Beleaguered electric truck developer Nikola Corp. has inked a new agreement with Bosch for its hydrogen fuel cell modules. The modules will be used to power two of Nikola’s hydrogen-fueled semi-trucks, the short-haul Nikola Tre and Nikola Two sleeper.
“This announcement is the result of a multi-year working relationship with Bosch,” Nikola CEO Mark Russell said in a statement. “After extensive analysis of the best options out there, we are proud to enter into this strategic relationship with Bosch.”
The news is a positive sign for the relationship between the two companies, which has not always been smooth. Bosch invested at least $100 million in the hydrogen truck startup in 2019 but reduced its shares in the company the following year. Bosch also said last year it would supply fuel cells for Nikola’s European operations.
Nikola declined to share the financial terms of the deal or details regarding fuel cell system volume. Nikola will assemble the hydrogen fuel cell power modules at its facility in Coolidge, Arizona. Bosch will also supply fully assembled power modules, the company said in a statement Thursday. To support power module assembly, Nikola said it will expand the Arizona facility by 50,000 square feet and up to 50 new employees by 2023. The truck maker is also planning to expand its engineering and testing facilities at its headquarters in nearby Phoenix.
A Nikola spokesperson said the new agreement does not affect the company’s relationships with other companies for fuel cell systems and components, including a non-binding MOU with General Motors for the automaker’s Hydrotec fuel cell system that was announced in November last year.
Nikola went public via a merger with blank-check firm VectoIQ Acquisition Corp. At the beginning of this month, the company told investors that it was cutting its delivery outlook for electric semis from 50 to 100 units to just 25 to 50. However, company executives did say that it had built 14 pre-production vehicles, including five alpha and nine beta prototypes.
Meanwhile, Nikola’s former CEO and founder, Trevor Milton, promised a criminal court that he would reside at his Utah ranch until he can be tried for securities fraud and misleading investors.
The rush to back lidar companies continues as more automakers and robotaxi startups include the remote sensing method in their vehicles.
Latest to the investment boom is Hesai, a Shanghai-based lidar maker founded in 2014 with an office in Palo Alto. The company just raised over $300 million in a Series D funding round led by GL Ventures, the venture capital arm of storied private equity firm Hillhouse Capital, smartphone maker Xiaomi, on-demand services giant Meituan and CPE, the private equity platform of Citic.
Hesai said the new proceeds will be spent on mass-producing its hybrid solid-state lidar for its OEM customers, the construction of its smart manufacturing center, and research and development on automotive-grade lidar chips. The company said it has accumulated “several hundred million dollars” in funding to date.
Other participants in the round included Huatai Securities, Lightspeed China Partners and Lightspeed Venture Capital, as well as Qiming Venture Partners. Bosch, Baidu, and ON Semiconductor are also among its shareholders.
Lidar isn’t limited to powering robotaxis and passenger EVs, and that’s why Hesai got Xiaomi and Meituan onboard. Xiaomi makes hundreds of different connected devices through its manufacturing suppliers that could easily benefit from industrial automation, to which sensing technology is critical. But the phone maker also unveiled plans this year to make electric cars.
Hesai, with a staff of over 500 employees, says its clients span 70 cities across 23 countries. The company touts Nuro, Bosch, Lyft, Navya, and Chinese robotaxi operators Baidu, WeRide and AutoX among its customers. Last year, it kickstarted a partnership with Scale AI, a data labeling company, to launch an open-source data set for training autonomous driving algorithms, with data collected using Hesai’s lidar in California.
Germany technology and parts supplier Robert Bosch opened a €1 billion ($1.2 billion) chip factory in Dresden, Germany on Monday, the single largest investment in the company’s history. The plant, which will mainly supply automotive customers, is a major signal that connected and electric vehicles are here to stay.
“Regardless of which powertrain we talk about … always we need a semiconductor and sensor,” Bosch’s executive vice president of automotive electronics Jens Fabrowsky told TechCrunch.
The plant will handle front-of-the-line processing, or wafer fabrication, in the semiconductor manufacturing process. The 300-millimeter wafers will be sent to partners, typically in Asia, to do packaging and assembly of the semiconductors.
