Walmart to launch autonomous delivery service with Ford and Argo AI

Walmart has tapped Argo AI and Ford to launch an autonomous vehicle delivery service in Austin, Miami and Washington D.C., the companies said Wednesday.

The service will allow customers to place online orders for groceries and other items using Walmart’s ordering platform. Argo’s cloud-based infrastructure will be integrated with Walmart’s online platform, routing the orders and scheduling package deliveries to customers homes. Initially, the commercial service will be limited to specific geogrpahic areas in each city and expand over time. The companies will begin testing later this year.

Walmart and Ford have partnered before in a limited test with Postmates in fall 2018. In that pilot program, which focused on Miami-Dade County, they used simulated self-driving vehicles to study the user experience of delivering groceries. Argo was not involved in that study.

This latest collaboration will use Ford vehicles integrated with Argo AI’s self-driving technology. The aim is to show the potential for for autonomous vehicle delivery services at scale, according to Argo AI CEO and co-founder Bryan Salesky.

The announcement illustrates Ford’s two-track system to launch a commercial service that uses autonomous vehicles to shuttle people and possibly packages. The automaker has been testing the business side of of how a dedicated fleet of autonomous vehicles might operate in the real world. It backed Argo AI in 2016 and tapped the company to develop and test the self-driving system.

It also shows how Austin and Miami have become central to their initials commercialization plans.

Earlier this summer, Argo AI and Ford announced plans to launch at least 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in a number of cities over the next five years, starting with Miami and Austin. The first Ford self-driving vehicles equipped with Argo’s autonomous vehicle technology are expected to become available on Lyft’s app in Miami later this year.

#argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #delivery, #transportation, #volkswagen, #vw, #walmart

GM invests in radar software startup Oculii as demand for automated driving features rise

Oculii, a software startup that aims to improve the spatial resolution of radar sensors by up to 100-fold, has scored a new investment from General Motors. The new funding, which the two companies say is in the millions, comes just months after Oculii closed a $55 million Series B.

Oculii and GM have already been working together “for some time now,” CEO Steven Hong told TechCrunch in a recent interview. While he declined to specify exactly how GM plans to use Oculii’s software, it could be used to bolster the capabilities of the automaker’s hands-free advanced driver assistance system known as Super Cruise. Hong added that the company is also working with a few other OEMs, including one on the cap table.

“When a company like GM says, this is great technology and this is something that we potentially want to use down the line, it makes the entire supply chain take notice and effectively work more closely with you to adopt the solution, the technology, into what they’re selling to the OEMs,” he said.

The startup has no intention of building hardware. Instead, Oculii wants to license software to radar companies. The startup claims it can take low-cost, commercially available radar sensors – sensors that weren’t designed for autonomous driving, but rather for limited scenarios like emergency breaking or parking assist – and use its AI software to enable more autonomous maneuvering, Hong said.

“We really believe that the way to deliver something that’s scalable is through software, because software fundamentally improves with data,” he said. “Software fundamentally improves with better hardware in each generation that’s released. Software fundamentally over time gets cheaper and cheaper and cheaper, much faster than hardware, for example.”

The news is certainly bullish for radar, a sensor that is generally used for assistive capabilities because of its imaging limitations. But if Oculii can actually improve the performance of radar, which tend to be much cheaper than lidar, it could mean massive cost savings for automakers.

Tesla, the largest electric vehicle maker by sales volume in the world, recently nixed radar sensors from its advanced driver assistance system, in favor of a “pure vision” approach that uses cameras and a supercomputer-powered neural network. Hong said that the radar Tesla eliminated was very low resolution, and “wasn’t really adding anything to their existing pipeline.”

But he doesn’t think the company would always necessarily count out radar, should the technology improve. “Fundamentally, each of these sensors improves [the] safety case and gets you closer and closer to 99.99999% reliability. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing, is getting as many nines of reliability as you can.”

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #general-motors, #hardware, #lidar, #oculii, #radar, #recent-funding, #self-driving-cars, #startups, #transportation

Intel’s Mobileye, rental giant Sixt to launch a robotaxi service in Germany next year

Intel subsidiary Mobileye and rental car giant Sixt SE plan to launch a robotaxi service in Munich next year, the CEOs of the two companies announced Tuesday during the IAA Mobility show in Germany.

The robotaxi service is leveraging all of Intel’s, and more specifically Mobileye’s, assets that have been in development or purchased in recent years, including the $900 million acquisition in 2020 of Moovit, an Israeli startup that analyzes urban traffic patterns and provides transportation recommendations with a focus on public transit.

Through the partnership, riders will be able to access the robotaxi service via the Moovit app. The service will also be offered through Sixt’s mobility ONE app, which gives customers the ability hail a ride, rent, share or subscribe to vehicles.

This will not be a large-scale commercial service in the beginning. The Mobileye robotaxis are expected to begin with an early-rider test program on Munich streets in 2022. If that mimics other early rider programs, the service will likely invite and then approve small groups of riders and then scale from there. The fleet will then move from test to commercial operations upon regulatory approval, the companies said.

Intel and Mobileye plan to scale the service across Germany and into other European countries later this decade. The companies chose Germany, a country where Mobileye is already testing its autonomous vehicle technology, because of a recently enacted law that permits driverless vehicles on public roads,.

“Germany has shown global leadership toward a future of autonomous mobility by expediting crucial AV legislation,” Intel CEO Gelsinger said Tuesday at IAA.  “Our ability to begin robotaxi operations in Munich next year would not be possible without this new law.”

During the IAA keynote, Mobileye also unveiled the vehicles branded with MoovitAV and SIXT. These vehicles, which are equipped with Mobileye’s self-driving system, will be produced in volume and used for the robotaxi service in Germany, the companies said.

While Mobileye is perhaps best known for supplying automakers with computer vision technology that powers advanced driver assistance systems — a business that generated nearly $967 million in sales last year — the company has also been developing automated vehicle technology.

The self-driving system, now branded as Mobileye Drive, is made up of a system-on-chip based compute, redundant sensing subsystems based on camera, radar and lidar technology, its REM mapping system and a rules-based Responsibility-Sensitive Safety (RSS) driving policy. Mobileye’s REM mapping system essentially crowdsources data by tapping into more than 1 million vehicles equipped with its tech to build high-definition maps that can be used to support in ADAS and autonomous driving systems.

That data is not video or images but compressed text that collects about 10 kilobits per kilometer. Mobileye has agreements with six OEMs, including BMW, Nissan and Volkswagen, to collect that data on vehicles equipped with the EyeQ4 chip, which is used to power the advanced driver assistance system. On fleet vehicles, Mobileye collects data from an after-market product it sells to commercial operators.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #germany, #iaa-mobility, #intel, #mobileye, #munich, #sixt, #tc

Gatik expands autonomous box truck operations to Texas with $85 million in new funds

In the two years since Gatik AI came out of stealth, the autonomous vehicle startup has launched pilots with Walmart and Canadian retail giant Loblaw in its bid to prove that self-driving technology combined with box trucks is the secret economic sauce for hauling goods short distances.

Now, the company is expanding into Texas — its fourth market — with a fresh bundle of capital. Gatik said Tuesday it has raised $85 million in a Series B round led by new investor Koch Disruptive Technologies, the venture arm of Koch Industries. Existing investors Innovation Endeavours, Wittington Ventures, FM Capital, Dynamo Ventures, Trucks VC, Intact Ventures and others also participated. Gatik has raised $114.5 million to date.

“We are very much in expansion mode in growth mode and felt that Koch Industries would add the most value,” Gatik CEO and co-founder Gautam Narang said in a recent interview, adding that he views the company as a strategic investor.

Gatik has been shuttling goods as part of pilot programs for Walmart in Arkansas and Louisiana and in Ontario, Canada for Loblaw Companies Limited. Gatik also struck a manufacturing partnership with Isuzu in 2020 with an aim to mass produce medium duty autonomous trucks by early 2023.

Unlike other autonomous delivery companies, Gatik isn’t targeting consumers. Instead, the startup is using its autonomous trucks to shuttle groceries and other goods from large distribution centers to retail locations. For instance, Gatik uses about five box trucks to carry goods for Loblaw. On one route in Arkansas, Gatik has removed the human safety driver, which means some of the autonomous box trucks used to carry goods are now “driverless.” The goal is to remove safety operators from all of its box trucks.

Gatik said it has opened an autonomous trucking facility in the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone, a 26,000-acre industrial, mixed-use, and residential planned development in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that has become a hub of transportation and logistics. The company is already carrying freight for several customers, which it declined to name. Narang did say that the trucks deployed in Texas are based on the Isuzu platforms.

The company plans to have presence in multiple cities within Texas, Narang said.

Its move to Texas follows other autonomous vehicle technology companies such as Aurora, Kodiak Robotics, TuSimple and Waymo that have set up shop in the state. The decision to expand into Texas was driven by its status an international shipping hub, the regulatory environment that supports autonomous vehicle testing and deployment on public roads and favorable weather. Narang added that the abundance and variety of potential customers will also allow it to have a multi-tenant operation. This means it can use the same truck throughout the day for multiple customers.

The new funding will be used add more vehicles to its fleet of Class 3-6 multi-temperature autonomous box trucks and hire more employees, particularly in Texas. Today, Gatik’s roughly 70 employees are spread between its headquarters in Palo Alto, engineering center in Toronto and operations in Arkansas and Louisiana.

Narang said they plan to double the number of employees to around 150 people in the next six to nine months.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #gatik-ai, #koch-industries, #loblaw, #tc, #transportation, #venture-capital, #walmart

Motional reveals its Hyundai Ioniq 5 electric robotaxi

Motional revealed Tuesday the first images of its planned robotaxi, a Hyundai all-electric Ioniq 5 SUV that will be the centerpiece of a driverless ride-hailing service the company wants customers to be able to access starting in 2023 through the Lyft app.

The purpose-built vehicle, which will be assembled by Hyundai, is integrated with Motional’s autonomous vehicle technology, including a suite of more than 30 sensors including lidar, radar and cameras that can be seen throughout the interior and exterior. That sensing system provides 360 degrees of vision, and the ability to see up to 300 meters away, according to Motional.

The company, which was born out of a $4 billion joint venture with Aptiv and Hyundai, intentionally showcases the numerous sensors, president and CEO Karl Iagnemma said in a recent interview.

“We see so many competitors bending over backwards to try to hide this sensor suite and conceal it in these big plastic casings,” Iagnemma told TechCrunch. “And the fact is, you can’t hide the sensors. They need to be where they need to be and they’re an important part of the car and a key part of the technology. So our strategy was to celebrate the sensors, and to adapt the design language of the vehicle and carry that through the design of the integrated sensor suite.”

Motional has not announced where it will launch its first driverless robotaxi service. It’s likely that it will be in one of the cities it currently is testing and validating its technology, a list that includes Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.

Motional-Hyundai robotaxi Ioniq 5

Image credit: Motional

The base of Motional’s robotaxi is the Hyundai Ioniq 5, an electric vehicle revealed in February with a consumer release date expected later this year. The consumer version will not be equipped with Motional’s autonomous vehicle technology. Unlike some AV developers, Motional didn’t chose a  shuttle design or even a larger van for its first robotaxi.

Iagnemma said that the company’s research shows the vast majority of taxi or ride-hailing trips are for two or fewer passengers. The Ioniq 5 is the right size vehicle for Motional’s use case, he added.

The Hyundai Ioniq 5 is the first vehicle based off the automaker’s dedicated battery electric vehicle platform called the Electric Global Modular Platform (E-GMP). The vehicle — both the consumer and robotaxi version — is equipped with an 800-volt electrical system. This higher voltage system is able to supply the same amount of power as the more common 400-volt with less current. The 800-volt system, which debuted in the all-electric Porsche Taycan, is lighter, more efficient and allows the vehicle to charge at a faster rate.

That fast charging rate will be an important benefit for Motional’s robotaxi service.

Motional-Hyundai IONIQ 5 Robotaxi

Image Credits: Motional

The robotaxi version of the Ioniq 5 will be assembled by Hyundai, a noteworthy detail, Iagnemma said.

“This is vehicle that will come off the assembly line looking, as you see it in the pictures,” Iagnemma said. “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.

Inside the robotaxi are displays to allow riders to interact with the vehicle during their ride, such as directing the robotaxi to make an extra stop, according to the company.

The robotaxi still has a steering wheel and other features found in traditional vehicles operated by a human driver. Riders will not be permitted to sit in the driver seat.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #electric-vehicles, #hyundai, #motional, #transportation

The Station: Rivian makes its IPO move, Nuro pushes into Nevada and Waymo scales up in SF

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

Hello readers: Welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B. I’m back after a one-week hiatus. Did ya miss me? Yes, of course you did.

A lot happened while I was away and I’ll try my best to highlight the important stuff. Before I get to the hard news, I want to direct your attention to the latest founders Q&A — an ongoing series to highlight people who have started and are running transportation companies. Our twist? We will check on these founders a year from when their interview has been published.

This week, Zūm co-founder and CEO Ritu Narayan was in the hot seat. Check it out.

Also, it’s been awhile since I have directed y’all to The Autonocast, the podcast I co-host with Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer. We’ve had some great episodes in recent weeks, notably our interview with mobility-focused venture capitalist Olaf Sakkers. He joined the show to discuss “The Mobility Disruption Framework,” a funny, insightful book about the trends and technologies transforming the ways we get around. You can read the book here.

As always, you can email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. You also can send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Nuro’s Nevada play

Nuro-Vegas

Image Credits: Nuro

Earlier this month, we published a series of articles that took a deep dive into autonomous vehicle technology company Nuro. We mentioned that the company was aiming to move into Nevada. Now, there are more details.

