Driverless car appears to flee the scene after being pulled over by cops

Cruise's driverless Bolt EVs are a common sight in San Francisco.

Enlarge / Cruise’s driverless Bolt EVs are a common sight in San Francisco. (credit: Cruise)

A video showing a driverless car being stopped by the police and then attempting to drive away went viral over the weekend. San Francisco police stopped one of Cruise’s autonomous Chevrolet Bolt EVs, likely because the car’s headlights were not on despite it being night. In the video, first posted to Instagram on April 2, an officer can be heard saying, “There’s nobody in it.”

But a few seconds later, after the officer walks back to his police car, the autonomous vehicle—perhaps deciding that the traffic stop was over—tries to drive away before pulling over to a stop a few hundred feet away.

Cruise says that the car wasn’t trying to make a run for it. The vehicle first yielded to the police vehicle, then pulled over to a safe spot for the actual traffic stop, the company says. One of the police officers contacted Cruise to inform it of the situation, and the driverless car did not receive a ticket. Cruise says it has fixed whatever caused the car to drive without its headlights at night.

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#autonomous-vehicle, #cars, #cruise, #police, #san-francisco

GM seeks US approval to put driverless Cruise Origin into commercial service

The Cruise Origin driverless car has a boxy, rectangular shape.

Enlarge / The Cruise Origin. (credit: Cruise)

GM’s Cruise subsidiary has petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for permission to put the driverless Cruise Origin into commercial service. Cruise announced the filing of its petition for approval on Friday, saying the car is “a zero-emission, shared, electric vehicle that has been purposefully designed from the ground up to operate without a human driver. This means it does not rely on certain human-centered features, like a steering wheel or a sun visor, to operate safely.”

Cruise said its petition, filed together with parent company GM, “demonstrates how the Origin achieves safety objectives of existing standards and helps enable future AV [autonomous vehicle] regulations.” The vehicles will be manufactured at GM’s “Factory ZERO” in Michigan, Cruise’s announcement said. “Production is expected to begin in late 2022 in Detroit at a GM factory with vehicles delivered in 2023, Cruise said Friday,” according to Reuters.

The Cruise Origin interior.

The Cruise Origin interior. (credit: Cruise)

US law allows companies to seek temporary exemptions from safety rules to deploy up to 2,500 vehicles. GM previously sought an exemption for an earlier design based on the Chevy Bolt; the NHTSA took public comment on the request for an exemption in early 2019, and GM withdrew the petition in 2020.

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#cars, #cruise, #driverless-cars, #gm, #self-driving

California DMV gives Cruise and Waymo OK to charge for rides

A Cruise robotaxi test vehicle in San Francisco.

Enlarge / A Cruise robotaxi test vehicle in San Francisco. (credit: Cruise)

The autonomous vehicle developers Cruise and Waymo both got a little closer to running true driverless robotaxi services in and around San Francisco. In May, both Waymo and Cruise applied to the California Department of Motor Vehicles for deployment permits (as opposed to the testing permits that have allowed non-commercial operations). On Thursday, the DMV issued autonomous deployment permits to both companies, which is a necessary step if the robotaxis are to charge passengers for their rides.

San Franciscans might have to be night owls to catch a Cruise; the DMV’s authorization gives Cruise permission to operate on surface streets within a geofenced area of San Francisco between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am. Cruise’s autonomous vehicles are allowed to operate in light rain and light fog, but they aren’t allowed to exceed 30 mph (48 km/h).

Waymo is allowed to operate over a wider area; the DMV’s authorization is “within parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties.” These robotaxis are also trusted to cope with light rain and light fog and are approved for speeds of up to 65 mph (105 km/h).

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#autonomous-vehicles, #biz-it, #california, #california-dmv, #california-public-utilities-commission, #cars, #cruise, #robotaxis, #waymo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Grail raises $2.7M seed fund to create modular carbon capture devices

The founders of Holy Grail, a two-year old startup based in Cupertino, California, are taking a micro approach to solving the outsized problem of capturing carbon.