300 millimeters is a “new field of technology,” Fabrowsky explained. As opposed to the 150- or 200-millimeter wafers that are produced at Bosch’s nearby factory in Reutlingen, Germany, the larger wafer size offers greater economies of scale because you can produce more individual chips per wafer.
The 77,500-square-foot plant will run on what Bosch calls “AIoT,” a term that combines artificial intelligence and Internet of Things to denote a fully connected and data-driven system that’s unique to the facility. Bosch will not only have real-time data on the approximately 100 machines, but also on the power, water and other aspects of the facility — up to 500 pages of data per second, Fabrowsky said. The AI-driven algorithm should detect an anomaly from any of the connected sensors immediately.
Despite its high levels of automation, the plant will employ around 700 people once it is fully operational.
It is unclear whether the plant will help resolve the ongoing global semiconductor shortage, which has forced automakers like General Motors and Ford to slash production volumes and temporarily shutter manufacturing facilities.
“At the point when we decided [to build the plant] it was purely driven by technology,” Fabrowsky said. “It was clear we needed to go into 300 [millimeters], and we needed to invest in some more capacity.”
The facility will begin production in July with chips for power tools before beginning production on automotive chips in September. It generally takes over 20 weeks to make a semiconductor chip, Fabrowsky said, including 600 individual steps in the wafer facility alone.
The company will also be investing €50 million ($61 million) to extend the clean room facilities at its Reutlingen plant, Bosch board member Harald Kroeger said at a media briefing Monday.
Bosch has applied to Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy under a microelectronics investment program to subsidize expenditures for the plant of up to €200 million ($244 million). It must submit evidence of expenditures before it receives the funds, a Bosch spokesperson told TechCrunch.
As the autonomous vehicle industry in the United States marches towards consolidation, a funding spree continues to exhilarate China’s robotaxi industry. Momenta, Pony.ai, WeRide, and Didi’s autonomous vehicle arm have all raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the past year. 21-year-old search engine giant Baidu competes alongside the startups with a $1.5 billion fund launched in 2017 to help cars go driverless.
Their strategies are similar in some regards and diverge elsewhere. The biggest players have deployed small fleets of robotaxis, manned with safety drivers, onto certain urban roads and are diligently testing driverless vehicles inside pilot zones. Some companies embrace lidars to detect the cars’ surroundings while others agree with Elon Musk on a vision-only future.
The industry is still years from being truly driverless and operational at scale, so some contestants are seeking easier cases to tackle and monetize first, putting self-driving software inside buses, trucks and tractors that roam inside industrial parks.
Will investors continue to back the lofty dreams and skyrocketing valuations of China’s robotaxi leaders? And how is China’s autonomous driving race playing out differently from that in the U.S.?
We hope to find out at the upcoming TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, where we speak to three female leaders from Chinese autonomous vehicle startups that have an overseas footprint: Jewel Li from AutoX, which is backed by Chinese state-owned automakers Dongfeng Motor and SAIC Motor; Huan Sun from Momenta, which attracted Bosch, Daimler and Toyota in its $500 million round closed in March; and Jennifer Li from WeRide, of which valuation jumped to $3 billion after a financing round in May.
We can’t wait to hear from this panel! Among the growing list of speakers at this year’s event are GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investorsClara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.
Bosch executives on Thursday criticized proposed EU regulations that would ban the internal combustion engine by 2025, saying that lawmakers “shy away” from discussing the consequences of such a ban on employment.
Although the company reported it is creating jobs through its new businesses, particularly its fuel cell business, and said it was filling more than 90% of these positions internally, it also said an all- or mostly-electric transportation revolution would likely affect jobs. As a case in point, the company told reporters that ten Bosch employees are needed to build a diesel powertrain system, three for a gasoline system — but only one for an electrical powertrain.
Instead, Bosch sees a place for renewable synthetic fuels and hydrogen fuel cells alongside electrification. Renewable synthetic fuels made from hydrogen are a different technology from hydrogen fuel cells. Fuel cells use hydrogen to generate electricity, while hydrogen-derived fuels can be combusted in a modified internal combustion engine (ICE).
“An opportunity is being missed if renewable synthetic fuel derived from hydrogen and CO2 remains off-limits in road transport,” Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner said.
“Climate action is not about the end of the internal-combustion engine,” he continued. “It’s about the end of fossil fuels. And while electromobility and green charging power make road transport carbon neutral, so do renewable fuels.”