Nuro, which is applying its AV tech to delivery, is investing $40 million to develop a factory and closed course test track in southern Nevada. Nuro co-founder and CEO Jiajun Zhu said this will allow Nuro to “build tens of thousands of robots.”

And Nuro isn’t wasting any time getting started. Construction on the factory will begin in fall 2021 and is expected to be completed in 2022. Both the factory and closed-course testing facility are expected to be fully operational in 2022, the company said.

The factory, which will be more than 125,000 square feet, will be used to build Nuro’s third-generation autonomous vehicles with current and future partners. BYD North America will be Nuro’s manufacturing partner.

Nuro is also taking over 74 acres of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to build a closed-course testing facility that will allow the development and validation of its autonomous on-road vehicles. The testing track will measure bot performance in a broad range of scenarios, from avoiding pedestrians and pets to giving bicycles space on shared roadways, as well as environmental tests and vehicle systems validation. the company said.

Deal of the week

money the station

Rivian has raised more than $10.5 billion in its lifetime, funds that have been directed towards the design, development and production of its first two electric vehicles as well as commercial vans for Amazon.

It’s a hefty sum that should be enough to fulfill that mission — and more. And yet, even Rivian is no match for the public market’s siren song.

The company, just weeks before its first electric pickup trucks are expected to be delivered to customers, confidentially filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to go public. A Rivian IPO announcement has been expected for months now. The valuation the company is shooting for is the big surprise. If Bloomberg’s sources are right, Rivian is shooting for a valuation roughly around $80 billion.

That’s nearly three times larger than the last valuation I was able to nail down in January. At that time, the company had just raised another $2.65 billion from existing investors T. Rowe Price Associates Inc., Fidelity Management and Research Company, Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, Coatue and D1 Capital Partners. New investors also participated in that round, which pushed Rivian’s valuation to $27.6 billion, a source familiar with the investment round told TechCrunch at the time.

Rivian has raised more money since then. In July, the company announced it had closed a $2.5 billion private funding round led by Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, D1 Capital Partners, Ford Motor and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. Third Point, Fidelity Management and Research Company, Dragoneer Investment Group and Coatue also participated in that round. The company did not share a post-money valuation at the time of the July 2021 announcement.

Officially, Rivian says the size and price range for the proposed offering have yet to be determined.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Coco, the Los Angeles delivery robot startup, raised $36 million in a Series A round led by Sam Altman, Silicon Valley Bank and Founders Fund, with participation from Sam Nazarian, Ellen Chen and Mario Del Pero. It brings the company’s total funding up to around $43 million.

DealerPolicy, an insurance marketplace for automotive retail, raised $110 million in a Series C rouond led by the Growth Equity business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management. Additional investors include 3L Capital and Hudson Structured Capital Management Ltd. Goldman Sachs’ Paul Pate will also join the company’s board of directors.

Getaround, the peer-to-peer car-sharing startup, is in talks to go public through a merger with special purpose acquisition company Altitude Acquisition Corp , Reuters reported. The company has confidentially sought investors to participate in the deal through a private placement in public equity, or PIPE, at a valuation of around $1.7 billion.

HyPoint, the two-year-old fuel cell developer, has secured a $6.5 million development agreement with Piasecki Aircraft Corporation for the design and certification of hydrogen fuel cell systems. Through the partnership, HyPoint aims to deliver five full-scale, 650 kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for ground testing, demo flights and the certification process.

KKR, the global investment firm, has plans to acquire New Zealand bus and coach company Ritchies Transport, which currently has a fleet of more than 1,600 vehicles and 42 depots that operate across the country. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sources familiar with the circumstances say the deal values Ritchies at over $347 million ($500 million NZD). This is KKR’s first infrastructure investment in New Zealand.

Malta Inc., an energy storage company, said that Chevron Technology Ventures and Piva Capital have joined a group of investors including Proman, Alfa Laval, Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Dustin Moskovitz in its oversubscribed Series B financing, increasing the round to more than $60 million.

MaxAB, the Egyptian B2B e-commerce platform that serves food and grocery retailers, raised a $15 million extension from existing investors RMBV, IFC, Flourish Ventures, Crystal Stream Capital, Rise Capital, Endeavour Catalyst, Beco Capital and 4DX Ventures. The extension brings its total Series A fundraise to $55 million.

Point Pickup Technologies, a last-mile delivery service, acquired white-label e-commerce platform GrocerKey for $42 million. The acquisition means Point Pickup will be able to offer retailers services such as same-day delivery under their own brand name, rather than under third parties like Instacart.

Upstream, the Israeli automotive security firm, raised $62 million in a Series C funding round led by Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance and was joined by new investors I.D.I. Insurance, 57 Stars’ NextGen Mobility Fund and La Maison Partners. Existing investors Glilot Capital, Salesforce venture, Volvo Group Venture Capital, Nationwide, Delek US and others also participated in the round. With this latest round, the company has raised a total of $105 million since its founding in 2017.

Volvo Group has agreed to buy heavy duty truck subsidiary of Jiangling Motors Corp for about 1.1 billion Swedish crowns ($125.7 million) to make trucks in China, Reuters reported.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Welcome back to policy corner! The stalemate over the budget reconciliation that I warned might take months to break — just kidding! The House managed to pass the $3.5 trillion budget resolution and made progress on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill on Tuesday, in a 220-212 bipartisan vote. The vote includes a non-binding agreement to vote on the infrastructure bill by Sept. 27.

The path is now clear for Democrats to pass one of the most socially progressive budgets in decades, with a slew of social safety net provisions for childcare, healthcare, climate and education. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had previously sworn she would stall the infrastructure bill until the budget passed, so the infrastructure bill passing sometime in our lifetime is suddenly looking like a much more realistic proposal!

Progressive Democrats in particular are committed to keeping the fate of the two bills intertwined. “We will only vote for the infrastructure bill after passing the reconciliation bill,” Progressive Caucus chairwoman, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.), said in a statement.

Speaking of the two bills… while consumer incentives for electric vehicles were slashed from the infrastructure bill, they did survive the budget reconciliation. Right now, there currently exists a 30D tax credit, but the $7,500 incentive doesn’t include automakers that have sold more than 200,000 EVs (so General Motors and Tesla don’t qualify).

Leilani Gonzalez with the Zero Emission Transportation Association urged reform to the EV tax credit. She suggested that Congress slash means-testing for the credit, like one that only allows people under a certain annual income to access it.

“Congress should ensure that this tax credit is not impeded by restrictive means-tested requirements, like low manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) or adjusted gross income (AGI) caps,” she wrote. “These limitations ignore the public benefits of EVs that leave everyone better off, and they would only serve to hinder EV adoption.”

Even beyond reform, some Democrats are pushing for a direct cash rebate — meaning that the dollar amount would just be taken off the cost of the car at the point of sale, rather than the consumer having to wait to get that money back at tax time. But we’re still a long way from seeing a new kind of consumer incentive put into law, with some Democrats urging a $12,500 tax credit, and others arguing for a rebate, with still others arguing for either but with means-testing like what Gonzalez writes about.

In any case, we’ll be keeping an eye on it. It’s very hard to imagine how the country will achieve any kind of meaningful transition to electric vehicles by 2030 without some mechanism to make them easier (and cheaper) to buy.

In other news, the Federal Aviation Administration is spending $20.4 million in grants to airports who want to electrify equipment and transition to ZEVs. This isn’t about the planes themselves, though they tend to get the most media attention. These grants would be for less sexy things like airport shuttle buses and mobile ground power units, but which collectively still generate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. The FAA has earmarked $300 million out of its $3.5 billion budget for electrification initiatives.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

It’s one of those weeks folks. Lotta news so let’s get down to it.

ADAS

Tesla CEO Elon Musk admitted that the latest version of its so-called FSD tech — which is an upgraded version of its Autopilot advanced driver assistance system — is “not great.” He went on to write that the “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.”

Autonomous vehicles

Cruise, GM’s self-driving car subsidiary, launched a new initiative called Farm to Fleet that will allow the company to source solar power from farms in California’s Central Valley. 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.

Jalopnik’s Jason Torchinsky has a great explainer on the various levels of SAE autonomy.

Toyota suspended the operation of its e-Palette autonomous shuttles — which do have two human safety operators on board — at the Paralympic Games Athletes’ Village after one of the shuttles struck an athlete. The schedule for resuming operations at the Paralympic Games has not yet been determined, the company said. A spokesperson also noted to me that only the shuttles at the Olympics were halted. The e-Palette program is still operational.

Update: Since the newsletter went out to subscribers over the weekend, Toyota has restarted the e-Palette shuttles in the Olympic village. It’s important to note that these shuttles use a combination of manual and autonomous driving modes while underway. Toyota President Akio Toyoda apologized for the incident during a recent interview. The translation provided in closed captioning isn’t great, but he does make some interesting comments about the readiness of autonomous vehicle technology. In short: it’s not ready and humans are still better drivers.

Waymo has launched a robotaxi service that will be open to certain vetted riders in San Francisco. 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 is a big step for Waymo and we’ll be watching closely to see how the ramp mirrors, or differs, from its service in the Phoenix area.

Greg Bensinger took a look at the terms of service on the Waymo One ride-hailing app and in a tweet thread provides a breakdown of what riders are agreeing to, including that the company will record video of riders while being driven around San Francisco.

Waymo also has decided to get out of the lidar sales business as it shifts its focus to deploying its autonomous vehicle technology across its ride-hailing and trucking divisions. In 2019, Waymo announced it would sell its short-range lidar, called Laser Bear Honeycomb, to companies outside of self-driving cars. It initially targeted robotics, security and agricultural technology.

Electric vehicles

GM expanded (again) its recall of Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles due to fire risks from battery manufacturing defects. The automaker said it would seek reimbursement from LG Chem, its battery cell manufacturing partner, for what it expects to be $1 billion worth of losses. this is the third recall GM has issued for this vehicle related to batteries.

Lordstown Motors hired Daniel A. Ninivaggi, a longtime automotive executive and former head of Carl C. Icahn’s holding company, as CEO and a board member. The appointment follows months of tumult at Lordstown, which became publicly traded via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company.

Other bits

Aria Alamalhodaei wrote up a feature on Buoyant, a recent Y Combinator grad and one of several airship startups that have popped up recently.

Mercedes-Benz’s chief technology officer Sajjad Khan is leaving the automaker to start a venture capital fund, the company said in a statement. Khan’s replacement, Magnus Östberg, will take over the CTO role effective Sept. 1.

Porsche Cars North America added its entire U.S. inventory of new cars to an online marketplace that it launched in May 2020. The platform called Porsche Finder is one of the ways the automaker is trying to keep up with customer demands and the industry’s shift to digital commerce. The product lets customers search by vehicle model and generation as well as price, equipment, packages and colors, on all new and used vehicle inventory from its 193 U.S. dealerships.

Tesla wants to supply electricity directly to customers, according to an application filed with Texas electricity regulators earlier this month. Energy Choice Matters first reported on the application.

The application, filed with the Public Utilities Commission of Texas on August 16, is a request to become what’s called a “retail electric provider” under its subsidiary Tesla Energy Ventures. On the deregulated, idiosyncratic Texas power market, REPs generally purchase wholesale electricity from power generators and sell it to customers. More than 100 REPs currently compete on the open market.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #cruise, #electric-vehicles, #elon-musk, #gm, #government, #nuro, #rivian, #robotics, #tesla, #the-station, #toyota, #transportation, #venture-capital, #waymo

Bedrock modernizes seafloor mapping with autonomous sub and cloud-based data

The push for renewable energy has brought offshore wind power to the forefront of many an energy company’s agenda, and that means taking a very close look at the ocean floor where the installations are to go. Fortunately Bedrock is here to drag that mapping process into the 21st century with its autonomous underwater vehicle and modern cloud-based data service.

The company aims to replace the standard “big ship with a big sonar” approach with a faster, smarter, more modern service, letting companies spin up regular super-accurate seafloor imagery as easily as they might spin up a few servers to host their website.

“We believe we’re the first cloud-native platform for seafloor data,” said Anthony DiMare, CEO and cofounder (with CTO Charlie Chiau) of Bedrock. “This is a big data problem — how would you design the systems to support that solution? We make it a modern data service, instead of like a huge marine operation — you’re not tied to this massive piece of infrastructure floating in the water. Everything from the way we move sonars around the ocean to the way we deliver the data to engineers has been rethought.”

The product Bedrock provides customers is high-resolution maps of the seafloor, made available via Mosaic, a familiar web service that does all the analysis and hosting for you — a big step forward for an industry where “data migration” still means “shipping a box of hard drives.”

Normally, DiMare explained, this data was collected, processed, and stored on the ships themselves. Since they were designed to do everything from harbor inspections to deep sea surveys, they couldn’t count on having a decent internet connection, and the data is useless in its raw form. Like any other bulky data, it needs to be visualized and put in context.

Example of data in the Mosaic system from Bedrock, showing a map and trails of data points.

Image Credits: Bedrock

“These datasets are extremely large, tens of terabytes in size,” said DiMare. “Typical cloud systems aren’t the best way to manage 20,000 sonar files.”

The current market is more focused on detailed, near-shore data than the deep sea, since there’s a crush to take part in the growing wind energy market. This means that data is collected much closer to ordinary internet infrastructure and can be handed off for cloud-based processing and storage more easily than before. That in turn means the data can be processed and provided faster, just in time for demand to take off.

As DiMare explained, while there may have been a seafloor survey done in the last couple decades of a potential installation site, that’s only the first step. An initial mapping pass might have be made to confirm the years-old maps and add detail, then another for permitting, for environmental assessments, engineering, construction, and regular inspections. If this could be done with a turnkey automated process that produced even better results than crewed ships for less money, it’s a huge win for customers relying on old methods. And if the industry grows as expected to require more active monitoring of the seafloor along every U.S. coast, it’s a win for Bedrock as well, naturally.

