number of vehicles it operates each year. The startup currently has 10 trucks in rotation between its commercial route in Texas and its test pilot in Mountain View, California. 

The terms of the deal were not disclosed. BMW i Ventures usually invests in companies that can provide solutions to BMW’s current and future business, but Kodiak’s CEO and co-founder Don Burnette told TechCrunch that BMW’s investment was purely financial and not strategic, meaning there is currently no technical partnership between the two. 

This new investment comes just a week after tire-maker Bridgestone announced a minority stake in Kodiak. The financials behind that deal were not revealed either. To date, Kodiak has publicly announced $40 million in funding from its Series A, and Burnette says the startup has had several additional investments since then. 

Burnette also shared the company’s plans to achieve driverless operations at scale for less than 10% of what Waymo has publicly raised to date – $5.7 billion – and less than 25% of TuSimple’s total existing fundraise – about $1.94 billion, including the money it raised through its IPO. That leaves us with a number roughly around $500 million. 

“That’s the total amount of money that we think we need to get to driverless, and that’s because we think we’ve been a much more efficient company up until this point, and we will continue to be much more efficient going forward,” said Burnette. 

The BMW i Ventures funding will eventually make up part of Kodiak’s Series B. With this latest investment, the company isn’t trying to further develop its self-driving capabilities or features, but rather it wants to build out its safety case and prove that its system can handle the road with no driver on board, says Burnette. 

“We are building toward a Level 4 autonomy system, but we still have a driver in the seat that’s actually monitoring our system at all times,” said Burnette. “Today, we are technically a Level 2 system, which is true for just about everybody else out there.”

Vehicles with a human driver supervising operations such as steering, brake and acceleration support, as well as things like lane centering and adaptive cruise control fit under the Society of Automobile Engineer’s (SAE) definition of Level 2 autonomy. Level 4 means the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention. 

Kodiak says it’s made progress. In January it announced its Kodiak Driver achieved “disengagement-free deliveries” (meaning the autonomous system didn’t have to be switched off for safety reasons) during a commercial route from Dallas to Houston. The company has been running this route out of its Dallas testing and operations facility for two years, and says it’s now achieved a level of maturity where the system can handle anything the highway throws at it. 

“We’re doing really complex and advanced maneuvers, not just handling obvious things like merges and cut-ins and heavy traffic, but also more nuanced challenges like identifying vehicles that are pulled over on the side of the road,” said Burnette. “Our system can automatically identify that and then slow down as required by law, or nudge away from that object to give it more space. It can also consider making a lane change if a lane is available, a way to give even more clearance to the stalled vehicle on the side, and this is exactly how humans drive.”

To get to the point where Kodiak can prove its tech is actually safer than a human driver, and thus suitable for operating commercially at scale, the startup has to build up its total miles driven in simulated environments, structured testing on a private closed track, and in real world driving. 

Burnette says Kodiak is the only company that doesn’t designate one type of sensor as ‘primary,’ and rather takes a comprehensive approach, meaning it’s not a lidar-first or vision-first company. Tesla’s head of AI Andrej Karpathy recently revealed the company’s new supercomputer which takes a vision-only approach, but Burnette fundamentally disagrees with that method. 

“We believe that each of these different modalities have strengths and weaknesses, and our objective is to take advantage of those strengths and cover the weaknesses with other modalities, and so we’ve created a sensor fusion algorithm that allows us to consider which sensors are advantageous in the moments where they give us the most usable information,” said Burnette.

Kodiak doesn’t use HD mapping either, so its trucks see in real time on the road, which allows the Kodiak Driver to be flexible when it comes to changing road conditions or environments. The system is trained using data collected by Kodiak’s trucks, as well as on scenarios devised by its engineers, and that data is auto-labeled using Scale AI, which is one of the ways Kodiak is able to keep down costs, says Burnette. 

Kodiak’s team hails from Google’s original self-driving team, Uber, Lyft and other notable tech companies. Burnette says BMW i Ventures’ investment in the company came after a thorough vetting process in which the firm sent over their autonomous driving experts and dug into the team’s expertise and tech.