Electric solutions have limits, Denner said, particularly in powering heavy-duty vehicles. The company earlier this month established a joint venture with Chinese automaker Qingling Motors to build fuel cell powertrains in a test fleet of 70 trucks.
Bosch’s confidence in hydrogen fuel cells and synthetic fuels isn’t to the exclusion of battery-electric mobility. The company, which is one of the world’s largest suppliers of automotive and industrial components, said its electromobility business is growing by almost 40 percent, and the company projects annual sales of electrical powertrain components to increase to around €5 billion ($6 billion) by 2025, a fivefold increase.
However, the German company said it was “keeping its options open” by also investing €600 million ($721.7 million) in fuel cell powertrains in the next three years.
“Ultimately Europe won’t be able to achieve climate neutrality without a hydrogen economy,” Denner said.
Bosch has not been immune from the effects of the global semiconductor shortage, which continues to drag into 2021. Board member Stefan Asenkerschbaumer warned that there is a risk the shortage “will stifle the recovery that was forecast” for this year. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company executives told investors earlier this month that the situation may persist into 2022.
One after another, Chinese tech giants have announced their plans for the auto space over the last few months. Some internet companies, like search engine provider Baidu, decided to recruit help from a traditional carmaker to produce cars. Xiaomi, which makes its own smartphones but has stressed for years it’s a light-asset firm making money from software services, also jumped on the automaking bandwagon. Industry observers are now speculating who will be the next. Huawei naturally comes to their minds.
Huawei seems well-suited for building cars — at least more qualified than some of the pure internet firms — thanks to its history in manufacturing and supply chain management, brand recognition, and vast retail network. But the telecom equipment and smartphone maker repeatedly denied reports claiming it was launching a car brand. Instead, it says its role is to be a Tier 1 supplier for automakers or OEMs (original equipment manufacturers).
Huawei is not a carmaker, the company’s rotating chairman Eric Xu reiterated recently at the firm’s annual analyst conference in Shenzhen.
“Since 2012, I have personally engaged with the chairmen and CEOs of all major car OEMs in China as well as executives of German and Japanese automakers. During this process, I found that the automotive industry needs Huawei. It doesn’t need the Huawei brand, but instead, it needs our ICT [information and communication technology] expertise to help build future-oriented vehicles,” said Xu, who said the strategy has not changed since it was incepted in 2018.
There are three major roles in auto production: branded vehicle manufacturers like Audi, Honda, Tesla, and soon Apple; Tier 1 companies that supply car parts and systems directly to carmakers, including established ones like Bosch and Continental, and now Huawei; and lastly, chip suppliers including Nvidia, Intel and NXP, whose role is increasingly crucial as industry players make strides toward highly automated vehicles. Huawei also makes in-house car chips.
“Huawei wants to be the next-generation Bosch,” an executive from a Chinese robotaxi startup told TechCrunch, asking not to be named.
Huawei makes its position as a Tier 1 supplier unequivocal. So far it has secured three major customers: BAIC, Chang’an Automobile, and Guangzhou Automobile Group.
“We won’t have too many of these types of in-depth collaboration,” Xu assured.
Arcfox, a new electric passenger car brand under state-owned carmaker BAIC, debuted its Alpha S model quipped with Huawei’s “HI” systems, short for Huawei Inside (not unlike “Powered by Intel”), during the annual Shanghai auto show on Saturday. The electric sedan, priced between 388,900 yuan and 429,900 yuan (about $60,000 and $66,000), comes with Huawei functions including an operating system driven by Huawei’s Kirin chip, a range of apps that run on HarmonyOS, automated driving, fast charging, and cloud computing.
Perhaps most eye-catching is that Alpha S has achieved Level 4 capabilities, which Huawei confirmed with TechCrunch.
That’s a bold statement, for it means that the car will not require human intervention in most scenarios, that is, drivers can take their hands off the wheels and nap.
There are some nuances to this claim, though. In a recent interview, Su Qing, general manager for autonomous driving at Huawei, said Alpha S is L4 in terms of “experience” but L2 according to “legal” responsibilities. China has only permitted a small number of companies to test autonomous vehicles without safety drivers in restricted areas and is far from letting consumer-grade driverless cars roam urban roads.