The startup is prototyping a direct air carbon capture device that it is modular and small — a departure from the dozens of projects in the U.S. and abroad that aim to capture CO2 from large, centralized emitters, like power plants or industrial facilities. Holy Grail co-founder Nuno Pereira told TechCrunch that this approach will reduce costs and eliminate the need for permits or project financing.

While Holy Grail has a long development and testing phase ahead, the idea has captured the attention and capital from well-known investors and Silicon Valley founders. Holy Grail recently raised raised $2.7 million in seed funding from LowerCarbon Capital, Goat Capital, Stripe founder Patrick Collison, Charlie Songhurst, Cruise co-founder Kyle Vogt, Songkick co-founder Ian Hogarth, Starlight Ventures and 35 Ventures. Existing investors Deep Science Ventures, Y Combinator and Oliver Cameron, who co-founded Voyage, the autonomous vehicle acquired by Cruise, also participated.

The carbon capture device is still in the prototype stage, Pereira said, with many specifics – such as the anticipated size of the end product and how long it will likely function – still to be worked out. Cost-effectively separating CO2 from the air is an extremely difficult problem to solve. The company is in the process of filing patents for the technology, so he declined to be too specific about many characteristics of the device, including what it will be made out of. But he did stress that the company is taking a fundamentally different technical approach to carbon capture.

“The current technologies, they are very complex. They are basically either [using] temperature or pressure [to capture carbon],” he said. “There is a lot of things that go into it, compressors, calciners and all these things.” Pereira said the company will instead use electricity to control a chemical reaction that bind to the CO2. He added that Holy Grail’s devices are not dependent on scale to achieve cost reductions, either. And they will be modular, so they can be stacked or configured depending on a customer’s requirements.

The scrubbers, as Pereira calls them, will focus on raw capture of CO2 rather than conversion (converting the CO2 into fuels, for example). Pereira instead explained – with a heavy caveat that much about the end product still needs to be figured out – that once a Holy Grail unit is full, it could be collected by the company, though where the carbon will end up is still an open question.

The company will start by selling carbon credits, using its devices as the carbon reducing project. The end goal is selling the scrubbers to commercial customers and eventually even individual consumers. That’s right: Holy Grail wants you to have your own carbon capture device, possibly even right in your backyard. But the company still likely has a long road ahead of it.

“We’re essentially shifting the scaling factor from building a very large mega-ton plant and having the project management and all that stuff to building scrubbers in an assembly line, like a consumer product to be manufactured.”

Pereira said many approaches will be needed to tackle the mammoth problem of reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. “The problem is just too big,” he said.

#carbon-capture, #climate-change, #climate-tech, #cruise, #funding, #greentech, #kyle-vogt, #lowercarbon-capital, #private-equity, #science, #seed-funding, #startups, #venture-capital, #voyage

The Station: Waymo nabs more capital, Cruise taps a $5B credit line and hints about Argo’s future

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

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

A few Extra Crunch items highlight before we jump into things. This week, we published an interview with Refraction AI co-founder and CTO Matthew Johnson-Roberson as part of an ongoing series focused on transportation founders. TechCrunch has been following autonomous delivery startup since it came out of stealth on our stage in 2019. Refraction, which built its vehicle to travel in bike lanes up to 15 miles per hour, has been testing in AnnArbor, Michigan. Now, it’s expanding to Austin. Our interview with Johnson-Roberson reveals the premise behind the company, what prompted him to step down as CEO and some of the challenges in the industry. The twist with this series? We plan to check in on every founder we interview a year after their Q&A is published.

Later this month, we’ll feature an interview with Candice Xie, the CEO and co-founder of Veo.

Finally, we have a fresh round of recaps from the TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event held June 9. Each recap provides a rundown of the conversation as well as some key quotes from our panelists. The recaps also include the video of the session.