#autonomous-driving, #autonomous-trucks, #bmw-i-ventures, #kodiak-robotics, #self-driving-trucks, #tc, #transportation

Autonomous trucking startup Embark to go public in $5.2B SPAC deal

Five-year old self-driving truck startup Embark Trucks Inc. said Wednesday it would merge with special purpose acquisition company Northern Genesis Acquisition Corp. II in a deal valued at $5.2 billion.

Embark takes a different approach to autonomous trucking: As opposed to manufacturing and operating a fleet of trucks themselves, which is the route rival TuSimple is taking, Embark offers its AV software as a service. Carriers and fleets can pay a per-mile subscription fee to access it. The company includes carriers Mesilla Valley Transportation and Bison Transport, and companies Anheuser-Busch InBev and HP Inc., amongst its partners.

Carriers purchase trucks with compatible hardware directly from OEMs, so Embark says it has designed its system to be “platform agnostic” across multiple components and manufacturers. The company says its software can simulate up to 1,200 60-second scenarios per second, and make adaptive predictions using those scenarios for the behaviour of other vehicles on the road.

Embark said in an investor presentation for the SPAC deal that it was targeting “driver-out,” or operating on roads without a safety driver, by 2023 and launching at a commercial scale across the American sunbelt the following year. However, Embark still has technical milestones yet to achieve, noting in the presentation that the software still needs to accomplish actions such as interactions with emergency vehicles, and responding to blown tires and other mechanical failures.

Upon closing, the transaction will inject Embark with around $615 million in gross cash proceeds, including $200 million in private investment in public equity (PIPE) funding from investors including CPP Investments, Knight-Swift Transportation, Mubadala Capital, Sequoia Capital and Tiger Global Management.

Embark also said former Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was joining its board, likely a boon for a company operating in the autonomous trucking industry, which is still only authorized for commercial deployment in 24 states.

Embark was founded in 2016 by CEO Alex Rodrigues and CTO Brandon Moak, who worked together on autonomous driving while completing engineering degrees from Canada’s University of Waterloo. After launching out of Y Combinator, the company quickly went on to raise $117 million in total funding, including a $30 million Series B led by Sequoia Capital and a $70 million Series C led by Tiger Global Management.

The transaction is anticipated to close in the second half of 2021. The company joins competitor AV trucking developer Plus in going public via a SPAC merger. TuSimple opted for a traditional initial public offering in March.

#automotive, #autonomous-driving, #autonomous-trucking, #embark, #funding, #private-equity, #spac, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #tusimple

Lidar company Quanergy to go public via $1.4B SPAC deal

Quanergy Systems, the Sunnyvale, California-based lidar company, said Tuesday it has agreed to merge with special purpose acquisition fund CITIC Capital Acquisition Corp., a Chinese blank-check firm affiliated with the country’s largest state-owned investment conglomerate.

The deal, which puts an implied valuation on Quanergy at $1.4 billion, is expected to close in the second half of 2021. After closing, the transaction will inject the lidar company with around $278 million in pro forma net cash, including $40 million in private investment in public equity (PIPE) funding.

Lidar is an essential component of most autonomous driving systems – the notable exception being Tesla’s stack, which is attempting to develop a pure vision-based system to support its pursuit of automated driving (Tesla vehicles are not autonomous today and have what is considered a Level 2 advanced driver assistance system). Quanergy is a developer of solid state silicon lidar units, which pulses a low-power laser through an optical phased array to measure the distance and shape of objects. Historically, lidar sensors involved moving parts – generally some mechanism to rotate the laser so it can scan the surrounding area. The company also develops perception software that interprets the sensor data.

Quanergy has had a bumpy road to the NYSE. The company generated a lot of hype after it announced in 2016 that it had developed a lidar that cost $250 or less (for reference, around the same time Velodyne was selling a lidar sensor for $75,000). The news shot the company to unicorn status and incited talks of a potential initial public offering, Bloomberg reported. But excitement was tempered after Quanergy hit technical roadblocks.

Then the company announced in January 2020 that CEO and co-founder Louay Eldada would be leaving the company. Kevin Kennedy took over as interim CEO, then became the permanent leader in April. Quanergy says it has more than 350 customers and 40 partnerships globally, across both the automotive and internet of things sectors. Its investors include automakers Daimler and Geely, as well as Samsung and Enterprise.