CG render of the AUV.

Image Credits: Bedrock

To make this all happen, of course, you need a craft that can collect the data in the first place. “The AUV is a piece of technology we built solely to enable a data product,” said DiMare, but noted that, originally, “we didn’t want to do this.”

“We started to spec out what it looked like to use an off the shelf system,” he explained. “But if you want to build a hyper-scalable, very efficient system to get the best cost per square meter, you need a very specific set of features, certain sonars, the compute stack… by the time we listed all those we basically had a self-designed system. It’s faster, it’s more operationally flexible, you get better data quality, and you can do it more reliably.”

And amazingly, it doesn’t even need a boat — you can grab it from the back of a van and launch it from a pier or beach.

“From the very beginning one of the restrictions we put on ourselves was ‘no boats.’ And we need to be able to fly with this thing. That totally changed our approach,” said DiMare.

View of the AUV on a beach

Image Credits: Bedrock

The AUV packs a lot into a small package, and while the sensor loadout is variable depending on the job, one aspect that defines the craft is its high-frequency sonar.

Sonars operate in a wide range of frequencies, from the hundreds to the hundreds of thousands of hertz. Unfortunately that means that ocean-dwelling creatures, many of which can hear in that range, are inundated with background noise, sometimes to the point where it’s harmful or deters them from entering an area. Sonar operating about 200 kHz is safe for animals, but the high frequency means the signal attenuates more quickly, reducing the range to 50-75 meters.

That’s obviously worthless for a ship floating on the surface — much of what it needs to map is more than 75 meters deep. But if you could make a craft that always stayed within 50 meters of the seabed, it’s full of benefits. And that’s exactly what Bedrock’s AUV is designed to do.

The increased frequency of the sonar also means increased detail, so the picture its instruments paint is better than what you’d get with a larger wave. And because it’s safe to use around animals, you can skip the (very necessary but time-consuming) red tape at wildlife authorities. Better, faster, cheaper, and safer is a hell of a pitch.

Today marks the official launch of Mosaic, and to promote adoption Bedrock is offering 50 gigs of free storage — of any kind of compatible map data, since the platform is format-agnostic.

There’s a ton of data out there that’s technically “public” but is nevertheless very difficult to find and use. It may be a low-detail survey from two decades ago, or a hyper-specific scan of an area investigated by a research group, but if it were all in one place it would probably be a lot more useful, DiMare said.

“Ultimately we want to get where we can do the whole ocean on a yearly basis,” he concluded. “So we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

#autonomous-vehicles, #bedrock, #drones, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #hardware, #ocean, #renewable-energy, #robotics, #robots, #startups, #submarines, #submersibles, #tc, #underwater-drone

How Google’s self-driving car project accidentally spawned its robotic delivery rival

Nuro doesn’t have a typical Silicon Valley origin story. It didn’t emerge after a long, slow slog from a suburban garage or through a flash of insight in a university laboratory. Nor was it founded at the behest of an eccentric billionaire with money to burn.

Nuro was born — and ramped up quickly — thanks to a cash windfall from what is now one of its biggest rivals.

Nuro was born — and ramped up quickly — thanks to a cash windfall from what is now one of its biggest rivals.

In the spring of 2016, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu were teammates on Google’s self-driving car effort. Ferguson was directing the project’s computer vision, machine learning and behavior prediction teams, while Zhu (widely JZ) was in charge of the car’s perception technologies and cutting-edge simulators.

“We both were leading pretty large teams and were responsible for a pretty large portion of the Google car’s software system,” Zhu recalls.

As Google prepared to spin out its autonomous car tech into the company that would become Waymo, it first needed to settle a bonus program devised in the earliest days of its so-called Chauffeur project. Under the scheme, early team members could choose staggered payouts over a period of eight years — or leave Google and get a lump sum all at once.

Ferguson and Zhu would not confirm the amount they received, but court filings released as part of Waymo’s trade secrets case against Uber suggest they each received payouts in the neighborhood of $40 million by choosing to leave.

“What we were fortunate enough to receive as part of the self-driving car project enabled us to take riskier opportunities, to go and try to build something that had a significant chance of not working out at all,” Ferguson says.

Within weeks of their departure, the two had incorporated Nuro Inc, a company with the non-ironic mission to “better everyday life through robotics.” Its first product aimed to take a unique approach to self-driving cars: Road vehicles with all of the technical sophistication and software smarts of Google’s robotaxis, but none of the passengers.

In the five years since, Nuro’s home delivery robots have proven themselves smart, safe and nimble, outpacing Google’s vehicles to secure the first commercial deployment permit for autonomous vehicles in California, as well as groundbreaking concessions from the U.S. government.

While robotaxi companies struggle with technical hitches and regulatory red tape, Nuro has already made thousands of robotic pizza and grocery deliveries across the U.S., and Ferguson (as president) and Zhu (as CEO) are now heading a company that as of its last funding round in November 2020 valued it at $5 billion with more than 1,000 employees.

But how did they get there so fast, and where are they headed next?

Turning money into robots

“Neither JZ nor I think of ourselves as classic entrepreneurs or that starting a company is something we had to do in our lives,” Ferguson says. “It was much more the result of soul searching and trying to figure out what is the biggest possible impact that we could have.”

#artificial-intelligence, #automation, #autonomous-vehicles, #dave-ferguson, #dominos-pizza, #ec-1, #electric-vehicles, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #fidelity-management-research-company, #google, #greylock-capital, #machine-learning, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #series-a, #softbank, #startups, #transportation, #waymo, #woven-planet

Why regulators love Nuro’s self-driving delivery vehicles

Nuro’s delivery autonomous vehicles (AVs) don’t have a human driver on board. The company’s founders Dave Ferguson (president) and Jiajun Zhu’s (CEO) vision of a driverless delivery vehicle sought to do away with a lot of the stuff that is essential for a normal car to have, like doors and airbags and even a steering wheel. They built an AV that spared no room in the narrow chassis for a driver’s seat, and had no need for an accelerator, windshield or brake pedals.

So when the company petitioned the U.S. government in 2018 for a minor exemption from rules requiring a rearview mirror, backup camera and a windshield, Nuro might have assumed the process wouldn’t be very arduous.

They were wrong.

If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founders desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.

In a 2019 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) “[wondered] about the description of pedestrian ‘crumple zones,’ and whether this may impact the vehicle’s crash-worthiness in the event of a vehicle-to-vehicle crash. Even in the absence of passengers, AAMVA has concerns about cargo ejection from the vehicle and how Nuro envisions protections from loose loads affecting the driving public.”

The National Society of Professional Engineers similarly complained that Nuro’s request lacked information about the detection of moving objects. “How would the R2X function if a small child darts onto the road from the passenger side of the vehicle as a school bus is approaching from the driver’s side?” it asked. It also recommended the petition be denied until Nuro could provide a more detailed cybersecurity plan against its bots being hacked or hijacked. (R2X is now referred to as R2)

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (now the Alliance Automotive Innovation), which represents most U.S. carmakers, wrote that the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) should not use Nuro’s kind of petition to “introduce new safety requirements for [AVs] that have not gone through the rigorous rule-making process.”

“What you can see is that many comments came from entrenched interests,” said David Estrada, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer. “And that’s understandable. There are multibillion dollar industries that can be disrupted if autonomous vehicles become successful.”

To be fair, critical comments also came from nonprofit organizations genuinely concerned about unleashing robots on city streets. The Center for Auto Safety, an independent consumer group, thought that Nuro did not provide enough information on its development and testing, nor any meaningful comparison with the safety of similar, human-driven vehicles. “Indeed, the planned reliance on ‘early on-road tests … with human-manned professional safety drivers’ suggests that Nuro has limited confidence in R2X’s safe operation,” it wrote.

Nuro-R2-specs-infographic

Nuro’s R2 delivery autonomous vehicle. Image Credits: Nuro

Despite such concerns, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) granted Nuro the exemptions it sought in February last year. Up to 5,000 R2 vehicles could be produced for a limited period of two years and subject to Nuro reporting any incidents, without a windshield, rearview mirror or backup camera. Although only a small concession, it was the first — and so far, only — time the U.S. government had relaxed vehicle safety requirements for an AV.

Now Estrada and Nuro hope to use that momentum to chip away at a mountain of regulations that never envisaged vehicles controlled by on-board robots or distant humans, extending from the foothills of local and state government to the peaks of federal and international safety rules.

If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founders desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.

Regulate for success

“I don’t think any of the credible, big AV players want this to be a free-for-all,” said Dave Ferguson, Nuro’s co-founder and president. “We need the confidence of a clear regulatory framework to invest the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars necessary to manufacture vehicles at scale. Otherwise, it’s really going to limit our ability to deploy.”

#alliance-of-automobile-manufacturers, #auto-safety, #automation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #av, #california, #dave-ferguson, #department-of-defense, #ec-1, #extra-crunch, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #google, #government, #lyft, #national-highway-traffic-safety-administration, #national-science-foundation, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #startups, #transport, #transportation, #u-s-department-of-transportation, #united-states

How Nuro became the robotic face of Domino’s

Pandemic pizza was definitely a thing.

U.S. consumers forked out a record-breaking $14 billion to have pizza delivered to their doors in 2020, and nearly half of that total was spent with just one brand: Domino’s.

“Domino’s is the home of pizza delivery,” said Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief innovation officer. “Delivery is at the core of who we are, so it’s very important for us to lead when it comes to the consumer experience of delivery.”

U.S. consumers forked out a record-breaking $14 billion to have pizza delivered to their doors in 2020, and nearly half of that total was spent with just one brand: Domino’s.

In its latest TV ad, an order of Domino’s pizza speeds to its destination inside a Nuro R2X delivery autonomous vehicle (AV). The R2X (now known as R2) deftly avoids potholes, falling trees and traffic jams caused by The Noid — a character created by Domino’s in the 1980s to symbolize the difficulties of delivering a pizza in 30 minutes or less.

The reality is much more sedate. Domino’s currently has just one R2X that operates from a single Domino’s store on the generally calm streets of Woodland Heights in Houston, Texas. And since the AV’s introduction in April, The Noid has yet to put in an appearance.

“The R2X adds a bunch of efficiencies while not taking away from any existing capabilities,” Maloney said. “As we start getting the bot into regular operation, we’ll see if it plays out the way we expect it to. So far, all the indications are good.”

Nuro-Domino

Nuro and Domnio’s launched the autonomous pizza delivery service in Huston in April this year. Image Credits: Nuro

Partnerships are key for Nuro. The company’s business model is to sign contracts with established brands that either have their own branded vehicles or use traditional delivery companies like UPS or the U.S. Postal Service.

Nuro is carrying out trials and pilot deliveries with a number of companies, including fast casual restaurant chain Chipotle, Kroger grocery stores, CVS pharmacies, bricks-and-mortar retail behemoth Walmart, and, most recently, global parcel courier FedEx. While it is a dizzyingly impressive list for a company less than five years old, their interest was driven as much by global trends as by Nuro’s technology, admits Cosimo Leipold, head of partnerships at Nuro.

“Everybody today wants what they want and they want it faster than ever, but frankly they’re not willing to pay for it,” Leipold said. “We’ve reached a point where almost every company is going to have to offer delivery services, and now it’s just the question of how they’ll do it in the best possible way and with the most possible control.”

Nuro’s delivery AVs — aka bots — offer the tantalizing promise of safe, reliable and efficient delivery without sacrificing revenue and customer data to third-party platforms like Grubhub, DoorDash or Instacart. Alongside Nuro’s stated aim of driving the cost of delivery down to zero, it is little surprise that Nuro now finds itself in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose the partners it wants — and the less enviable position of having to choose which partner to prioritize.

Here’s the story of how one of Nuro’s biggest partnerships came to be, and the lessons and companies that will drive its future growth.

Deliveries with extra cheese

Domino’s has a long history of innovating in delivery, usually accompanied by a strong marketing campaign. In the 1980s, the company bought 10 customized Tritan Aerocar 2s, a Jetsons-styled three-wheeler, for use as delivery vehicles. In 2015, the company unveiled the DXP, a Chevrolet Spark modified with a single seat and a built-in warming oven, designed specifically for transporting pizza.

#autonomous-vehicles, #av, #dominos-pizza, #ec-1, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #ford-motors, #greylock-capital, #john-lilly, #kroger, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #refraction-ai, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #startups, #transportation, #united-states, #walmart

Here’s what the inevitable friendly neighborhood robot invasion looks like

In early 2021, a Nuro autonomous delivery vehicle pulled to a halt at a four-way stop in its hometown of Mountain View, California to let a user cross. This seemingly humdrum moment quickly looked like a decidedly science fiction storyline — the user was a small sidewalk robot from another startup on its own mission.

“Obviously, we yielded to it, but it was, wow, we have entered a different world,” said Amy Jones Satrom, head of Operations at Nuro.

Mountain View is home to competitor Waymo and other autonomous vehicle testing activity. But for those who want to take part in that science fiction scene, Houston provides the full experience.

Nuro’s operations team has to delicately balance speed, safety, convenience and congestion, even as the company embarks on a growth spurt that will see robots spreading to other cities, states and partners in the months ahead.

Waymo is testing self-driving trucks in Houston, and a fully driverless shuttle service is due to start public service there early next year. Nuro’s Texas effort started in April, when an R2 robot began its commercial pizza delivery service in partnership with Domino’s. Some customers ordering pizzas from the Domino’s Woodland Heights store will see the option to have their pies delivered by robot.

Customers can trace the progress of the self-driving vehicle on the Domino’s app and, when it pulls up outside their home, tap in a unique PIN on its touchscreen to access their order. Nuro is also operating in Houston with Kroger supermarkets and FedEx.