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.

Deal of the week

money the station

Taking autonomous vehicle technology from the “lab,” — ok, from the closed track — to commercial scale is a pricey endeavor. Not every AV developer has success raising money or access to debt. Waymo does.

The company has raised another $2.5 billion in external funding about 15 months after its first external round brought in $2.25 billion. (That round was later expanded by $700 million a few months later.) The round appears to be mostly existing investors including parent company Alphabet, Andreessen Horowitz, AutoNation, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Magna International, Mubadala Investment Company, Perry Creek Capital, Silver Lake, funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., Temasek. Tiger Global was the investor newcomer.

The funding announcement comes a few months after CEO John Krafcik left the company after five years in the position. The CEO position is now being held jointly by Tekedra Mawakana, former COO, and Dmitri Dolgov, who joined the original self-driving project at Google and was CTO.

More than $2 billion is a hefty haul. Although numerous folks,  some of whom are in the financial sector, reached out to me to share reactions of surprise that it wasn’t larger. I’m more interested in how that money is being put to work. Waymo has now brought in nearly $6 billion in outside investment since March 2020.

Other deals that my attention …

Bringg, a software developer focused on helping retailers with last-mile logistics, raised $100 million in a Series E round of funding led by Insight Partners. Salesforce Ventures, Viola Growth, Next 47, Pereg Ventures, Harlap, GLP and Cambridge Capital — all previous backers — also invested. Bringg CEO Guy Bloch told TechCrunch that the funding will be used both to continue growing Bringg’s customer base, but also the company’s ca

CAI International, the tansportation finance and logistics company,  agreed to a $1.1 billion takeover by Mitsubishi HC Capital. This is an all-stock deal that is comprised of $104 million worth of preferred stock and $986 million of common stock equity value, Reuters reported.

Cambridge Mobile Telematics, a mobile telematics and analytics, has acquired TrueMotion. The company didn’t disclose the terms. CMT will now provide telematics services to 21 out of the 25 largest auto insurers in the United States, and across more than 20 countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, South Africa, Japan and Australia.

Cruise, the self-driving subsidiary of GM, secured a $5 billion line of credit from the automaker’s financial arm to pay for hundreds of purpose-built electric and autonomous Origin vehicles as they start to roll off the assembly line. The access to the credit provided by GM Financial will push Cruise’s “total war chest” to more than $10 billion as it prepares for commercialization, CEO Dan Ammann wrote in a blog post. In short: the credit will be used to buy these Cruise Origins from GM, which is assembling the autonomous vehicles at its renamed and renovated Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant. The factory is now called Factory ZERO.

Electriphi, a battery management and fleet monitoring software startup based in San Francisco, was acquired by Ford. The acquisition, the terms of which neither party would disclose, aims to round out Ford’s future EV commercial business. The automaker already has two electric commercial vehicles in pipeline, the  E-transit cargo and F-150 Lighting Pro pickup truck. Ford is betting that the software developed by the three-year-old San Francisco startup will help it capture more than $1 billion in revenue just from charging by 2030.

Gopuff, the on-demand goods, food and alcohol delivery service, acquired fleet management platform rideOS for $115 million, sources familiar with the deal told TechCrunch. This acquisition comes just a few months after the Philadelphia-based startup announced a $1.15 billion funding round at a $8.9 billion valuation, up from $3.9 billion in October. Last fall, the company also raised $380 million and bought BevMo, a beverage retailer. Gopuff did not share its updated valuation with this new acquisition.

KeepTruckin, a hardware and software developer that helps trucking fleets manage vehicle, cargo and driver safety, raised $190 million in a Series E funding round, which puts the company’s valuation at over $2 billion, according to CEO Shoaib Makani. G2 Venture Partners, which just raised a $500 million fund to help modernize existing industries, participated in the round, alongside existing backers Greenoaks Capital, Index Ventures, IVP and Scale Venture Partners and funds managed by BlackRock.