Quanergy says the proceeds from the SPAC transaction will be used to accelerate research and development, pay down debt and fund working capital. Upon closing, Quanergy will be listed on the NYSE under the ticker symbol “QNGY.”

The SPAC, CITIC Capital Acquisition Corp., is sponsored by CITIC Capital Holdings Limited, an investment firm backed by Chinese conglomerate CITIC Group. Quanergy must file for clearance with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The company anticipates CFIUS greenlighting the deal because CITIC would keep its stake in the company below 10%, and Quanergy does not record any personal driver data, Reuters reported.

Quanergy is not the first lidar company to go public via a SPAC merger. Others include AEye, which will merge with CF Finance Acquisition Corp. III at a $2 billion deal, and Volvo-partnered Luminar at a $3.4 billion valuation.

#automotive, #autonomous-driving, #autonomous-vehicles, #china, #funding, #lidar, #private-equity, #quanergy, #spac, #tc, #transportation

Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving arm, raises $2.5B in second external investment round

Waymo, Google’s former self-driving project that is now a business unit under Alphabet, said Wednesday it raised $2.5 billion in its second outside funding round. The company said in a blog post it will use the funds to continue growing Waymo Driver, its autonomous driving platform, and growing its team.

The round saw participation from existing investors Alphabet, Andreessen Horowitz, AutoNation, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Magna International, Mubadala Investment Company, Perry Creek Capital, Silver Lake, funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., Temasek, and additional investor Tiger Global.

The news comes only a few months after former CEO John Krafcik announced in April that he was stepping down from leading the company after five years in the position. The CEO position is now being held jointly by Tekedra Mawakana, former COO, and Dmitri Dolgov, who joined the original self-driving project at Google and was CTO.

Krafcik led the company through its first external $2.25 billion investment round in March 2020. That round was later expanded by $700 million a few months later. But Krafcik could be a polarizing figure in the company, as TechCrunch’s Kirsten Korosec noted.

In addition to its Waymo One commercial ride-hailing service, which operates in the Metro Phoenix, Arizona area, the company has continued to build out its Waymo Via trucking and cargo transportation service. Earlier this month Waymo announced it was entering a “test run” with J.B. Hunt for transportation services between Houston and Fort Worth.

#alphabet, #andreessen-horowitz, #automotive, #autonomous-driving, #autonomous-transportation, #autonomous-trucking, #funding, #google, #tc, #transportation, #waymo

Waabi’s Raquel Urtasun explains why it was the right time to launch an AV technology startup

Raquel Urtasun, the former chief scientist at Uber ATG, is the founder and CEO of Waabi, an autonomous vehicle startup that came out of stealth mode last week. The Toronto-based company, which will focus on trucking, raised an impressive $83.5 million in a Series A round led by Khosla Ventures. 

Urtasun joined Mobility 2021 to talk about her new venture, the challenges facing the self-driving vehicle industry and how her approach to AI can be used to advance the commercialization of AVs.


Why did Urtasun decide to found her own company?

Urtasun, who is considered a pioneer in AI, led the R&D efforts as a chief scientist at Uber ATG, which was acquired by Aurora in December. Six months later, we have Waabi. The company’s mission is to take an AI-first approach to solving self-driving technology. 

I left Uber a little bit over three months ago to start this new company, Waabi, with the idea of having a different way of solving self-driving. This is a combination of my 20-year career in AI as well as more than 10 years in self-driving. Thinking about a new company was something that was always in my head. And the more that I was in the industry, the more that I started thinking about going away from the traditional approach and trying to have a diverse view of how to solve self-driving was actually the way to go. So that’s why I decided to do this company. (Timestamp: 1:21)

#adas, #artificial-intelligence, #aurora-innovation, #autonomous-driving, #mobility-2021, #raquel-urtasun, #self-driving-vehicles, #tc, #transportation, #uber, #waabi

Scale to launch a mapping product to address the changing needs of its autonomous driving customers

Solving the varied challenges that arise in autonomous driving is an incredibly complex task, but even attempting to get started means ensuring you have quality data that’s accurate and well-annotated. That’s where Scale comes in, having identified early on that the AV industry would require annotation of huge swaths of data, including specialized LiDAR imaging. Now, co-founder and CEO Alex Wang tells me at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 (ExtraCrunch subscription required) that it’s moving into mapping with a new product that’s coming later this month.