Nuro-validation test

Nuro team on test track during early validation in AZ, before first ever public road deployment in Arizona. Image credit: Nuro

“One of the things we laugh about is how customers constantly talk to the bot,” Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief innovation pfficer said. “It’s almost like they think it’s ‘Knight Rider.’ It’s very common for customers to thank it or say goodbye, which is great because that indicates we’re creating an engaging experience that they’re not frustrated by.”

Creating an experience, where people want to chat with their new robot neighbors instead of chasing them down the street with pitchforks, falls to Jones Satrom’s operations team. It has to delicately balance speed, safety, convenience and congestion, even as Nuro embarks on a growth spurt that will see robots spreading to other cities, states and partners in the months ahead.

Here’s how it manages that, and what the future holds for Nuro’s ever-so-gentle robot invasion.

Mapping the territory

Few people are as well suited to overseeing Nuro’s high-stakes robot rollout as Jones Satrom, who started her career as a nuclear engineer on an aircraft carrier and previously managed the integration of Kiva Systems’ robots into Amazon’s warehouses.

#artificial-intelligence, #autonomous-vehicles, #av, #dave-ferguson, #dominos-pizza, #ec-1, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #greylock-capital, #houston, #john-lilly, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #refraction-ai, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #walmart, #waymo

Lyft reaches adjusted profitability milestone despite continuing net losses

Today after the bell, U.S. ride-hailing company Lyft reported its second quarter financial performance. In aggregate the company’s performance was a rebound from the year-ago second quarter, which was heavily impacted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns in the United States.

Lyft also managed to produce positive adjusted EBITDA in the quarter, a profit metric favored by technology upstarts that have yet to generate net income, a stricter method of calculating profitability. Adjusted EBITDA for the second quarter was $23.8 million.

The company’s adjusted EBITDA reached a nadir in Q2 2020, when it totaled -$280 million. Since then Lyft has posted successive gains to adjusted EBITDA in every quarter. The company’s adjusted EBITDA margin came to 3% in its most recent quarter. After promising investors that adjusted profits would come, Lyft delivered.

Shares of Lyft are up nearly 7% in after-hours trading following the company’s financial report.

Lyft reported revenue of $765 million in the second quarter, more than double the $339.3 million million it brought in during the same period last year. While that is remarkable, remember last year at this time the economy and ride-hailing were getting pummeled by the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, we expected this.

Importantly, Lyft’s Q2 revenue grew 25.6% over last quarter’s of $609 million. That means that despite rising case counts in the United States thanks to the Delta COVID-19 variant, Lyft still managed to grow.

The company said it had 17.1 million active riders in the second quarter, up 97% from the 8.68 million million riders it had on its network in the same period last year. In the first quarter Lyft said it had 13.49 million active riders in the first quarter. The company also saw more revenue per active user in the second quarter ($44.63) than it did in the year-ago Q2 ($39.06). The company’s revenue per active rider metric slipped slightly from its Q1 2021 result of $45.13.

Lyft’s growth bested street expectations, which anticipated revenues of $696.2 million, per Yahoo Finance data. Despite this growth, Lyft is still losing money when all costs are counted. Lyft reported a net loss of $251.9 million in the second quarter, a 42% improvement from the $437.1 million it lost in the same period last year, but still a steeply negative figure.

The company said that net loss for the second quarter includes $207.8 million of stock-based compensation and related payroll tax expenses, and the $20.4 million expense related to the previously disclosed agreement to reinsure certain legacy auto insurance liabilities.

In the second quarter, Lyft’s aggregate spend on cost of revenue related expenses rose, though that was to be expected given how sharply its revenues themselves expanded compared to the year-ago period. The company also managed to curtail G&A costs, and its “operations and support” line item. However, R&D costs and S&M expenses both expanded compared to the year-ago quarter.

Finally on numbers, what about cash? Despite managing to generate positive adjusted EBITDA in the last three months, Lyft operations consumed $37.5 million in cash during the quarter. Lyft’s operations have not generated positive cash flow since Q3 2019. But don’t worry that Lyft is about to run out of funds — it has more than $2 billion in cash to support its growth.

There are signs that Lyft’s business is maturing into something more profitable than it once was. The company’s contribution margin, a non-GAAP figure that is used to indicate profitability of its ride-hailing model sans corporate costs, rose to 59.1% in the second quarter, an all-time record result. In the year-ago period the metric fell to 34.6%, its worst result since Q1 2017.

Lest we all forget, Lyft is now free of its costly autonomous vehicle technology program called Level 5. Lyft sold Level 5 to Toyota’s Woven Planet Holdings.

That doesn’t mean the company isn’t interested in getting into the robotaxi game.

Last month, Lyft announced a partnership with Argo AI and Ford to launch at least 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in a number of cities over the next five years, starting with Miami and Austin. The first Ford self-driving vehicles, which are equipped with Argo’s autonomous vehicle technology, will become available on Lyft’s app in Miami later this year.

TechCrunch has tuned into the Lyft call and will update this story as needed.

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

The Station: The script for Elon Musk’s Loop drivers, Redwood snags $700M and a chat with Kodiak Robotics’ co-founder

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

Hello readers: Welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.

In case you missed it, our scoop machine Mark Harris was at it again. This time, he found some interesting and entertaining documents related to Elon Musk’s underground Loop system in Las Vegas received via a Freedom of Information Act. Among the treasure is a “ride script” that instructs drivers for the Loop system to bypass passengers’ questions about how long they have been driving for the company, declare ignorance about crashes, and shut down conversations about Musk himself.

The takeaway: the script shows just how serious The Boring Company, which built and operates the system, is about controlling the public image of the new system, its technology and especially Musk.

Importantly, the documents confirm that Autopilot, the advanced driver assistance system in the Tesla vehicles used in the Loop system, must be disabled.

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

Micromobbin’

This is a step outside the norm of what I usually think of when I think of micromobility (you’ll see what I did there in a second), but this week I wrote about a new in-shoe navigation system that helps the visually impaired walk around town.

Ashirase, as both the system and the name of the company is called, involves attaching a three-dimensional vibration device, including a motion sensor, inside a pair of shoes. This bit of hardware is connected to a smartphone app that someone with low vision can use to enter their destination. Vibrations in the front part of the shoe give the cue to walk straight, and vibrations on the left and right cue the user to make a left or right turn. The aim is to free up the hands while walking to use a cane and allow the walker to put more of their full attention on audio signals in the environment, thus making their commutes a bit more intuitive and their lives more independent.

It’s a really interesting bit of tech because it uses a similar stack to what we’re seeing in autonomous driving and advanced driver assistance systems. Which makes sense because that’s the founder’s background. Wataru Chino worked in Honda’s EV motor control and automated driving systems departments since 2009. His startup is a product of Honda’s incubator, Ignition, that features original technology, ideas, and designs of Honda associates with the goal of solving social issues and going beyond the existing Honda business.

Accessibility: We love to see it

Cabify recently announced a new feature that makes its rideshare service more accessible to the elderly, people with partial visual impairment and people with cognitive disabilities. The feature provides voice notifications to alert the user when a driver is on their way or has just arrived, when the ride starts, when a stop has been reached, when a message has come into the app’s chat, etc.

The notification makes use of a text-to-speech functionality that Android and iOS phones have.

“Apple and Google operating systems allow us to pronounce sentences with the system’s voice but we have developed the text and established the situations where we inform and draw the user’s attention,” a Cabify spokesperson told me.

Lime’s push for world domination

And we’re back with the latest on Lime’s plans to take over the world, one electric scooter at a time. The micromobility goliath has announced an integration with the Moovit transit planning app. From Monday onwards, Moovit users in 117 cities across 20 countries will see Lime’s electric scooters, bikes and mopeds show up as an option for travel, either as the whole journey or as part of a multi-modal journey. This news follows a trend we’re seeing as cities start to see micromobility companies as less of a public nuisance and more of a public solution, particularly for first- and last-mile travel. Integrating with Moovit, an app that’s solely focused on public transportation, is a move that helps in the long run creating a broader transportation ecosystem.

New whips

Espin released its limited edition fixie style e-bike called the Aero. It’s just the thing for Seattle hipsters, particularly ones with a stick-and-poke bike tattoo. The bike frame is just as sleek as you’d expect from a single gear bike, all clean lines and comes in either a forest green or a smoke gray. The Aero can reach top speeds of 20 mph and can hit 30 miles on a single charge. Best of all, it doesn’t break the bank at $1,399.

Splach, which normally makes e-scooters and e-bikes, has come out with something it’s calling the Transformer. I truly don’t know how to categorize it but it looks like a lot of fun to ride. The company is calling the light-duty e-vehicle a “mini-moto Robust scooter specialized for rugged terrains.” It looks like a dirt bike has been sized way down and given a long neck so you can stand on it and still steer it. It also looks like it would indeed do well on rugged terrains, based on videos of people shredding down dirt paths. Splach used Indiegogo to fund the thing, and said it reached its goal within an hour.

Deal of the week

money the station

Get ready to hear a lot more about supply chain constraints around batteries with virtually every automaker shouting out pledges to shift their entire portfolio away from internal combustion engines and towards electric powertrains.

Cell producers need access to the raw materials like nickel that are needed to make batteries. Mining those materials is the most common means, but that isn’t sustainable (and I’m not just talking about the environmental toll). JB Straubel, who is best known as the former Tesla co-founder and longtime CTO, is tackling the supply chain issue through his startup Redwood Materials. The battery recycling company is aiming to create a circular supply chain. This closed-loop system, Straubel says, will be essential if the world’s battery cell producers hope to have the supply needed for consumer electronics and the coming wave of electric vehicles.

High-profile investors like Amazon, funds managed by T. Rowe and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Ventures fund recognize the opportunity and have injected $700M in fresh capital into Redwood Materials. This is comically large compared to the startup’s last raise of $40 million. And sources tell me that this pushes Redwood Material’s valuation to $3.7 billion.

I interviewed Straubel about the raise and what struck me was how aggressively he wants to scale; he is treating this issue as if there is no time to lose — and he’s not wrong.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Clarios, the maker of low-voltage vehicle batteries, postponed its IPO, citing market volatility, Bloomberg reported. the Milwaukee area-based company backed by Brookfield Asset Management had filed to raise $1.7 billion by offering 88.1 million shares at a price range of $17 to $21.

Fisker, the electric vehicle startup turned publicly traded company via a SPAC, has turned investor to support EV charging company Allego. Fisker said it is investing $10 million in private-investment-in-public equity (PIPE) funding for the merger of Allego and special purpose acquisition company Spartan Acquisition Corp III. The merger puts Allego at a pro forma equity value of $3.14 billion.

Flock, which went from providing drone insurance to commercial vehicle insurance, raised $17 million in a Series A funding led by Social Capital, the investment vehicle run by Chamath Palihapitiya, best known as a SPAC investor and chairman of Virgin Galactic. Flock’s existing investors Anthemis and Dig Ventures also participated. This round brings Flock’s total funding to $22 million. Justin Saslaw (Social Capital’s fintech partner) joins Flock’s board of directors, as does Ross Mason (founder of Dig Ventures and MuleSoft).

HappyFresh, the on-demand grocery app based in Indonesia, raised $65 million in a Series D round led by Naver Financial Corporation and Gafina B.V., with participation from STIC, LB and Mirae Asset Indonesia and Singapore. It also included returning investors Mirae-Asset Naver Asia Growth Fund and Z Venture Capital. The company’s previous round of funding was a $20 million Series C announced in April 2019.

Lordstown Motors got a lifeline from a hedge fund managed by investment firm Yorkville Advisors about five weeks after the automaker issued a warning that it might not have enough funds to bring its electric pickup truck to market. The hedge fund agreed to buy $400 million worth of shares over a three-year period, according to a regulatory filing.

Merqueo, the on-demand delivery service that operates in Latin America, raised $50 million in a Series C round of funding co-led by IDC Ventures, Digital Bridge and IDB Invest. MGM Innova Group, Celtic House Venture Partners, Palm Drive Capital and previous shareholders also participated. The financing brings the Bogota, Colombia-based startup’s total raised to $85 million since its 2017 inception.

Niron Magnetics, a company developing permanent magnets free of rare earths, raised $21.3 million in new financing from the Volvo Cars Tech Fund and Volta Energy Technologies, which joined existing investors Anzu Partners and the University of Minnesota. Niron will use the funding to build its pilot production facility in Minnesota.

Onto, the EV car subscription company raised $175 million in a combined equity and debt Series B round. The equity piece was led by Swedish VC Alfvén & Didrikson. British investment company Pollen Street Capital provided the senior-secured asset-backed debt facility. The company, which has raised a total of $245 million, says it plans to double its fleet size every three to six months and that any new vehicles will be used as collateral. Onto did not disclose how much of the round came from equity versus debt.

Zūm, a student transportation startup, was awarded a five-year $150 million contract to modernize San Francisco Unified School District transport service throughout the district. Zūm, which already operates its rideshare-meets-bus service in Oakland, much of Southern California, Seattle, Chicago and Dallas, will be responsible for handling day-to-day operations, transporting 3,500 students across 150 school campuses starting this fall semester.

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

I hear things. But I’m not selfish. Let me share!

You might have missed my article late Friday about Argo AI landing a permit in California that will allow the company to give people free rides in its self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roads.

Tl;dr: The California Public Utilities Commission issued Argo the so-called Drivered AV pilot permit, which is part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot. This puts Argo in a small and growing group of companies seeking to expand beyond traditional AV testing — a signal that the industry, or at least some companies, are preparing for commercial operations.

Regulatory hurdles remain and don’t expect Argo to be offering and charging for “driverless” rides anytime soon. But progress is being made and I would expect the company to secure the next permit — in a long line of them — later this year.