As it turned out, Huawei’s “L4” functions were shown during a demo, during which the Arcfox car traveled for 1,000 kilometers in a busy Chinese city without human intervention, though a safety driver was present in the driving seat. Automating the car is a stack of sensors, including three lidars, six millimeter-wave radars, 13 ultrasonic radars and 12 cameras, as well as Huawei’s own chipset for automated driving.
“This would be much better than Tesla,” Xu said of the car’s capabilities.
But some argue the Huawei-powered vehicle isn’t L4 by strict definition. The debate seems to be a matter of semantics.
“Our cars you see today are already L4, but I can assure you, I dare not let the driver leave the car,” Su said. “Before you achieve really big MPI [miles per intervention] numbers, don’t even mention L4. It’s all just demos.”
“It’s not L4 if you can’t remove the safety driver,” the executive from the robotaxi company argued. “A demo can be done easily, but removing the driver is very difficult.”
“This technology that Huawei claims is different from L4 autonomous driving,” said a director working for another Chinese autonomous vehicle startup. “The current challenge for L4 is not whether it can be driverless but how to be driverless at all times.”
L4 or not, Huawei is certainly willing to splurge on the future of driving. This year, the firm is on track to spend $1 billion on smart vehicle components and tech, Xu said at the analyst event.
A 5G future
Many believe 5G will play a key role in accelerating the development of driverless vehicles. Huawei, the world’s biggest telecom equipment maker, would have a lot to reap from 5G rollouts across the globe, but Xu argued the next-gen wireless technology isn’t a necessity for self-driving vehicles.
“To make autonomous driving a reality, the vehicles themselves have to be autonomous. That means a vehicle can drive autonomously without external support,” said the executive.
“Completely relying on 5G or 5.5G for autonomous driving will inevitably cause problems. What if a 5G site goes wrong? That would raise a very high bar for mobile network operators. They would have to ensure their networks cover every corner, don’t go wrong in any circumstances and have high levels of resilience. I think that’s simply an unrealistic expectation.”
Huawei may be happy enough as a Tier 1 supplier if it ends up taking over Bosch’s market. Many Chinese companies are shifting away from Western tech suppliers towards homegrown options in anticipation of future sanctions or simply to seek cheaper alternatives that are just as robust. Arcfox is just the beginning of Huawei’s car ambitions.
Elon Musk famously said any company relying on lidar is “doomed.” Tesla instead believes automated driving functions are built on visual recognition and is even working to remove the radar. China’s Xpeng begs to differ.
Founded in 2014, Xpeng is one of China’s most celebrated electric vehicle startups and went public when it was just six years old. Like Tesla, Xpeng sees automation as an integral part of its strategy; unlike the American giant, Xpeng uses a combination of radar, cameras, high-precision maps powered by Alibaba, localization systems developed in-house, and most recently, lidar to detect and predict road conditions.
“Lidar will provide the 3D drivable space and precise depth estimation to small moving obstacles even like kids and pets, and obviously, other pedestrians and the motorbikes which are a nightmare for anybody who’s working on driving,” Xinzhou Wu, who oversees Xpeng’s autonomous driving R&D center, said in an interview with TechCrunch.
“On top of that, we have the usual radar which gives you location and speed. Then you have the camera which has very rich, basic semantic information.”
Xpeng is adding lidar to its mass-produced EV model P5, which will begin delivering in the second half of this year. The car, a family sedan, will later be able to drive from point A to B based on a navigation route set by the driver on highways and certain urban roads in China that are covered by Alibaba’s maps. An older model without lidar already enables assisted driving on highways.
The system, called Navigation Guided Pilot, is benchmarked against Tesla’s Navigate On Autopilot, said Wu. It can, for example, automatically change lanes, enter or exit ramps, overtake other vehicles, and maneuver another car’s sudden cut-in, a common sight in China’s complex road conditions.
“The city is super hard compared to the highway but with lidar and precise perception capability, we will have essentially three layers of redundancy for sensing,” said Wu.
By definition, NGP is an advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) as drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and take control at any time (Chinese laws don’t allow drivers to be hands-off on the road). The carmaker’s ambition is to remove the driver, that is, reach Level 4 autonomy two to four years from now, but real-life implementation will hinge on regulations, said Wu.