“Our role has continued to evolve,” Wang said, regarding how it works with its transportation industry partners, which include Toyota among many others. “You know, as we work with our customers, and we solved one problem for them around data and annotational data labeling, you know, it turns out they they come to us with other problems that we can then help solve as well around data management, we launched a product called Nucleus for that. A lot of our customers are thinking a lot about mapping, and how to deploy with more robust maps. So we’re built a product, I’m going to announce that probably later this month, but we’re helping to address that problem with our customers.”

Despite my prodding, Wang wouldn’t provide any specifics, but he did go into more detail about the challenges of mapping, and what’s lacking in existing maps available to companies working on integrating those with AV systems that include other signals, like sensor fusion and vehicle-to-infrastructure components.

“I think a big question for the overall space has been that historically, the industry has relied very, very heavily on mapping — we relied very, very heavily on very highquality, high definition maps,” he said. “The tricky thing about the world is that sometimes these maps are wrong, and how do you deal with that? […] How do you deal with kind of this challenge of robustness, or updates. Even, if you think about it, Google Maps, which is the best mapping infrastructure in the world, by a huge margin, you know they don’t update quickly enough for [human] drivers.”

Wang said that the challenge isn’t all that different from the one that Scale has been actively solving for most of its existence, which is that of the data flywheel. With autonomous driving, it’s of utmost importance to be able to collect and annotate data quickly and accurately, which results in ever better collection and annotation of future data, and more reliability for the assumptions the system is making about its environment.

“Figuring out how to deal with the real-time nature of how the world changes, is one really big, one really big component,” he said. While we still have to wait to see what exactly Scale has planned, it seems safe to assume that it’s all about building confidence in maps and mapping accuracy as a key ingredient in whatever they launch.

#autonomous-driving, #event-recap, #mapping, #mobility-2021, #tc, #transportation

Self-driving Waymo trucks to haul loads between Houston and Fort Worth

Will Waymo's autonomous truck honk its horn for little kids on the freeway?

Enlarge / Will Waymo’s autonomous truck honk its horn for little kids on the freeway? (credit: Waymo)

On Thursday morning, Waymo announced that it is working with trucking company JB Hunt to autonomously haul cargo loads in Texas. Class 8 JB Hunt trucks equipped with the autonomous driving software and hardware system called Waymo Driver will operate on I-45 in Texas, taking cargo between Houston and Fort Worth.

However, the trucks will still carry humans—a trained truck driver and Waymo technicians—to supervise and take over if necessary.

Although Waymo is better known for the autonomous taxi service it operates in a suburb of Phoenix, the company started experimenting with adding its autonomous technology to freight haulers several years ago. And in 2018, it began testing those trucks in the Atlanta area. What makes today’s news more notable is the partnership with a major truck operator.

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#autonomous-driving, #cars, #class-8-truck, #freight, #jb-hunt, #self-driving, #truck-freight, #waymo

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

Motional CEO hints at an autonomous future in logistics

Motional, the $4 billion joint venture between Aptiv and Hyundai, is exploring the company’s potential involvement in autonomous trucking or logistics, its CEO said today during a live session at TechCrunch’s 2021 Mobility Event.

“The beauty of what’s on the other side of the coin is that the same core technology can of course apply to multiple use cases,” said Karl Iagnemma on the panel led by TechCrunch transportation editor Kirsten Korosec, who asked about Motional’s intention to expand its business model into trucking. “It’s similar, it’s not the same, but it’s similar. And so we are actively exploring other use cases. We will have additional activity in this area. We don’t have anything to announce today. But more to come.”

While Motional still believes the biggest economic opportunity comes from solving the hard technological problems of autonomy in the service of moving people, AKA the robotaxi model, Iagnemma recognized the same hard problems — perception, planning, decision making, localization — lie at the core of autonomy, whether that’s moving people or parcels.