Argo has never officially indicated what city it is targeting for a robotaxi service in California. The company has been testing its autonomous vehicle technology in Ford vehicles around Palo Alto since 2019. Today, the company’s test fleet in California is about one dozen self-driving test vehicles. It also has autonomous test vehicles in Miami, Austin, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh and Detroit. (In July, Argo and Ford announced plans to launch at least 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in a number of cities over the next five years, starting with Miami and Austin.)

I’m hearing from some sources familiar with Argo’s strategy for California that we should look south of the Bay Area. Way south.

The city that jumps to mind is San Diego. Some AV companies are already playing around the Irvine area and Los Angeles seems too unwieldy. Plus, Ford already has a footprint in San Diego. The automaker partnered way back in 2017 with AT&T, Nokia and Qualcomm Technologies to test Cellular vehicle-to-everything (CV2X) at the San Diego Regional Proving Ground with the support of the San Diego Association of Governments, Caltrans, the city of Chula Vista, and intelligent transportation solutions provider McCain. The upshot of these trials? To improve traffic efficiency, vehicle safety and “support a path towards autonomous vehicles.”

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Hi everyone. Let’s dive into two key pieces of proposed legislation this week: the infrastructure bill and the tailpipe emissions standards.

After months of negotiations, U.S. senators have finally settled on a $550 billion infrastructure package that includes investments in roads, bridges, broadband and more. The bill would provide $7.5 billion to electrify buses and ferries, including school buses, and $7.5 billion to build out a national network of public EV charging stations. Subsequent statements on the bill from the White House say directly that the EV investments are intended to keep the U.S. competitive on the world stage: “U.S. market share of plug-in electric vehicle (EV) sales is only one-third the size of the Chinese EV market. The President believes that must change.”

The budget is just a fraction of the $2.25 trillion bill President Joe Biden originally introduced in March. That version of the bill earmarked billions more for transportation electrification, especially in rebates and incentives to get consumers buying more EVs. The bill is still with the Senate for final approval. Then it will head to the House before finally ending up on Biden’s desk.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation have proposed rules that would beef up tailpipe emissions standards, which had been rolled back under President Donald Trump. The rules would be identical to the agreement the state of California reached with Ford, VW, Honda, BMW and Volvo in 2019, the AP reported. If approved, the rules would apply starting with model year 2023 vehicles.

The aim is to cut carbon emissions from transportation and encourage more people to buy hybrid and electric. But many environmental groups like the Sierra Club — plus some EV automakers — don’t think they go far enough.

“This draft proposal would drive us in the right direction after several years in reverse–but slowly getting back on track is not enough,” Chris Nevers, senior director of environmental policy at Rivian, told TechCrunch. EPA and NHTSA must maximize the stringency of the program beyond the voluntary deal and account for current and future developments in vehicle electrification.

One more thing that caught my eye this week…The Washington Post reported that Biden and a group of automakers are negotiating for the latter group to make a “formal pledge” to have at least 40% of all vehicles sold in 2030 to be electric. The article doesn’t specify which OEMs are part of the talks. However, it’s hard to imagine automakers signing onto anything — even a “voluntary pledge” — without some hefty federal spending to go along with it. We’ll have to see if the provisions in the infrastructure bill are enough.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

As per ushe, there was a ton of transportation news this week. Let’s dig in.

ADAS

Yep, ADAS gets its own section now in an effort to make it abundantly clear that advanced driver assistance systems are not self-driving cars. Never. Never ever.

New York Times’ Greg Bensinger weighs in on beta testing and Tesla in this opinion column.

Autonomous vehicles

Aurora co-founder and chief product officer Sterling Anderson put out a blog and a bunch of tweets to layout a blueprint for an autonomous ride-hailing business that will launch in late 2024 with partners Toyota and Uber. Aurora has spent the past year or so pushing its messaging on self-driving trucks, which the company says is its best and most viable first commercial product. Aurora never entirely ditched the robotaxi idea, but it was pretty quiet on the topic. Until now.

The blog comes about a week after competitor Argo AI and Ford announced a partnership with Lyft. While the timing might not be related, it does show that competition is heating up in both areas — robotaxis and self-driving trucks — with every AV company keen to show progress and deep partnerships.

TuSimple, the self-driving truck company that went public earlier this year, has partnered with Ryder as part of its plan to build out a freight network that will support its autonomous trucking operations. Ryder’s fleet maintenance facilities will act as terminals for TuSimple’s so-called AFN, or autonomous freight network.

Electric vehicles

Ford released Wednesday its second quarter earnings for 2021, which besides containing a surprise profit despite the ongoing chip shortage, revealed that its F-150 Lightning electric pickup has generated 120,000 preorders since its unveiling in May. Ford reported revenue of $26.8 billion, slightly below expectations, and net income of $561 million in the second quarter.

Lucid Group (formerly Lucid Motors) will be expanding its factory in Casa Grande, Arizona, by 2.7 million square feet, CEO Pete Rawlinson said just hours after the company officially went public with a $4.5 billion injection of capital. The company also said it has 11,000 paid reservations for its flagship luxury electric sedan, the Lucid Air.

Polestar said it plans to launch in nine more markets this year, doubling its global presence as it seeks to sell more of its electric sedans. The company, which is the electric performance vehicle brand under Volvo Car Group, also wants to double the number of retail stores to 100 locations and add more service centers by the end of the year. The Swedish automaker has more than 650 so-called “service points” in Polestar markets and wants to exceed 780 by the end of 2021.

REE Automotive has picked Austin for its U.S. headquarters. The company said the headquarters will help it address the growing U.S. market demand for mission-specific EVs from delivery and logistics companies, Mobility-as-a-Service and new technology players.

Tesla reported its second-quarter earnings and it was packed with news, including that the company generated $1.14 billion in net income, marking the first time the company’s quarterly profit (on a GAAP basis) has passed the three-comma threshold. And they hit that profitability metric without completely relying on the sale of zero-emissions credits to other automakers.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk weighed in on the company’s battery strategy and disclosed that the company is pushing the launch of its electric Semi truck program to 2022 due to supply chain challenges and the limited availability of battery cells. And everything is pointing to the Cybertruck also being delayed until next year.

And finally, Tesla’s latest quarterly earnings report showed growth in its energy storage and solar business. The company reported $801 million in revenue from its energy generation and storage business — which includes three main products: solar, its Powerwall storage device for homes and businesses, and its utility storage unit Megapack. More importantly, the cost of revenue for its solar and energy storage business was $781 million, meaning that for the first time the total cost of producing and distributing these energy storage products was lower than the revenue it generated. That’s good news.

eVTOLs and other flying things

Joby Aviation completed the longest test flight of an eVTOL to date: Its unnamed full-sized prototype aircraft concluded a trip of over 150 miles on a single charge. The test was completed at Joby’s Electric Flight Base in Big Sur, California, earlier this month. It’s the latest in a succession of secretive tests the company’s been conducting, all part of its goal to achieve certification with the Federal Aviation Administration and start commercial operations.

Lilium, the electric air taxi startup, has tapped German manufacturer Customcells to supply batteries for its flagship seven-seater Lilium Jet.

People stuff

AEye, a lidar company, has been adding to its executive team in the past few months. The most recent is the hiring of automotive veteran and former Valeo executive Bernd Reichert as senior vice president of ADAS. the company has also hired Velodyne’s former COO Rick Tewell, Bob Brown from Cepton and Hod Finkelstein as chief research and design officer from Sense Photonics.

Cruise is also on a bit of an executive and engineering hiring spree. The company sent me a list of recent folks who have joined including former Southwest Airlines employee Anthony Gregory as VP of market development, Phil Maher, the former Virgin Atlantic COO, as VP of central operations and Bhavini Soneji as VP of product engineering. Soneji was most recently VP of engineering at Headspace, and was at Microsoft and Snapchat before that.

Cruise also hired Vinoj Kumar, who oversaw Google’s cloud infrastructure and software systems, as VP of Infrastructure and Yuning Chai, former lead perception researcher at Waymo, as head of AI Research. In all, Cruise now employs more than 1,900 people.

Don Burnette, the co-founder and CEO of self-driving trucks company Kodiak Robotics, sat down with TechCrunch as part of our ongoing Q&A series with the founders of transportation startups. The interview covers a lot of ground, including Burnette’s views on the company’s strategy, current funding conditions in the industry and what he learned at Otto. the self-driving trucks startup he co-founded and that was acquired by Uber.

Trevor Milton, the fast-talking showman founder of Nikola and the electric truck startup’s former CEO and executive chairman, was charged with three counts of fraud. He is free on $100 million bail.

Milton “engaged in a fraudulent scheme to deceive retail investors” for his own personal benefit, according to the federal indictment unsealed by U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Milton was charged with two counts of securities fraud and wire fraud by a federal grand jury.

 

#argo-ai, #aurora-innovation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #kodiak-robotics, #redwood-materials, #tesla, #the-station, #transportation

TuSimple’s self-driving truck network takes shape with Ryder partnership

TuSimple, the self-driving truck company that went public earlier this year, has partnered with Ryder as part of its plan to build out a freight network that will support its autonomous trucking operations.

Under the deal announced this week, Ryder’s fleet maintenance facilities will act as terminals for TuSimple’s freight network. TuSimple’s so-called AFN, or autonomous freight network, is a collection of shipping routes and terminals designed for autonomous trucking operations that will extend across the United States by 2024. UPS, which took a minority stake in TuSimple before it went public, carrier U.S. Xpress, Penske Truck Leasing and Berkshire Hathaway’s grocery and food service supply chain company McLane Inc. were the inaugural partners in the network.

TuSimple’s AFN involves four pieces that includes its self-driving trucks, digital mapped routes, freight terminals and a system that will let customers monitor autonomous trucking operations and track their shipments in real-time.

Ryder’s facilities will primarily serve as strategic terminals where TuSimple trucks can receive maintenance and have sensors used in the self-driving system calibrated, if needed. In some cases, the terminals might be used as a transfer hub for smaller operator that might want to pick up cargo. But this is not meant to be a hub-to-hub system where its customers would come and pick up freight, according to TuSimple President and CEO Cheng Lu.

“These trucks needs to be serviceable and maintainable and they need to have higher uptime, which is what every carrier cares about regardless of whether it is autonomous or not,” Lu said.

Small shippers and carriers might use these terminals to pick up and drop off freight. However, Lu stressed that in most cases, especially large-scale operators UPS, TuSimple will take the freight directly to the customer’s distribution centers. The Ryder facilities work as nodes, or stops, on its network to allow TuSimple to reach more customers over a larger geographic area, Lu added.

The partnership will start gradually. TuSimple has 50 autonomous trucks in its fleet that — along with a human safety operator behind the wheel — transport freight for customers in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The partnership will initially use Ryder’s facilities in these areas and eventually expand to the company’s 500 maintenance facilities in the United States.

TuSimple said it expects to expand operations to the East Coast, carrying freight between Phoenix and Orlando later this year. TuSimple has about 25 new trucks on order, which will be added to the fleet once they become available.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #self-driving-trucks, #tc, #transportation, #tusimple

Argo AI can now offer the public rides in its autonomous vehicles in California

Argo AI, the autonomous vehicle technology startup backed by Ford and VW, has landed a permit in California that will allow the company to give people free rides in its self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roads.

The California Public Utilities Commission issued the so-called Drivered AV pilot permit earlier this month, according to the approved application. It was posted on its website Friday, a little more than a week after Argo and Ford announced plans to launch at least 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in a number of cities over the next five years, starting with Miami and Austin.

The permit, which is part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, puts Argo in small and growing group of companies seeking to expand beyond traditional AV testing — a signal that the industry, or at least some companies, are preparing for commercial operations. Argo has been testing its autonomous vehicle technology in Ford vehicles around Palo Alto since 2019. Today, the company’s test fleet is about one dozen self-driving test vehicles.

Aurora, AutoX, Cruise, Deeproute, Pony.ai, Voyage, Zoox and Waymo have all received permits to participate in the CPUC’s Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program, which requires a human safety operator to be behind the wheel. Companies with this permit cannot charge for rides.

Cruise is the only company to have secured a driverless permit from the CPUC, which allows it to shuttle passengers in its test vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel.

Snagging the CPUC’s Drivered permit is just part of the journey to commercialization in California. The state requires companies to navigate a series of regulatory hurdles from the CPUC and the California Department of Motor Vehicles — each agency with its own tiered system of permits — before it can charge for rides in robotaxis without a human safety operator behind the wheel.

The DMV regulates and issues permits for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads. There are three levels of permits issued by the DMW, starting with one that allows companies to test AVs on public roads with a safety operator behind the wheel. More than 60 companies have this basic testing permit.

The next permit allows for driverless testing, followed by a deployment permit for commercial operations. Driverless testing permits, in which a human operator is not behind the wheel, have become the new milestone and a required step for companies that want to launch a commercial robotaxi or delivery service in the state. AutoX, Baidu, Cruise, Nuro, Pony.ai, Waymo, WeRide and Zoox have driverless permits with the DMV.

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

Meanwhile, the CPUC authorized in May 2018 two pilot programs for transporting passengers in autonomous vehicles. The Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program, which is what Argo just secured, allows companies to operate a ride-hailing service using autonomous vehicles as long as they follow specific rules. Companies are not allowed to charge for rides, a human safety driver must be behind the wheel and certain data must be reported quarterly.

The second CPUC pilot allows for driverless passenger service, which Cruise secured in June 2021.

It’s important to note that to reach the holy grail of commercial robotaxis requires the companies to secure all of these permits from the DMV and CPUC.

#argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #california, #tc

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

US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is coming to Disrupt

The myriad emerging and longer-term transportation technologies promise to change how people and packages move about the world or within their own neighborhoods. They also present myriad regulatory and policy hurdles that lawmakers, advocates and even investors and industry executives are attempting to navigate.