Kodiak Robotics, the Silicon Valley-based startup developing autonomous trucks, has a new investor. Tire-making giant Bridgestone has taken a minority stake in the AV startup as part of a broader partnership to test and develop smart tire technology. While the terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, Kodiak Robotics co-founder and CEO Don Burnette told TechCrunch that this is a direct financial investment. Bridgestone CTO Nizar Trigui has also joined the Kodiak board as an observer. The two companies also formed a strategic partnership focused on advancing Bridgestone’s tire tech and fleet management system.

MachineMetrics, a data startup focused on manufacturing, raised $20 million in Series B round led by industrial automation and robotics Teradyne. Ridgeline Ventures also participated along with existing investors Tola Capital and Hyperplane.

Mister Car Wash, a car wash company owned by Leonard Green & Partners and based in my hometown, has set the terms for its initial public offering. The company said in a regulatory filing that it will issue 37.5 million with the expectation of a per share price between $15 and $17.

Motorway, a U.K. startup that allows professional car dealers to bid in an auction for privately owned cars for sale, raised £48 million ($67.7 million) in a Series B round led by Index Ventures, along with new investors BMW iVentures and Unbound. Existing investors Latitude and Marchmont Ventures also participated. The funding will be used to extend its platform and grow the current 160-strong team.

PayCargo, the Freight payment platform company, raised $125 million in a Series B round led by Insight Partners.

Solid Power, a solid-state battery developer backed by Ford and BMW, locked in a deal to merge with special purpose acquisition company Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corp III, at a post-deal implied market valuation of $1.2 billion. The transaction is expected to generate around $600 million in cash, including a $165 million private investment in public equity (PIPE) transaction from investors Koch Strategic Platforms, Riverstone Energy Limited, Neuberger Berman and Van Eck Associates Corporation.

Vertical Aerospace is yet another electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft startup to take the SPAC path to the public markets. The UK-based eVTOL developer, which is backed by American Airlines, Avolon, Honeywell, Rolls-Royce and Microsoft’s M12, has agreed to merge with special purposed acquisition company Broadstone Acquisition Corp., at an implied $2.2 billion valuation.

Woven Capital made an undisclosed investment in Ridecell, a platform powering digital transformations and IoT automation for fleet-driven businesses. Woven Capital is an $800 million global investment fund that supports innovative, growth-stage companies in mobility, automation, artificial intelligence, data and analytics, connectivity, and smart cities. It is the investment arm of the Woven Planet Group, a Toyota subsidiary which is dedicated to building the safest mobility in the world. Along with the investment, Ridecell and the Woven Planet Group will explore collaborative opportunities in mobility service operations.

Hints at Argo’s future

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You might have noticed under “deal of the week” that Ford acquired a fleet management and charging monitor software company called Electriphi. When the deal was announced, I found myself wondering aloud if the software would be used by the company for its eventual commercial fleet of robotaxis? And that got me thinking about Argo AI, the startup developing the self-driving system for backers Ford and VW.

I was pointed to some comments made Ford CEO Jim Farley, which suggests that maybe Argo will play a larger role in commercial operations than expected. Farley was asked during the Deutsche Bank’s Global Auto Industry Conference what he thought about the convergence between what Argo will be offering and I guess Ford in terms of business model?

Farley’s response: “Well, that’s a good question. I think Argo has proven to be very adaptive business, not just the technology. My personal opinion is that I think they deserve the opportunity to be a one-stop shop company and that they will take on more of the go-to-market responsibilities for our AV effort.”

Policy corner

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Welcome to Policy Corner. It’s a (relatively) short one this week folks. As a reminder, if there’s any policy or regulatory news (or tips!) that you think merits inclusion in the Corner, send me an email at aria.techcrunch@gmail.com.