“We’re looking for a great business opportunity that has the closest adjacency from a technical perspective to the stack that we’re currently developing,” said Iagnemma, responding to what is most appealing in the delivery and logistics model. “That’s really what it boils down to. These different use cases have, in some cases, quite dramatically different business cases around them, the opportunity looks quite different. And so that helps us score rank order internally. What presents an interesting opportunity? And then again, we tried to align that toward our current technology development path to say, hey, this would be the least incremental effort for the biggest incremental opportunity. That’s how we sort of guide our strategy, internally at Motional.”

For his part, Chris Urmson, co-founder and CEO of autonomous vehicle company Aurora, and the other panelist on the session, admitted that ride-hailing and moving people with automated vehicles will ultimately be both a transformational business and one that surpasses trucking in the long term. Aurora is currently focused on freight applications, rather than robotaxi, for a number of reasons, including the ability to scale now.

“[The robotaxi] market will take time to evolve, whereas the freight and trucking market is here today,” said Urmson.

Both panelists agreed that there’s no low-hanging fruit in the autonomous world. The problem of self-driving vehicles is difficult to solve, but Urmson argues it’s perhaps a bit easier to solve with trucking, where you don’t have to reckon with the amount of variability in the road network of a city. Building an autonomous stack to drive on freeways is easier due to their mostly uniform nature.

“So once you crack the initial nut of having the technology working in that operational defined design domain, the rollout moves from a technological expansion to an operational expansion,” said Urmson. “And that looks more like kind of a conventional business. So we think that’s a way to be scaling the business and operations and generating the revenue stream that allows us to then go and really take that core technology and apply it into ride hailing and build an exciting business in that space as well.”

#aurora, #autonomous-driving, #autonomous-vehicles, #logistics, #motional, #tc, #transportation

What would you pay for autonomous driving? Volkswagen hopes $8.50 per hour

A yellow VW bus concept car drives past the beach, with surfboards on its roof

Enlarge / This one is destined to go on sale in 2023. You can watch a short video we made about it back in 2017. (credit: Volkswagen)

The future of driving may cost you $8.50 per hour if Volkswagen follows through on its boardroom musings.

The German automaker is considering charging an hourly fee for access to autonomous driving features once those features are ready. The company is also exploring a range of subscription features for its electric vehicles, including “range or performance” increases that can be purchased on an hourly or daily basis, said Thomas Ulbrich, a Volkswagen board member, to the German newspaper Die Welt. Ulbrich said the first subscription features will appear in the second quarter of 2022 in vehicles based on Volkswagen’s MEB platform, which underpins the company’s new ID.3 compact car and ID.4 crossover.

The executive said that Volkswagen will also offer video games in cars, similar to Tesla’s arcade. “In the charging breaks, even if they only last 15 minutes, we want to offer customers something,” Ulbrich said. He said the automaker wouldn’t be developing the games themselves, and it’s not clear whether they’ll come preinstalled or be available for purchase through an app store.

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#autonomous-driving, #cariad, #cars, #subscriptions, #volkswagen

Verizon and Honda want to use 5G and edge computing to make driving safer

Honda and Verizon are researching how 5G and mobile edge computing might improve safety for today’s connected vehicles and the future’s autonomous ones. 

The two companies, which announced the partnership Thursday, are piloting different safety scenarios at the University of Michigan’s Mcity, a test bed for connected and autonomous vehicles. The aim of the venture is to study how 5G connectivity coupled with edge computing could allow for faster communication between cars, pedestrians and infrastructure. The upshot: faster communication could allow cars to avoid collisions and hazards and find safer routes. [TechCrunch is owned by Verizon Media, which is itself owned by Verizon]

The 5G testing is in its preliminary research phase and Honda doesn’t intend to implement this new technology as a product feature just yet. The companies do have plans to test 5G-enabled vehicles on public roads in at least four cities this year, according to Brian Peebles, Verizon’s senior manager of technology development and one of the leads on the project.  

This partnership builds off of Honda’s onboard SAFE SWARM AI technology, which the automaker began developing in 2017. That technology uses Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything, or C-V2X communication, which does what the name implies and lets vehicles communicate with other road users.

We’ve seen similar tech before with Dedicated Short Range Communications which requires cell towers to communicate between vehicles. V2X and 5G have the advantage of being able to communicate device-to-device, not to mention endorsement by the FCC.