At the center — at least in the United States — sits Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. The small-town mayor in Indiana turned presidential candidate and now cabinet member under the Biden administration oversees public transport, highway safety and nascent technologies like autonomous vehicles. The Harvard graduate, Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and former U.S. Navy officer is in a position to bring complexity or clarity to the future of transportation.

At Disrupt 2021, Secretary Buttigieg will join us for a fireside chat where we’ll dig into some of the thorniest questions around transportation and how to ensure that moving from Point A to Point B is a universal right, not a privilege. We’ll ask Buttigieg about micromobility and public transit, President Biden’s push for the federal government to use electric vehicles, autonomous vehicle guidance and new regulatory requirements around reporting vehicle crashes when an advanced driver assistance and automated driving system is engaged — a move that could spur a new wave of startups and benefit some in-car technologies.

The upshot: If it involves technology that moves people and packages, we aim to talk about it.

Secretary Buttigieg is just one of the many high-profile speakers who will be on our Disrupt Stage and the Extra Crunch Stage. During the three-day event, writer, director, actor and Houseplant co-founder Seth Rogen will be joined by Houseplant Chief Commercial Officer Haneen Davies and co-founder and CEO Michael Mohr to talk about the business of weed, Duolingo CEO and co-founder Luis von Ahn will discuss gamifying education and prepping for a public offering and Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong will dig into the volatile world of cryptocurrency and his company’s massive direct listing earlier this year.

Other speakers include Twitter CISO Rinki Sethi, Calendly founder and CEO Tope Awotona, Mirror co-founder and CEO Brynn Putnam, Evil Geniuses CEO Nicole LaPointe Jameson and Andreessen Horowitz General Partner Katie Haun.

Disrupt 2021 wouldn’t be complete without Startup Battlefield, the competition that launched some of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Cloudflare and Dropbox. Join Secretary Buttigieg and over 10,000 of the startup world’s most influential people at Disrupt 2021 online this September 21-23Get your pass to attend now for under $99 for a limited time!

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #department-of-transportation, #electric-vehicles, #events, #pete-buttigieg, #tc-disrupt, #tc-disrupt-2021, #transportation

Lyft ditches Google Maps for Here, partners with Argo AI

A woman in an umbrella walks to her Lyft.

Enlarge / Lyft will switch its map provider from Google to Here. (credit: Lyft)

The ride hailing company Lyft is changing up its maps, which until now have been powered by Google. Lyft will now use Here instead. Lyft says the switch means a better search database for places and addresses as well as more accurate predicted arrival times—two important things for a ride hailing company to get right.

“Over the past six months, we have worked in collaboration with Lyft to implement and test our robust destination catalog that helps riders get to more destinations in cities across North America. Our services are now enriching the Lyft network, spearheading innovation in the rideshare industry,” said Here CEO Edzard Overbeek.

There may be other motivations for the switch. According to Lyft’s head of rideshare, Ashwin Raj, the switch will “improve the efficiency of our marketplace,” but the press release also explicitly mentions keeping user data private.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#argo-ai, #autonomous-vehicles, #biz-it, #cars, #ford, #here, #lyft, #mapping, #ridehailing

Argo, Ford to launch self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing app

Autonomous vehicle technology startup Argo AI and its backer and customer Ford plan to launch up to 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in a number of cities over the next five years starting with Miami and Austin.

The first Ford self-driving vehicles, which are equipped with Argo’s autonomous vehicle technology, will become available on Lyft’s app in Miami later this year. Ford and Argo have had a presence in Miami for years now and have an active fleet of test vehicles.

Austin will follow in next year with the remaining U.S. cities being added to the Lyft app in 2023 and beyond, according to Jody Kelman, who heads up Lyft’s Autonomous, the company self-driving deployment business unit. Argo currently tests in Detroit, Palo Alto, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C.

“It’s the biggest deployment certainly that we’re doing and that I think anyone else is doing,” Kelman said. “One thousand cars across six markets is a  big leap forward in terms of scaled commercialization.”

This isn’t just about Argo and Ford jumping on the Lyft network. Lyft will also provide access to driving data from its entire network in exchange for a 2.5% stake in Argo AI, under terms of the agreement announced Wednesday. Lyft already captures driving data, which includes telemetry information such as hard-braking events and even collisions. Argo is most interested in two areas of data: safety information around human drivers on its app and more generally what trip movements look like across a city, Argo CEO Bryan Salesky told TechCrunch.

“This will really help us hone and figure out where the demand is and what peak demand looks like, which helps us figure out where we need to map, where we need to go, where we need to operate,” Salesky said.  “It helps us spend our test resources wisely.”

For instance, the Lyft data should help Argo spot areas where public transit is plentiful and other neighborhoods where it’s less available or entirely absent.

“We really want to take a holistic view of the demand picture using their data,” Salesky said. “That helps us really be precise about where to deploy in order to have the greater benefit.”

The Ford vehicles will be operated by Argo and include a human safety driver behind the wheel. Salesky did note that the vehicles will drive autonomously from pickup to drop-off point.

The agreement is an indication that Argo has made progress in its AV development and specifically its work with Ford. The automaker announced in February 2017 that it was investing $1 billion in Argo AI, which was not even six months old at the time. Since then, Argo has focused on developing the virtual driver system — all of the sensors, software and compute platform — as well as high-definition maps designed for Ford’s self-driving vehicles.

In July 2019, VW Group announced it was investing $2.6 billion in Argo. That deal, which was finalized last summer, gives Ford and VW equal ownership stakes, which will be roughly 40% each over time. The remaining equity sits with Argo’s co-founders as well as employees. Argo’s board is comprised of two VW seats, two Ford seats and three Argo seats.

Lyft is also a beneficiary in the deal — and beyond that small equity stake. Lyft main goal is to become the go-to ride-hailing network and fleet management platform used by any and all commercial robotaxi services. Lyft already has partnerships with other AV developers, notably the $4 billion Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture known as Motional, as well as Waymo.

Motional vehicles are on the Lyft ride-hailing network in Las Vegas. All of the vehicles have human safety operators behind the wheel. The companies have an agreement deploy fully autonomous cars on the Lyft network in 2023.

Lyft’s intention was always to lock up the rest. Unclear with which companies might commercialize the tech first, Lyft also took on the expensive pursuit of developing autonomous vehicle technology internally through a division called Level 5. That self-driving division was acquired in April by Toyota’s Woven Planet Holdings subsidiary for $550 million.

As part of the acquisition agreement, Woven Planet signed commercial agreements to use the Lyft platform and fleet data.

#argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #ford, #lyft, #transportation

Intel’s Mobileye takes its autonomous vehicle testing program to New York City

Mobileye, a subsidiary of Intel, has expanded its autonomous vehicle testing program to New York City as part of its strategy to develop and deploy the technology.

New York City joins a number of other cities including Detroit, Paris, Shanghai and Tokyo where Mobileye has either launched testing or plans to this year. Mobileye launched its first test fleet in Jerusalem in 2018 and added one in Munich in 2020.

“If we want to build something that will scale, we need to be able to drive in challenging places and almost everywhere,” Mobileye president and CEO Amnon Shashua said during a presentation Tuesday that was streamed live. As part of the announcement, Mobileye also released a 40-minute unedited video of one of its test vehicles equipped with a self-driving system navigating New York’s city streets.

These vehicles, which began testing in New York City last month, are driving autonomously with a safety operator behind the wheel using only cameras. The vehicles are equipped with 8 long-range and 4 parking cameras powered by its fifth generation system on chip called EyeQ5.

That does not mean that Mobileye is taking a camera-only approach to autonomy once it deploys. The company has also developed another subsystem with lidar and radar, but no cameras that also drives autonomously. The two subsystems of sensors and software will be combined and integrated to provide redundancy in robotaxis. The camera-only subsystem is what Shashua described as at “the cost level for consumers” and one that will be used to evolve driving assist systems. Later this year, Mobilieye’s camera-only system using the EyeQ5 SoC will be launched in a Geely Auto Group vehicle.

New York City has been in Shashua’s sights for more than six months. He first mentioned a desire to test on public roads in New York during the virtual 2021 CES tech trade show in January with the caveat that the company would need to receive regulatory approval. Now, with that regulatory approval in hand, Mobileye is the only company currently permitted to test AVs in the state and city. GM’s self-driving subsidiary Cruise outlined in 2017 a plan to test AVs in New York and even mapped parts of lower Manhattan. The company never scaled up the test program in NYC, deciding instead to focus on its primary target for commercial deployment: San Francisco. 

Mobileye applied for a permit through New York State’s autonomous vehicle technology demonstration and testing program. The company met the requirements outlined in the program which includes compliance with all federal standards and applicable New York State inspection standards as well as a law enforcement interaction plan, according to Mobileye.

“I don’t think there’s anything special about receiving approval you simply need to go through this process, Shashua said, who described it has lengthy and in some ways similar to the stringent requirements to test in Germany. “I think what is special is that it’s very very difficult to drive here.”

Mobileye is perhaps best known for supplying automakers with computer vision technology that powers advanced driver assistance systems. It’s a business that generated nearly $$967 million in sales for the company. Today, 88 million vehicles on the road are using Mobileye’s computer vision technology.

Mobileye has also been developing automated vehicle technology. Its full self-driving stack — which includes redundant sensing subsystems based on camera, radar and lidar technology — is combined with its REM mapping system and a rules-based Responsibility-Sensitive Safety (RSS) driving policy.

Mobileye’s REM mapping system crowdsources data by tapping into consumer and fleet vehicles equipped with its so-called EyeQ4, or fourth generation system on chip, to build high-definition maps that can be used to support in ADAS and autonomous driving systems. That data is not video or images but compressed text that collects about 10 kilobits per kilometer. Mobileye has agreements with six OEMs, including BMW, Nissan and Volkswagen, to collect that data on vehicles equipped with the EyeQ4 chip, which is used to power the advanced driver assistance system. On fleet vehicles, Mobileye collects data from an after-market product it sells to commercial operators.

Mobileye’s technology is mapping nearly 8 million kilometers day globally, including in New York City.

The strategy, Shashua contends, will allow the company to efficiently launch and operate commercial robotaxi services as well as bring the technology to consumer passenger vehicles by 2025. Shashua explained this dual approach in an interview with TechCrunch in 2020. 

“There was realization that dawned on us awhile ago,” he said at the time. “The Holy Grail of this business is passenger car autonomy: where you buy a passenger car and you pay an option price and with a press of button it can take you autonomously to wherever you want to go. The realization is that you can’t reach that Holy Grail if you don’t go through the robotaxi business.”

On Tuesday, Shashua said Mobileye was the only company that has its foot in both camps. (Although it should be noted that Toyota’s Woven Planet does have some strategic overlap.)

“We’re building our technology in a way that supports scale, especially geographic scale, using our crowdsourced mapping technology and building new sensors such that the entire package — the entire system — will be under $5,000 cost to allow consumer AVs, and on the other hand, we have a division building a mobility-as-a-service or robotaxi service,” Shashua said Tuesday. “This is one of the reasons why we purchased Moovit last year, to enable the customer facing of all the layers above the self-driving system to enable mobility-as-a-service business.”

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #mapping, #mobileye, #tc, #transportation

The Station: Aurora SPACs, a spin on the VanMoof X3 and a chat with Outdoorsy founders

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

Hello and welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.

Before we jump into the deals, policy moves and micromobbin’ news, I wanted to share the latest founders interview, a new series we launched this spring over at Extra Crunch.

Here’s the opener to the interview:

Jen Young and Jeff Cavins were sitting in a beige conference room at a downtown Vancouver hotel, wasting away under fluorescent lights, an endless PowerPoint and a pair of sad Styrofoam cups of coffee between them. Young was there on a marketing contract. Cavins was a board member. They shared one of those looks that only couples can understand. It said: There’s got to be something better than this.

The “something better than this” ended up becoming Outdoorsy, peer-to-peer RV and camper rental startup.

The interview with Cavins and Young covers why they started Outdoorsy, how they have evolved and improved their business model and what is coming next. Our series has a tiny twist: we will check in with these founders a year from the date that the interview was published.

Enjoy!

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

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

You know how those memes keep going around about why it makes total sense the Roaring 20s happened after the Spanish Flu a century ago? They bring up an important point. A very drunken, boisterous summer is already underway in places that are opening up (sorry, Melbourne), and these shenanigans are flying parallel to the rise of electric micromobility vehicles. The end result? People will —and already are. — trying to ride these things drunk.

Bird announced this week it is launching Safe Start, a new in-app checkpoint designed to discourage people, but ultimately not stop them, from riding under the influence. It kicks off between the hours of 10 pm and 4 am, when trouble is usually afoot, asking riders attempting to unlock a Bird if they can safely handle the vehicle by correctly entering a keyword into the app. The hope is that within the time it takes a would-be rider to stop swaying, close one eye, squint with the other and punch in those letters, they’ll have realized that they’re in no position to operate machinery and call a cab or hail a ride via an app instead.

Lime has had a similar feature for the past couple of years, also activating after 10 pm in most markets. It asks riders to type in “Y-E-S” in response to the question, “Do you affirm you are not drunk and fit to ride?” I think it should be a simple, “Are you drunk?” but I have a thing against negative sentence structures.

A spokesperson from Lime told me the company is working on a more robust cognitive test as well as something else he can’t share yet, but if I were a betting woman, I’d say it has something to do with sensing whether someone is driving in a straight line or wobbling, an idea the company talked to The Verge about two years ago.

Spin also has a similar feature it’s working on that hasn’t yet been launched. However, it’s a bit more involved than what Bird  and Lime have launched.

Spin will soon feature a quiz that will test reaction times of the rider. The logic follows that people with higher blood alcohol content have slower reaction times. A Spin spokesperson told me the company would work with the city to determine which hours are of most concern and only implement the test during those hours. Slow pokes will have to source another means of transport home, probably with a stop off at the pizza place.