Autonomous vehicle developers Nuro and Cruise, along with three other entities, have formed a new coalition to support a California bill that would require AVs to be zero emission by 2030. TechCrunch’s Rebecca Bellan was the first to cover the bill back in March. Notably absent from this coalition are Argo AI, which has Ford and VW has backers and customers, as well several other legacy automakers. John Davis, chief engineer at Ford Autonomous Vehicles, told Bellan back in March that the computing demands of an AV platform means that it may make more sense to transition first to a hybrid model before going full EV.

For Cruise’s part, it makes sense that they’d want to ratchet up their support of the bill, especially after news broke that earlier this week they’d taken out a $5 billion line of credit to ramp up production of their electric Cruise Origin AV.


EV proponents are fired up about the possibility of taxing EVs as one way to fund the massive infrastructure investments that are currently being debated in Washington. The proposal is being mulled by legislators as they continue to negotiate the infrastructure package. Joe Britton, the Executive Director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association, called the tax proposal “the brainchild of those who want to unfairly punish EV drivers and hinder clean vehicle deployment.”

It seems that an EV tax could be the sacrificial lamb that some legislators are looking for, but it is important to note — as ZETA does — that battery electric vehicles are still only around 1% of the cars on the road.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

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Here are a few more final items to wrap up The Station.

Autonomous vehicles

Pony.ai, the robotaxi startup that operates in China and the United States, has started testing driverless vehicles on public roads in California ahead of plans to launch a commercial service there in 2022. The company said the driverless vehicle testing, which means the autonomous vehicles operate without human safety drivers behind the wheel, is happening daily on public roads in Fremont and Milpitas, California. Pony.ai is also testing its driverless vehicles in Guangzhou, China. Pony.ai said it also plans to resume a rideshare service to the public in Irvine this summer using AVs with a human safety driver. Its goal is to roll out the fully driverless service to the public in 2022.

EVs and hydrogen

Canoo, the electric vehicle startup that recently became a publicly traded company through a merger with a SPAC, made a number of announcements during its investor day event. First on the list was news that the company plans to build a factory in Oklahoma that will employ up to 2,000 workers. The factory will be located on a 400-acre site in the MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor, Oklahoma about 45 minutes from Tulsa. The facility, which the company describes as a “mega microfactory” will include a paint shop, body shop and general assembly plant and is expected to open in 2023.

Canoo also laid out its plans for automated driving, which I haven’t heard much about until now. The details were thin, but Canoo is planning to have its vehicles equipped with “Level 2” advanced driver assistance system, which means two primary functions — like adaptive cruise and lane keeping — are automated and still have a human driver in the loop at all times. From there, it seems the company is taking the Tesla approach and believes it can reach Level 4 autonomy through software improvements. To be clearm, Tesla is nowhere near Level 4 autonomy, which means the vehicle ccan handle all driving without the driver in the loop in certain geographic areas or conditiions. Here is the Canoo CTO’s comments about this.

We’ve got an ADAS system ready for launch at Level 2, with all of the basic features, but we’ve got an OTA system — over the air upgradability — so as we continue to refine and mature and validate additional features in ADAS, we’re going to be able to upgrade over time and with our ADAS compute platform, along with the sensor suite we believe will ultimately get us to around Level 4.

Finally, the company also detailed some of the features that may be on its app, including a one-stop shop functionality that customers could use for their Canoo vehicles — and all their other cars, as well. This unusual approach to its branded vehicle app could potentially pay off big-time for Canoo in terms of user data and revenue via sales on services like tire replacements and insurance.

Lordstown Motors is digging itself deeper into a hole it seems. The company’s CEO and CFO resigned following a less than stellar first quarter results in May, including news that production volumes would likely be half — from around 2,200 vehicles to just 1,000 — should the company not identify more funding. But wait. What is this?