“Traditionally, with V2X, the cars talk to each other,” Dr. Ehsan Moradi Pari, research group lead at Honda’s advanced technology research division told TechCrunch. “They provide their information, like their location, speed and other sensor information, and the car does a threat assessment, like whether I’m going to collide with another car. What this [5G and MEC] technology offers is that we all provide our information to the network, and the network tells me if there is a potential for an accident or not.”

Honda and Verizon’s premise is that the technology can handle communication far faster than a car’s computer. Instead of relying on a car’s less capable computer to do the work, information generated from connected cars, people and infrastructure is sent up into the 5G network. The computations are then done at the edge of network (meaning not in the cloud) in real time.

The payoff: a car relying on sensors and software might be able to understand a driver is about to hit something and hit the breaks, but the MEC can almost see into the future by checking out and communicating what’s happening farther down the road. 

One of the safety scenarios that Verizon and Honda tested was a red light runner. Using data from smart cameras, MEC and V2X software they were able to detect the vehicle running a red light and send a visual warning message to other vehicles approaching the intersection. They tested similar scenarios to warn drivers or vehicles about a pedestrian obscured by a building and an oncoming emergency vehicle whose sirens are drowned out by the car’s loud music. 

“Ensuring real-time communication among all road users will play a critical role in an automated driving environment,” said Pari. “Through these connected safety technologies, we can develop vehicle systems that detect potential dangerous situations in real time to warn the driver or automated system.”

While this initial research stage involves making human-driven vehicles safer, the Honda-Verizon partnership might eventually lay the groundwork for the use of 5G in future autonomous vehicles. If testing proves out, connected vehicles would be safer and could lead to a more efficient network that smooths out traffic congestion and reduces air pollution. 

“We’re primarily doing this to promote vehicle safety and human safety,” Peebles told TechCrunch. “There are over 42,000 people a year in the United States alone that are killed in automobile accidents, and another two million are injured. Technology is becoming more crucial as we undergo an evolution of human drivers, so as that transition happens, we need to do it in a safe and orchestrated manner, such that everything is working together.”

Autonomous vehicles being tested on public roads today don’t require 5G or edge computing. While autonomous vehicle companies are eyeing what might be possible with 5G, the vehicles they’re developing are based on present-day technology.

There are headwinds to this 5G-MEC combination. This level of interconnectivity only works if there are sensors on every highway and every intersection. Many 5G-enabled vehicles and devices will be able to communicate with one another, but they can only communicate with pedestrians or infrastructure if smart cameras are clocking them and sharing that info with the network. And sensors are not perfect.

That would require a huge infrastructure investment as well as public acceptance and cooperation with states, cities and localities to install all of the necessary sensors. However, one might look to China as a use case. The country has a national policy to move rapidly over to a 5G network, and many Chinese autonomous driving companies are finding this type of connectivity and computational power essential to development.

#5g, #5g-network, #automotive, #autonomous-driving, #honda, #mcity, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #transportation, #university-of-michigan, #verizon

TuSimple’s IPO filing reveals roadblocks for self-driving startups with Chinese ties

While the governments of the United States and China are pushing policies for technological decoupling, private tech firms continue to tap resources from both sides. In the field of autonomous vehicles, it’s common to see Chinese startups — or startups with a strong Chinese link — keep operations and seek investments in both countries.

But as these companies mature and expand globally, their ties to China also come under increasing scrutiny.

When TuSimple, a self-driving truck company headquartered in San Diego, filed for an initial public offering on Nasdaq this week, its prospectus flagged a regulatory risk due to its Chinese funding source.

On March 1, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) requested a written notice from TuSimple regarding an investment by Sun Dream, an affiliate of Sina Corporation, which runs China’s biggest microblogging platform Sina Weibo. Sun Dream is TuSimple’s largest shareholder with 20% Class A shares. Charles Chao and Bonnie Yi Zhang, respectively the CEO and CFO of Weibo, are both members of TuSimple’s board.

If the U.S. government concludes that Sun Dream’s investment poses a threat to the national security of the country, the investor may be told to divest from TuSimple, the filing notes.

Several China-based autonomous driving upstarts, including WeRide.ai, Pony.ai and AutoX, keep research labs in California and have secured regulatory permits to test in the U.S., but most don’t seem to have apparent commercial plans in the country.