Other cool stuff you can do with an e-scooter

Fenix, the shared e-scooter operator out of Abu Dhabi, is launching a 10-minute fresh grocery delivery service on Reem Island, some boujie, high-tech, super dense mixed-use development off the city’s coast. The company figures, it’s already paying for the vehicles themselves, the space to charge batteries and the employees to swap batteries and service the scooters, why not put those to use with another business line?

It might be a logistical stroke of genius, especially if the software managing the fleets, deliveries and rides are integrated well. The company will have an undisclosed number of “dark stores” or private convenience stores (which will also house the batteries for charging) around the island so that those fresh avocados or packs of diapers are never too far from a millionaire’s penthouse. Fenix’s full-time employees will be stationed within the dark stores, accepting orders and putting together the delivery in two minutes before relaying it to a, no doubt, anxious coworker who will have eight minutes to drop off the goods.

I have my doubts about that 10-minute success rate, many of which reside in my concern for the workers, but we’ll see how it goes, I guess? It’s a cool business model.

What else is new?

Irish micromobility company Zipp Mobility is making its first expansion off the island, launching its e-scooter operations in Katowice, Poland. It’s a small city in the southern part of the country, but Zipp appears to be putting a stake hold in the region, with plans to launch in the surrounding cities of Sosnowiec and Dabrowa Gornicza by the end of August.

Meanwhile, Veo is on its own expansion plans. The company raised $16 million in a Series A which it’ll use to fund the expansion of its fleet to new cities like Santa Monica, San Diego and New York, while also focusing on developing new form factors for untapped use cases.

Speaking of New York, Revel has announced a partnership with GridRewards, an app that develops “virtual power plant” software. Essentially, Revel wants to save money while also not messing up NYC’s power grid, so it’s going to try its best to only charge its e-moped fleet when peak demand is low, and less expensive.

Revel is also doing a thing with FlixBus, an intercity bus operator. If you book with one, you get discounts with the others. FlixBus passengers travelling between DC and New York City will be eligible for a $5 one-time credit when booking electric mopeds in Revel’s app.

Finally, Santa Cruz-based electric bike startup Blix has some new updates to their rides that provide better performance, increased power and range, better brakes, fatter tires and a range of new colors.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

The big AV and deal news of the week is Aurora Innovation’s move to become publicly traded company through a merger with Reinvent Technology Partners Y, the special purpose acquisition company launched by LinkedIn co-founder and investor Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus and managing partner Michael Thompson.

The announcement confirmed my reporting in June that the companies were close to finalizing a deal.

Once the transaction closes, the combined company will be listed on Nasdaq with the ticker symbol AUR and have an implied valuation of $13 billion. Aurora was last valued at $10 billion following its acquisition of Uber’s self-driving unit.

Through the deal, Aurora is capturing $1 billion from private investors, including Baillie Gifford, funds and accounts managed by Counterpoint Global (Morgan Stanley), funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., PRIMECAP Management Company, Reinvent Capital, XN, Fidelity Management and Research LLC, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Index Ventures and Sequoia Capital, as well as strategic investments from Uber, PACCAR and Volvo Group.

One other note, Aurora also laid out some financial and deployment projections. Aurora plans to begin to generate revenue from trucks without vehicle operators in late 2023 and from cars without vehicle operators in late 2024, according to regulatory filings, Aurora expects to own and operate the trucks Aurora deploys through 2024, and cars that Aurora deploys through 2025 and will transition to a “Driver as a Service” (I guess, DaaS is going to be a thing?) business model.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Bookaway, the travel tech startup, raised $46 million funding from investors Aleph, Corner Ventures and Entrée Capital.

Carmera, an HD mapping startup based in New York, has been acquired by Woven Planet Holdings. The announcement comes less than two months since Woven Planet Holdings — an entity created by Toyota to invest in, develop and eventually bring future of transportation technologies like automated driving to market — acquired Lyft’s autonomous vehicle unit known as Level 5 for $550 million. The financial terms were not disclosed.

Under terms of the deal, Carmera will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Woven Planet. Carmera will essentially become the U.S. outpost of Woven Planet’s automated mapping platform (AMP) team, which is headquartered in Tokyo. Ro Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Carmera, will report to Mandali Khalesi, who heads up AMP.

The startup’s 50-person team will maintain its offices in New York and Seattle and will eventually be integrated into Woven Planet’s 1,000-person-and-growing enterprise, according to Woven Planet CEO James Kuffner.

Colis Privé, the French parcel delivery company, has postponed its initial public offering initially planned for early July, citing unfavorable market conditions, Reuters reported.

Delihivery gained FedEx Express, a subsidiary of delivery services giant FedEx, as a backer via $100 million investment. The investment comes less than two months after the Indian startup, which is valued at $3 billion, secured $277 million ahead of an initial public offering in the coming quarters.

Heart Aerospace, the Swedish electric aviation startup, raised $35 million Series A funding round. Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, United Airlines’s venture arm and its regional airline partner Mesa Air Group led the round. Seed investors EQT Ventures and Lowercarbon Capital also participated. The company also received an an order from United and Mesa for 200 of its inaugural ES-19 electric aircraft.

LG Chem earmarked $5.2 billion over the next four years to build out its battery materials business. The investment comes as automakers and state regulators set targets to transition away from internal combustion engine vehicles, in a shift that will likely be the most transformative to the mobility industry since the invention of the car.

Lineage Logistics, a temperature-controlled industrial REIT and logistics provider, has agreed to a strategic alliance with venture capital firm 8VC to invest in and “revolutionize” the transportation and logistics technology sector. The two companies have already co-invested in several  companies over 8VC’s past three funds, including Project44, Trackonomy and Baton.

Netradyne, a startup that uses cameras and edge computing to improve commercial driver safety, raised $150 million in Series C funding led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. Existing investors Point72 Ventures and M12 also participated in the round, bringing Netradyne’s total funding to more than $197 million.

Shopmonkey, a startup that offers a cloud-based shop management software designed for the auto repair industry, raised $75 million in a Series C round led by previous investors Bessemer Venture Partners and Index Ventures, as well as additional participation from returning investors Headline and I2BF, and new investor ICONIQ Growth. The funding comes less than a year after announcing a $25 million Series B.

NoTraffic, an Israeli-based startup that has built an AI-based traffic management platform, raised $17.5 million in a Series A that it will use to support its “rapid scale” of deployments. The company says it will be expanding into dozens of U.S. cities during the second half of this year, and hopes to move into European and Asian markets, as well.

The $17.5 million Series A was led by Nielsen Ventures, a fund founded by former Uber and Dropbox executive and Balderton Capital GP, Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen and VEKTOR Partners. Leading early-stage venture capital investment firm Grove Ventures, insurance leader Menora Mivtachim Group and Meitav Dash, as well as existing investors like lool ventures, Next Gear Ventures and North First Ventures also participated. Lior Handelsman, one of the founders of Solar Edge, an energy manager system, will join the company’s board.

Bike review: VanMoof X3

Taylor Hatmaker spent quite a bit of time with the VanMoof X3 and published her review this week. As she writes, “some of the best consumer tech from the last decade, I didn’t know I needed an e-bike until I was on one, breezing down the bike lane contemplating my newfound freedom.”

Hatmaker provides a deep dive into the tech, appearance, value, rideability and other features in the bike. Check it out.

(We hope and plan to be doing more bike reviews in the future; stay tuned!)

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Welcome back to Policy Corner! It’s finally here: the European Commission released its ambitious plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and as everyone expected, a proposed ban on the sale of new internal combustion engine cars by 2035 is included.

I mentioned in last week’s Policy Corner that I was curious if it would include any mandates for EV chargers or other infrastructure to support transportation electrification, and I was pleased to see that it does. While not quite a mandate, the proposal says it wants EU countries to install public charging stations every 60 kilometers (37.3 miles) on major roads by 2025, and every 150 kilometers (93.2 miles) for hydrogen refuelling stations. The ultimate goal is to build 3.5 million new EV charging stations by 2030 and 16.3 million by 2050. Measures like these will hopefully help dissipate range anxiety, a common reason people cite for not choosing an EV today.

But hold onto your hats: the proposal still needs to be approved by all 27-member states before it can take effect. And France — where automaking is a cornerstone of the economy, thanks to OEMs like Stellantis and Renault — is reportedly pushing back against the terms. It could mean a longer battle over the specific deadlines and emissions reductions targets.

It’s an interesting question, whether a technology ban is the best path forward to achieve some end goal (in this case, lowering carbon emissions). That seems like the stick. I’ll be looking out for the honey — how legislators are going to sweeten the deal for consumers and automakers alike, so there can be as few jobs lost as possible and as many new EVs purchased.

For what it’s worth, I read an interesting post from Christian Brand, Associate Professor in the Transport Studies Unit at Oxford University, who argues that the focus on EVs is slowly down the path to zero emissions. He points out that as many as 50% of car trips are less than five kms (3.11 miles), so he suggests cities should invest in making areas more micromobility friendly to encourage more people to take up these forms of transport. Food for thought.

Speaking of carbon emissions, a new partnership between eVTOL developer Joby Aviation, aircraft carrier JetBlue Airways and Signature Flight Support to help develop a new system for carbon credits in the aviation industry. Right now, there’s no current pathway for companies like JetBlue to purchase carbon credits from green aviation companies, probably because they’re just so new.

The three companies will “define the framework for the creation, validation and eventual use of these new credits on aviation carbon markets, including identifying a third party to oversee and validate transactions,” a news release said. The companies anticipate releasing more details later this year.

This could be a very profitable development for Joby. Tesla, for example, made $518 million in revenue from the first quarter of 2021 alone from selling regulatory credits to other automakers.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

 

Let’s get right to it. Here’s what else happened this week.

Autonomous vehicles

Audi, BMW, Denso and chipmaker NXP have partnered on an international working group aimed at defining a safe automated driving system architecture for self-driving vehicles. The inaugural group, which was actually created last month but that I’m just sharing with you now, is being spearheaded by The Autonomous. Companies from the industry are invited to learn more about this cross-industry collaboration at The Autonomous Main Event on September 29, 2021.

Volkswagen laid out a plan to ramp up its software, mobility as a service and battery tech to stay competitive in the coming decades. CEO Herbert Diess said the strategy will cover everything from manufacturing to revenue streams.

Electric vehicles

Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel emissions cheating scandal, said it will double the number of its electric vehicle fast charging stations in the United States and Canada by the end of 2025. The commitment, if successful, means 1,800 fast charging stations — or 10,000 individual chargers — will be installed and operational by that time.

GM and its new EV business unit BrightDrop are launching a fleet-charging service as the automaker aims to ramp up its bet on connected and electric commercial vehicles. The service, branded Ultium Charge 360 fleet charging service offers many of the tools that a commercial delivery, sales or motor pool business might need. It also includes an effort to add home charging for drivers.

Rivian pushed back deliveries of its long-awaited R1T electric pickup truck and R1S SUV several more months due to delays in production caused by “cascading impacts of the pandemic,” particularly the ongoing global shortage of semiconductor chips, according to a letter sent to customers from CEO RJ Scaringe. The R1T deliveries will begin in September with the R1S to follow “shortly,” Scaringe wrote in the message.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration issued an alert recommending owners of Chevrolet Bolt Model Year 2017-2019 park their vehicles away from homes due to the risk of fire. Those are the same vehicles that were recalled in November 2020, due to the possibility of fire from the battery pack underneath the backseat’s cushion. The recall affected 50,932 2017-2019 Chevy Bolt vehicles.

Evtols

Mark Moore, who was most recently director of engineering at Uber Elevate until its acquisition by Joby Aviation, launched his own company called Whisper Aero. The startup is aiming to design an electric thruster it says will blend noise emitted from delivery drones and eVTOLs alike into background levels, making them nearly imperceptible to the human ear.

In-car tech

Tesla launched a monthly subscription for its Full Self-Driving subscription package for $199 per month or a cheaper $99 for those who already purchased the since discontinued Enhanced Autopilot package, according to its website.

#aurora-innovation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #electric-vehicles, #evtols, #outdoorsy, #rivian, #tesla, #the-station, #transportation, #venture-capital

SPACs keep rolling as autonomous vehicle startup Aurora targets blank-check debut with $13B valuation

Aurora Innovation, the autonomous vehicle startup that acquired Uber’s self-driving unit in December, is going public via a merger with special purpose acquisition company Reinvent Technology Partners Y.

The deal announced Thursday confirms TechCrunch’s reporting in June that the startup was in final talks with the SPAC launched by LinkedIn co-founder and investor Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus and managing partner Michael Thompson.

The combined company, which is will  be listed on Nasdaq with the ticker symbol AUR, will haven implied valuation of $13 billion.

Through the deal, Aurora is capturing $1 billion from private investors including Baillie Gifford, funds and accounts managed by Counterpoint Global (Morgan Stanley), funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., PRIMECAP Management Company, Reinvent Capital, XN, Fidelity Management and Research LLC, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Index Ventures, and Sequoia Capital, as well as strategic investments from Uber, PACCAR, and Volvo Group.

The combined company said it’s expected to have about $2.5 billion in cash at closing, including up to $977.5 million of cash held in Reinvent’s trust account from its initial public offering which closed on March 18, 2021, according to regulatory filings.

Aurora has gone from buzzy startup to publicly traded company-via-SPAC in a span of four years. The company was founded in 2017 by Sterling Anderson, Drew Bagnell and Chris Urmson, all whom have a history of working on automated vehicle technology.