“But I’m not worried about that too much. I understand the Chinese government is actually the most flexible in terms of technology regulation.”
The lidar camp
Musk’s disdain for lidar stems from the high costs of the remote sensing method that uses lasers. In the early days, a lidar unit spinning on top of a robotaxi could cost as much as $100,000, said Wu.
“Right now, [the cost] is at least two orders low,” said Wu. After 13 years with Qualcomm in the U.S., Wu joined Xpeng in late 2018 to work on automating the company’s electric cars. He currently leads a core autonomous driving R&D team of 500 staff and said the force will double in headcount by the end of this year.
“Our next vehicle is targeting the economy class. I would say it’s mid-range in terms of price,” he said, referring to the firm’s new lidar-powered sedan.
The lidar sensors powering Xpeng come from Livox, a firm touting more affordable lidar and an affiliate of DJI, the Shenzhen-based drone giant. Xpeng’s headquarters is in the adjacent city of Guangzhou about 1.5 hours’ drive away.
Xpeng isn’t the only one embracing lidar. Nio, a Chinese rival to Xpeng targeting a more premium market, unveiled a lidar-powered car in January but the model won’t start production until 2022. Arcfox, a new EV brand of Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC, recently said it would be launching an electric car equipped with Huawei’s lidar.
Musk recently hinted that Tesla may remove radar from production outright as it inches closer to pure vision based on camera and machine learning. The billionaire founder isn’t particularly a fan of Xpeng, which he alleged owned a copy of Tesla’s old source code.
In 2019, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Cao Guangzhi alleging that the former Tesla engineer stole trade secrets and brought them to Xpeng. XPeng has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Cao no longer works at Xpeng.
While Livox claims to be an independent entity “incubated” by DJI, a source told TechCrunch previously that it is just a “team within DJI” positioned as a separate company. The intention to distance from DJI comes as no one’s surprise as the drone maker is on the U.S. government’s Entity List, which has cut key suppliers off from a multitude of Chinese tech firms including Huawei.
Other critical parts that Xpeng uses include NVIDIA’s Xavier system-on-the-chip computing platform and Bosch’s iBooster brake system. Globally, the ongoing semiconductor shortage is pushing auto executives to ponder over future scenarios where self-driving cars become even more dependent on chips.
Xpeng is well aware of supply chain risks. “Basically, safety is very important,” said Wu. “It’s more than the tension between countries around the world right now. Covid-19 is also creating a lot of issues for some of the suppliers, so having redundancy in the suppliers is some strategy we are looking very closely at.”
Xpeng could have easily tapped the flurry of autonomous driving solution providers in China, including Pony.ai and WeRide in its backyard Guangzhou. Instead, Xpeng becomes their competitor, working on automation in-house and pledges to outrival the artificial intelligence startups.
“The availability of massive computing for cars at affordable costs and the fast dropping price of lidar is making the two camps really the same,” Wu said of the dynamics between EV makers and robotaxi startups.
“[The robotaxi companies] have to work very hard to find a path to a mass-production vehicle. If they don’t do that, two years from now, they will find the technology is already available in mass production and their value become will become much less than today’s,” he added.
“We know how to mass-produce a technology up to the safety requirement and the quarantine required of the auto industry. This is a super high bar for anybody wanting to survive.”
Xpeng has no plans of going visual-only. Options of automotive technologies like lidar are becoming cheaper and more abundant, so “why do we have to bind our hands right now and say camera only?” Wu asked.
“We have a lot of respect for Elon and his company. We wish them all the best. But we will, as Xiaopeng [founder of Xpeng] said in one of his famous speeches, compete in China and hopefully in the rest of the world as well with different technologies.”
5G, coupled with cloud computing and cabin intelligence, will accelerate Xpeng’s path to achieve full automation, though Wu couldn’t share much detail on how 5G is used. When unmanned driving is viable, Xpeng will explore “a lot of exciting features” that go into a car when the driver’s hands are freed. Xpeng’s electric SUV is already available in Norway, and the company is looking to further expand globally.
The Israeli startup Redefine Meat, which has developed a manufacturing process to make plant-based proteins that more closely resemble choice cuts of beef than the current crop of hamburger-adjacent offerings, has gotten a big vote of confidence from the investment arm of one of Asia’s premier food brands.