TuSimple, on the other hand, is focused on the U.S. for now, with 50 of its Level 4 semi-trucks hauling in the U.S. and 20 operating in China.

“Their strong Chinese background could hobble their U.S.-focused strategy,” an executive from a Chinese autonomous vehicle startup told TechCrunch, asking not to be named.

TuSimple cannot comment because it’s in the pre-IPO quiet period.

This kind of roadblock is hardly new to China-related tech firms coveting the U.S. market (or its allies). In a more famous instance, CFIUS opened a national security probe into ByteDance’s $1 billion acquisition of Musical.ly, which was folded into TikTok. As of last December, the agency was “engaging with ByteDance” to complete a divestment, Reuters reported.

While self-driving ventures can divest to shed their Chinese association, it may be more complicated to achieve short-term supply chain independence in an industry with tight global ties, as an executive from Momenta pointed out.

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #autonomous-driving, #china, #self-driving, #tc, #transportation, #tusimple

Tesla’s China rival Xpeng to use lidar sensors from DJI affiliate Livox

The battle is heating up between Tesla and its Chinese challenger Xpeng as the latter makes clearer its stance on the future of autonomous driving. Over the weekend, Xpeng, which counts Xiaomi and Alibaba among its investors, announced that it will be using lidar sensors from Livox, a startup with closes ties to the Chinese drone giant DJI.

The choice of remote sensing technology lidar and a Chinese supplier reflects the complexities of the U.S.-China tech war. Tesla has accused Xpeng of intellectual property theft, a claim that the Chinese electric vehicle maker repeatedly denied. In a turn that surprises some industry experts, Xpeng said it will be adding lidar to its mass-produced autonomous cars in 2021, a strategy that would differentiate it from Tesla. Having seen Xpeng’s announcement, Elon Musk scoffed that Xpeng lacks Tesla’s technology.

Musk has long dismissed the use of lidar in autonomous driving, calling the technology “expensive sensors that are unnecessary.” Instead, Tesla relies on neural network training and camera-enabled visual recognition for its autonomous vehicles. Some Chinese players agree with Musk’s vision. Daimler-backed Momenta, for instance, is betting on less expensive millimeter-wave radars and high-definition cameras.

Xpeng already utilizes several sources to collect data: camera, millimeter-wave radar, ultrasonic, among other sensors. The addition of lidar, it says, will “provide a greater level of safety redundancy,” which allows a self-driving car to continue operating even when the primary system component fails, “by allowing more accurate imaging of the road situation.” Lidar will also “enhance target detection, measurement accuracy, performance in low ambient light and other challenging perception conditions,” the company claims.

The choice of Livox is also intriguing. There are mature foreign options such as Velodyne and Luminar, but Xpeng’s pick is expected given the Chinese government’s push for technological autonomy in key industries. In China, Livox faces some strong opponents like Hesai, which is backed by Bosch and Chinese search giant Baidu, and Robosense, which has fundings from state-backed carmakers BAIC and SAIC.

Livox itself was founded as an “independent company” in 2016 through DJI’s internal incubation program, according to the startup’s own description. One of its selling points has been to lower the price point of lidar, which the company claims is made possible by its unique optoelectronic scanning method.

The foray into autonomous driving is fitting as DJI has been pivoting to B2B businesses like agriculture drones. But the giant’s relationship with the lidar startup remains mystic, at least from the public viewpoint. Livox’s company boilerplate states it is “backed by DJI’s deep expertise in sensor innovation and hardware manufacturing” and its products are sold through DJI’s official retail store. Other than that, it hasn’t addressed whether DJI holds any equity in it or has controlling power over its management.

As it turns out, Livox is “just a team within DJI, which was later positioned as a separate company” while enjoying access to DJI resources including manufacturing and supply chain “just like another product brand,” a person with knowledge of the matter told TechCrunch.

One possible motive for Livox’s deliberate distancing from DJI is to avoid potential scrutiny from the U.S. government, which sees lidar as a key area in the tech war with China, the person said. DJI was recently added to the U.S. government’s trade blacklist, which has sanctioned other Chinese tech titans like Huawei and SenseTime from accessing key components from U.S. suppliers. Frank Wang, founder and chief executive of DJI, is also believed to want less public attention.

Livox and DJI couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

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