In December, the company reached an agreement with Uber to buy the ride-hailing firm’s self-driving unit in a complex deal that valued the combined company at $10 billion. Under the terms of that acquisition, Aurora did not pay cash for Uber ATG, a company that was valued at $7.25 billion following a $1 billion investment in 2019 from Toyota, DENSO and SoftBank’s Vision Fund. Instead, Uber handed over its equity in ATG and invested $400 million into Aurora. Uber received a 26% stake in the combined company, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

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

Venture capital at scale

Hoffman, Pincus and Thompson have promoted a concept  that they call “venture capital at scale.” To date, SPACs have been the conduit to reach that scale. The trio have formed three SPACs, or blank-check companies.

Two of those SPACs have announced mergers with private companies. Reinvent Technology Partners announced a deal in February to merge with the electric vertical take off and landing company Joby Aviation, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange later this year. Reinvent Technology Partners Z merged with home insurance startup Hippo.

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

In many ways, the Aurora-Reinvent SPAC is a union that makes sense.

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

Hoffman and Reinvent showing up on two sides of a SPAC deal is not unprecedented. It’s not commonplace either. Urmson told TechCrunch that to avoid potential conflicts of interest Hoffman didn’t particpate in discussions

On the one hand, Reid, given his understanding and history with the company, is one of the people best suited to understand the opportunity here,” Urmson said, adding that to avoid a conflict of interest on both sides Hoffman wasn’t involved in any discussions on the Aurora or Reinveint side.

This story is developing.

#aurora-innovation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #reid-hoffman, #reinvent-technology-partners, #transportation, #uber

Netradyne raises $150M in Series C to improve commercial driver safety

Netradyne, a startup that uses cameras and edge computing to improve commercial driver safety, has scored $150 million in Series C funding. The fresh cash will help the company double down on its current product, Driveri, according to Avneesh Agrawal, CEO and co-founder.

Agrawal told TechCrunch the company is very confident in its product, which rewards good driver behavior while sending real-time notifications to drivers for bad behavior, and will now focus on expanding outside its current markets in North America and India and into Europe.

Earlier this year, Netradyne partnered with Amazon to install its hardware and software in its delivery vehicles. The tech giant has faced accusations that it puts speed and efficiency over driver safety, all the while avoiding liability for accidents by employing third-party firms. 

Other companies may not have that same morally dubious luxury, which makes Netradyne’s service all the more relevant for fleets. Commercial auto insurance rates are expected to climb 14.2% in 2021, in large part due to distracted drivers using smartphones, which has increased the number of accidents resulting in death, according to a report by insurance company Alera Group. The study also found the cost of repairing modern vehicles and medical costs continue rising at rates higher than inflation. Fleet managers looking to cut costs might be lured by promises of safer driving behavior. 

“Nuclear verdicts, in which judgements exceed $10 million, have gone up by almost 500% according to some statistics,” Agrawal told TechCrunch. “It’s becoming the biggest expense for commercial fleets, pretty much after the drivers and fuel. There are a lot of commercial insurance carriers actually going out of business, or they’re passing on the risk to the fleets.”

If Agrawal is to be believed, Netradyne’s service is very much in demand, with subscribers and annual recurring revenue increasing three times in 2020. The CEO would not share the base, but he did say Netradyne has over 1,000 customers today. 

Netradyne has an agreement with National Interstate Insurance that subsidizes the company’s product, but generally Netradyne sells to a fleet. The pitch is that the fleet should see a reduction in accidents and can then take that data to insurance companies to negotiate better claims. 

Netradyne doesn’t provide an average of how its cameras and software has made driving safer, but anecdotally, Agrawal said a couple of the companies that have used the product saw claims decrease by up to 80% in a year.

So how does it work?

Netradyne, which combines netra which means “vision” in Sanskrit and dyne which is a unit of power or force in Greek, has built a full stack system that is purely vision-based, according to Agrawal. That means cameras in simpler terms. The system comes in two form factors. The D-210, built for small-to-medium-sized vehicles is a dual-facing dashcam featuring both an inward and outward-facing camera, recording both the driver and the road. The D-410 has four HD cameras providing a 360-degree picture, which includes two side window views, and is better suited for heavy duty vehicles.

The cameras pick up anything from a driver being cut off and correctly slowing down to create space between the vehicles to a driver being distracted by texting. A device that connects to the cloud is on board the vehicle, and it’s on the edge of that device that real-time computations are done, which might result in the driver getting feedback and automated suggestions like “please slow down” or “distracted driving.” 

“Most importantly, we track the positive driving behavior because we want to change the discussion with the drivers,” said Agrawal. “Drivers are so used to being penalized, and in most cases, it’s actually after the incident has happened or based on a customer’s complaint. This is very proactive and it’s positive.” 

In the moment, rewarding behavior can look like a notification to the driver, giving them a little dopamine hit that might encourage continued good driving. Drivers are rewarded with DriverStars, an attempt to gamify commercial operations by encouraging them to rack up points. Those points may be converted to bonuses or other incentives.

“The drivers are the biggest assets for the fleet, and traditionally, if you ask the fleets, who are your worst drivers, they’ll tell you who because they are the ones who got into accidents, who customers have complained about,” said Agrawal. “If you ask them who are your safer drivers, they can’t really tell, but in our situation because we micro identify not just the drivers who haven’t gotten into accidents, but also drivers are actually being proactive with safe driving behaviour, fleets can focus on those drivers and create retention packages, give them incentives, make them into managers and leadership positions.”

Of course, there’s another upside to all this data collection on driver behavior. Agrawal says his company collects about 700 million miles per month worth of data, analyzing it to identify every potential scenario a driver can get themselves into. And it’s all being done on the edge, which is an experiment in and of itself. 

“Investing in autonomous driving is definitely a possibility, but it’s not our focus right now,” said Agrawal.

This Series C round was led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. Existing investors Point72 Ventures and M12 also participated in the round, bringing Netradyne’s total funding to over $197 million. Agrawal told TechCrunch the company aims to make $100 million in revenue by the end of the year.

#autonomous-vehicles, #computer-vision, #netradyne, #tc, #transportation

Toyota’s Woven Planet acquires HD mapping startup Carmera

Woven Planet Holdings — an entity created by Toyota to invest in, develop and eventually bring future of transportation technologies like automated driving to market — has acquired HD mapping startup Carmera for an undisclosed amount. The announcement comes less than two months since Woven Planet Holdings acquired Lyft’s autonomous vehicle unit known as Level 5 for $550 million.

It also follows another HD mapping acquisition — Nvidia’s purchase of DeepMap — that was announced in June.

Under terms of the deal, Carmera will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Woven Planet. The startup’s 50-person team will maintain its offices in New York and Seattle and will eventually be integrated into Woven Planet’s 1,000-person-and-growing enterprise, according to Woven Planet CEO James Kuffner.

Carmera will essentially become the U.S. outpost of Woven Planet’s automated mapping platform (AMP) team, which is headquartered in Tokyo. Ro Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Carmera, will report up to Mandali Khalesi who heads up AMP.

Carmera launched in 2015 with a barter type business model that uses data collected from a service it provides for free to commercial fleet operators to maintain and expand its primary mapping product. Carmera’s main and initial product is a high-definition map developed for autonomous vehicle customers like automakers, suppliers and robotaxis. Autonomous vehicle startup Voyage, which was acquired this year by Cruise, was an early Carmera customer. Baidu also used Carmera’s technology to support the open source Apollo mapping project.

The company uses data crowdsourced from its fleet-monitoring service product to keep those AV maps fresh. The fleet product is a telematics and video monitoring service used by professional fleets that want to manage risk and improve safety with their vehicles and drivers. These fleets of camera-equipped human-driven vehicles deliver new information to the autonomous map as they go about their daily business in cities.

Carmera has evolved its product lineup over time. It added a real-time events and change-management engine to its autonomous map and created a spatial data and street analytics product for cities and urban planners. Last year, Carmera launched it’s so-called Change-as-a-Service platform, a suite of products that detects changes and can be integrated into other third-party maps.

“The problem I’ve always had with some of the HD map companies is it’s nice that you have this capability, but until you can figure out how to scale it, host it and keep it updated, you’re stuck in the ‘I-have-a-neat-piece-of-software-that-someone-is-going-to-buy-from-me role,’” Mike Ramsey, VP analyst at Gartner said. “This deal solves Carmera’s scale problem.”

Carmera Toyota

Image Credits: Carmera

While Carmera is tiny in size and capital compared to Woven Planet, those following the industry might have predicted this union.

Carmera has been working with Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development, which was the impetus of Woven Planet, for three years. The startup first participated in a proof of concept project in Japan to develop camera-based automation of HD maps for urban and surface roads. The partnership expanded in 2020 to include mapping of roadways in Detroit and other roads in Michigan as well as in Japan.

“It was really easy to invest a lot into the relationship,” Gupta said reflecting on Carmera’s first partnership with Toyota in 2018. “The vision was just so similar; it’s almost eerie looking at our seed deck from five years ago and comparing it to what Woven Planet’s overall vision is and their vision for this automated mapping platform.”

Woven Planet (and by extension Toyota) already has satellite-based mapping and the massive amounts of data gleaned from its millions of vehicles on the road today. Carmera brings the dynamic mapping piece as well as its experience in the commercial fleets and safety business to Woven Planet’s portfolio.

“For me, there’s immediate near-term applications that we’ve already worked on as proofs-of-concept with Carmera, and that we haven’t yet announced, but are in the area of safety and automated driving,” Kuffner said, noting that the automaker’s new Lexus LS and Toyota Mirai models will offer an advanced driving assistance technology called Teammate that uses HP maps. “I’m really excited about that generation of products, but for fleets, absolutely. HD maps. There are a lot of applications in fleets.”

What Woven Planet is weaving

woven city prototype

Image Credits: Woven Planet/Toyota

The Lyft and now Carmera acquisitions represent a sliver of Woven Planet’s myriad of activities since its formation in January 2021 as the automaker seeks a competitive edge against established rivals and upstarts, particularly on the software front. The entity, which is based in Tokyo and a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp, includes two operating companies, a VC fund called Woven Capital and Woven City, a testing ground for new technologies set in an interconnected smart city prototype. Toyota broke ground in February 2021 at future site of Woven City, the Higashi-Fuji site in Susono City, Japan, at the base of Mount Fuji.

The two operating companies are Woven Alpha and Woven Core, formerly Toyota Research Institute — Advanced Development Inc. Woven Core includes the mapping unit and is focused on automated driving while Woven Alpha is charged with developing new concepts and projects including the prototype city.

Meanwhile, Woven Capital invests in those next-generation mobility innovations. The VC arm kicked off its new $800 million strategic fund in March 2021 by announcing an investment into autonomous delivery vehicle company Nuro. Last month, Woven Capital invested an undisclosed amount into Ridecell, a transportation software startup that has developed a platform designed to help car-sharing, ride-sharing and autonomous technology companies manage their vehicles.

 

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #carmera, #electric-vehicles, #lyft, #mapping, #nuro, #tc, #toyota, #transportation, #woven-planet

Yandex Self-Driving Group partners with Grubhub to bring robotic delivery to college campuses

Yandex Self-Driving Group, a unit of Yandex, the publicly-traded Russian tech giant, has announced a partnership with food delivery service Grubhub to be its multi-year robotic delivery provider across American college campuses. Yandex will begin operating this fall with dozens of vehicles, according to Dmitry Polishchuk, CEO of Yandex Self-Driving Group, and hopes to reach over 250 campuses.

Last September, Yandex’s self-driving unit spun out from a joint venture with Uber. In May this year, the company said it clocked a total 7 million autonomous miles, which was more than Waymo at the time. Yandex has been developing full-sized autonomous vehicle technology since 2017, which it’s tested in Tel Aviv, Israel and Ann Arbor, Michigan, as well as Innopolis, Russia via its robotaxi fleet. The company first began public deliveries on its six-wheeled, 150-pound robot, the Yandex.Rover, last April in Skolkovo, Russia, using the same self-driving technology stack as the company’s autonomous cars.

“The technology is definitely very complicated, but we can see that it has already reached the level when it can start being deployed either in form of delivery robots or robotaxi services in small towns or specific districts of big cities,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We believe that in three to four years the technology will reach the level where the car can drive as safe and as efficient as an experienced human driver in rush hour in the center of cities like Moscow or New York.”

Yandex’s approach to commercialization is unique. Of all the companies developing autonomous technology for cars, Yandex is going to market with its robots first, “and it seems to be a pretty efficient way to do it,” said the spokesperson. “It took us two years to get from the idea of making a delivery robot in June 2018 to signing such a solid commercial contract,” she said.

According to a statement by the company, Yandex.Rovers, which move at three to five miles per hour, can navigate pavements, pedestrian areas and crosswalks. They’re ideal for campus areas not accessible by car, and the service has already been fully integrated into the Grubhub app. From the user experience side of things, once the rover reaches its destination, the customer receives a push notification and comes outside to open the robot’s hatch through the app.

Yandex says its delivery robots can operate day or night, rain or snow, in controlled or uncontrolled pedestrian crossing scenarios. The rovers operate autonomously most of the time, but if they get into a complicated situation, they may send a request for remote assistance, according to a spokesperson for the company. The robots have already been tried and tested commercially in Russia via the food delivery platform Yandex.Eats and the express grocery delivery platform Yandex.Lavka.

“Together with Yandex, we’re changing the way college students experience food delivery,” said Brian Madigan, vice president of corporate and campus partners at Grubhub, in a statement. “We’re excited to offer these cost-effective, scalable and quick food ordering and delivery capabilities to colleges and universities across the country that are looking to adapt to students’ unique dining needs. While college campuses are notoriously difficult for cars to navigate, specifically as it relates to food delivery, Yandex robots easily access parts of campuses that vehicles cannot — effectively removing a major hurdle universities face when implementing new technology.”

The company said it also intends to continue developing its robotaxi service as it moves to commercialize more arms of the business and use its AV tech in a range of scenarios.

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