The company has raised $29 million in financing from Happiness Capital, the investment arm backed by the family fortunes of Hong Kong’s Lee Kum Kee condiment dynasty, and Hanaco Ventures, an investment firm backing startups in New York and Israel.
Investors have stampeded into the plant-based food industry, spurred by the rising fortunes of companies like Beyond Meat, which has inked partnerships with everyone from Pepsico to McDonald’s, and Impossible Foods, which counts Burger King among the brands boosting its plant-based faux meat.
While these companies have perfected plant patties that can delight the taste buds, the prospect of carving up a big honkin cut of pea protein in the form of a ribeye, sirloin or rump steak, has been a technical hurdle these companies have yet to overcome in a commercial offering.
Redefine Meat thinks its manufacturing processes have cracked the code on the formulation of plant-based steak.
They’re not the only ones. In Barcelona, a startup called Novameat raised roughly $300,000 earlier this year for its own take on plant-based steak. That company raised its money from the NEOTEC Program of the Spanish Center for Industrial Technological Development.
Both companies are using 3-D printing technologies to make meat substitutes that mimic the taste and texture of steaks, rather than trying to approximate the patties, meatballs, and ground meat that companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible have taken to market.
Backing Redefine’s path to market are a host of other investors including Losa Group, Sake Bosch, and K3 Ventures.
The company said it would use the new funding to expand its portfolio and support the commercial launch of its products. Redefine aims to have a large-scale production facility for its 3-D printers online before the end of the year, the company said in a statement.
In January, Redefine Meat announced a strategic agreement with the Israeli distributor Best Meister and the company has been expanding its staff with a current headcount of roughly 40 employees.
“We want to change the belief that delicious meat can only come from animals, and we have all the building blocks in place to make this a reality: high-quality meat products, strategic partnerships with stakeholders across the world, a large-scale pilot line under construction, and the first-ever industrial 3D Alt-Meat printers set to be deployed within meat distributors later this year,” said Eschar Ben-Shitrit, the company’s chief executive, in a statement.
Mitigating the effects of climate change and pollution is a global problem, but it’s one that requires local solutions.
While that seems like common sense, most communities around the world don’t have tools that can monitor emissions and pollutants at the granular levels they need to develop plans that can address these pollutants.
Aclima, a decade-old startup founded by Davida Herzl, is looking to solve that problem and has raised $40 million in new funding from strategic and institutional venture capital investors to accelerate its growth.
“We’ve built a platform that enables hyperlocal measurement. We measure all the greenhouse gases as well as regulated air pollutants. We deploy sensor networks that combine mobile sensing where we use fleets of vehicles as a roving network. And we bring that all together and bring that into a back end,” Herzl said.
The networks of air quality monitoring technology that exists — and is subsidized by the government — is costly and lacking in the kinds of minute details on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis that communities can use to effectively address pollution problems.
“A typical air quality monitoring station would cost somewhere between $1 million to $2 million. Here in the Bay Area, the regulator is paying less than $3 million for access to all of this for the entire Bay Area,” Herzl said.
Aclima’s technologies are already being deployed across California, and some of the company’s largest customers are municipalities in the Bay Area and down south in San Diego.
Image Credits: Getty Images under a license.
The company has two main offerings: an enterprise professional software product that’s geared toward regulators, experts, and businesses that want to get a handle on their greenhouse gas emissions and environmentally polluting operations and a free tool that’s available to the public.
A third revenue stream is through partnerships with companies like Google, which have attached Aclima’s sensors to its roving mapping vehicles to capture climate and environmental quality data alongside geographic information.
“You’re seeing a lot of large companies in traditionally who are now investing significant amount into really trying to understand their emissions profile and prioritize emission reductions in a data driven way,” Herzl said.
The company’s data is also providing real world tools to communities that are looking to address systemic inequalities in locations that have been hardest hit by industrial pollution.
West Oakland, for instance, has used Aclima’s data to develop community intervention plans to reduce pollution in the communities that have been most impacted by the regions industrial economy.
“The interconnected crises of climate change, public health and environmental justice urgently require lasting solutions,” said Herzl, in a statement. “Measurement will play a key role in shaping solutions and tracking progress. With this coalition of investors, we’re expanding our capacity to support new and existing customers and partners taking bold climate action.”
As a result of the new round of funding, led by Clearvision Ventures, the fund’s founder and managing partner, Dan Ahn will take a seat on the board of directors.
Photo: Greg Epperson/Getty Images
“They are the clear category leader in an important and emerging field of data and standards at the intersection of climate, public health and the economy,” Ahn said in a statement. “Both governments and industry will need Aclima’s critical data and analytics to benchmark and accelerate progress to reduce emissions.”
Other investors in Aclima’s latest round include the corporate investment arm of the sensor manufacturer Robert Bosch, which views the company as a strategic component of its efforts to use sensor data to combat climate change.
“Aclima has built an expansive mobile and stationary sensor network that generates billions of measurements about our most critical resources every week,” says Dr. Ingo Ramesohl, Managing Director of RBVC, in a statement. “Bosch invents and delivers connected solutions for a smarter future across transportation, home, industrial, and many other fields. What Aclima has achieved in connected environmental sensing is an impressive feat. Together, we can accelerate Aclima’s ability to support customers in taking decisive and data-driven climate action.”
“We established our Climate Innovation Fund earlier this year to accelerate the development of environmental sustainability solutions based on the best available science,” said Brandon Middaugh, Director, Climate Innovation Fund, Microsoft, in a statement. “We’re encouraged by Aclima’s pioneering approach to mapping air pollution sources and exposures at a hyperlocal level and the implications this technology can have for making data-driven environmental decisions with consideration for climate equity.”
Ford, Bosch and Bedrock Technologies today announced an automated valet parking demonstration in downtown Detroit. This system is designed to allow drivers to exit a vehicle and the vehicle would park itself in the parking structure.
Systems in a Ford Escape test vehicle communicate with Bosch sensors to locate an empty parking location and move the vehicle into the spot. This system includes safeguards that allows the vehicle to react and respond to objects and pedestrians in the drive path. The vehicle-to-infrastructure communication platform can be deployed via original construction or retrofitted solutions.
Bosch has been building similar systems for several years. The technology company partnered with Daimler in 2017 to build an automated valet system for the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. In 2019 the two companies received approval from German regulators to run the automated driverless parking function without a human safety driver behind the wheel. This made the system the world’s first fully automated driverless SAE Level 4 parking function to be officially approved for everyday use.
The demonstration announced today is located in Assembly Garage, a parking structure in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood near the Ford-owned Michigan Central Station. The highly controlled demonstration will be on display through the end of September and available for viewing through scheduled tours.
According to the partnership, an automated valet system can accommodate up to 20% more vehicles, along with eventually offering additional services such as charging, refueling, or going through a car wash.
This partnership is located in a 40-mile corridor between downtown Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan that will is dedicated to developing systems for autonomous vehicles. To be built by Cavnue and a list of automotive partners, the company envisions numerous corridors designed for autonomous shuttles and buses, as well as trucks and personal vehicles.
Cavnue is joined by partners Ford, GM, Argo AI, Arrival, BMW, Honda, Toyota, TuSimple and Waymo on standards to develop the physical and digital infrastructure needed to move connected and autonomous cars out of pilot projects and onto America’s highways, freeways, interstates and city streets.
Today’s automated valet announcement was praised by the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan with Detroit’s Mayor and the state’s Lt. Governor joining representatives from Ford, Bosch and Bedrock in announcing the development.
After building a similar system with Daimler, Bosch’s partnership with Ford speaks to the lowering cost of entry to the technology. Ford’s demonstration today used a compact SUV with an average price of around $25,000. Daimler’s early systems relied on Mercedes-Benz vehicles costing over $100,000.
Ford CTO Ken Washington says the company is not ready to announce when the valet technology will hit production vehicles. He said today automated valet parking is on the company’s roadmap and the company has heard “loud and clear” that parking is a real pain point.
BMW Group and Mercedes-Benz AG have punted on what was meant to be a long term collaboration to develop next-generation automated driving technology together, less than a year after announcing the agreement.
The German automakers called the break up “mutual and amicable” and have each agreed to concentrate on their existing development paths. Those new paths may include working with new or current partners. The two companies also emphasized that cooperation may be resumed at a later date.
The partnership, which was announced in July 2019, was never meant to be exclusive. Instead, it reflected the increasingly common approach among legacy manufacturers to form loose development agreements in an aim to share the capitally intensive work of developing, testing and validating automated driving technology.
The two companies did have some lofty goals. The partnership aimed to develop driver assistance systems, highly automated driving on highways, and automated parking and launch those technology in series vehicles scheduled for 2024.
It seems that the perceived benefits of working together were overshadowed by reality: creating a shared technology platform was a more complex and expensive task than expected, according to comments from the companies. BMW and Mercedes-Benz AG said they were unable to hold detailed expert discussions and talk to suppliers about technology roadmaps until the contract was signed last year.
“In these talks — and after extensive review — both sides concluded that, in view of the expense involved in creating a shared technology platform, as well as current business and economic conditions, the timing is not right for successful implementation of the cooperation,” the companies said.
BMW and Mercedes have other projects and partners. BMW, for instance, is part of a collaboration with Intel, Mobileye, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ansys. Daimler and Bosch launched a robotaxi pilot project in San Jose last year.
Meanwhile, both companies are still working together in other areas. Five years, BMW and Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, joined Audi AG to acquire location and technology platform HERE. That ownership consortium has since grown to include more companies.
And last year, BMW Group and Daimler AG also pooled their mobility services in a joint venture under the umbrella of the NOW family.
Separately, BMW said Friday it will cut 6,000 jobs in an agreement reached with the German Works Council. The cuts, prompted by sluggish sales caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, will be reportedly accomplished through early retirement, non-renewal of temporary contracts, ending redundant positions and not filling vacant positions, Marketwatch reported.
Quantum computing startup IonQ today announced that it has raised additional funding as part of its previously announced Series B round. This round extends the company’s funding, including its 2019 $55 million Series B round, by about $7 million and brings the total investment into IonQ to $84 million.
The new funding includes strategic investments from Lockheed Martin and Robert Bosch Venture Capital, as well as Cambium, a relatively new multi-stage VC firm that specializes in investing “in the future of computational paradigms.”
In addition to the new funding, College Park, Maryland-based IonQ also announced a number of additions to its advisory team, including 2012 Nobel Prize winner David Wineland, who worked with IonQ co-founder and chief scientist Christopher Monroe on building the first quantum logic gate back in 1995.
Other new advisors are Berkeley Quantum Computation Center co-director Umesh Vazirani, former Cray senior VP of R&D Margaret (Peg) Williams, and Duke associate professor Kenneth Brown.
Image Credits: IonQ /
IonQ made an early bet on trapped ions at the core of its quantum computers, which is no surprise, given Monroe’s early work in this field.
“We’re doing something which, at least initially, was thought of as kind of against the grain for quantum And what that is is trapped ion computers, which is ions which are being suspended in a vacuum and using electromagnets to hold them. So our cubits are our individual ions,” said IonQ CEO and president Peter Chapman, who was Amazon’s director of engineering for Amazon Prime before he took this new role last year. This approach has its pros and cons, Chapman explained. It makes it easier for the company to create its qubits, for example, which lets it focus on controlling them. In addition, IonQ’s machines can run at room temperature, while most of its competitors (with maybe the exception of Honeywell, which is also betting trapped ions at the core of its quantum computer) have to cool their machines to as close to zero Kelvin as possible.
One negative — at least for the time being, though — is that the trapped ion technique makes for a relatively slow quantum computer. But Chapman mostly dismissed the critique. “People say that the trapped ion computers are slow and that is true in the current generation. But slow is relative here. We run a thousand times slower or something. But at the end of the day, speed is one of those things that matters when you have two systems which can do the same thing. Then you care about the speed. If only one of the two systems can do your calculation, then it probably doesn’t matter.”
Image Credits: IonQ /
Like so many other quantum computing startups, IonQ is still mostly in its research and development phase and doesn’t currently have any revenue. That will change, though, Chapman noted, once Amazon and Microsoft start making its systems available in their clouds (something both vendors have already announced).
Until then, the new funding will go almost exclusively into R&D and Chapman noted that the team is currently working on the next three generations of its systems already.
Both Lockheed Martin and Bosch have made a number of investments in various quantum technologies and Chapman noted that Lockheed actually provided the initial grand money for IonQ co-founder Chris Monroe’s research during his time at the University of Maryland.