The following day, hope was restored when interim CEO Angela Strand and President Rich Schmidt made a series of statements  at an Automotive Press Association event that drove up shares in the company, including that it has enough “binding orders” from customers to fund limited production of its electric pickup truck through May 2022. Ah but hold tight because the next day Lordstown issued a regulatory filing that reversed those claims.

It appears those “binding orders” were more like agreements to maybe lease or buy.

Jaguar Land Rover is developing a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle based on the new Defender SUV, and plans to begin testing the prototype next year. The prototype program, known as Project Zeus, is part of JLR’s larger aim to only produce zero-tailpipe emissions vehicles by 2036. JLR has also made a commitment to have zero carbon emissions across its supply chain, products and operations by 2039. The automaker has also tapped AVL, Delta Motorsport, Marelli Automotive Systems and the U.K. Battery Industrialization Center to help develop the prototype.

Nuro, the autonomous delivery startup, is expanding into parcel logistics through a partnership with FedEx. The multiyear, multiphased strategic partnership aims to test and ultimately deploy Nuro’s next-generation autonomous delivery vehicle within FedEx operations. This bot will follow Nuro’s more recent R2 bot. The deal with FedEx marks its first foray into parcels logistics. The pilot program has already started in Houston. This multiyear commitment will allow Nuro to bring its technology to more people in new ways, and eventually reach large-scale deployment, according to Cosimo Leipold, Nuro’s head of partnerships.

Polestar, Volvo Car Group’s standalone electric performance brand, will manufacture its first all-electric SUV in the United States. The automaker said the Polestar 3 will be assembled at a plant shared with Volvo Cars at a factory in Ridgeville, South Carolina. The Polestar 3 follows the all-electric Polestar 2 sedan and the hybrid grand tourer Polestar 1. Production of Polestar 3 is expected to begin globally in 2022.

In-car tech

Amazon Web Services entered into an agreement with Ferrari to become their official cloud provider, a deal that aims to help the luxury automaker’s Scuderia Ferrari Formula One racing team launch a digital fan engagement platform via its mobile app.

Android Auto has some new updates including personalizing the launcher screen directly from a user’s smartphone and manually setting dark mode. Browsing content is also supposed to be easier with new tabs in media apps, a “back to top” option and an A to Z button in the scroll bar.  New app experiences have also been added to help with EV charging, parking and navigation apps are now available to use in Android Auto. Users will also be able to read and send new messages directly from apps like WhatsApp or Messages — now available globally. These Android Auto features are available on phones running Android 6.0 or above, and when connected to your compatible car.

Other transportation stuff

Financial Times digs into the sticky issue of Chinese surveillance technology that is used in ‘smart cities’ all over the world.

GM upped the amount it says it will spend on electric and autonomous vehicle investments to $35 billion through 2025 — an $8 billion increase from its previous plan announced in November 2020.

Lux Research released a study showing that in 2020 electric vehicles sales, meaning battery and plug-ins, increased 37% compared to 2019. The sales growth was led by 140% growth in Europe as the BEV market took off in several countries. The report noted that while Tesla remains the most popular BEV maker, but its choice of cells from LG Energy Solution in China means Panasonic lost the market share crown it had held since 2013.

Redwood Materials, the battery recycling startup founded by former Tesla CTO JB Straubel, has purchased 100 acres of land near the Gigafactory that Panasonic operates with Tesla in Sparks, Nevada as part of an expansion plan that aligns with the Biden Administration’s drive to increase adoption of electric vehicles and boost domestic battery recycling and supply chain efforts. The company said its existing 150,000-square-foot facility in Carson City, Nevada will also nearly triple in size. Redwood is adding another 400,000 square feet onto the Carson City recycling facility, which is expected to be operational by the end of the year.

#amazon, #argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #canoo, #cruise, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #gm, #lordstown-motors, #nuro, #tesla, #transportation, #vw, #waymo

GM increases EV and AV investments to $35B through 2025

General Motors Co. has yet again upped the amount it says it will spend on electric and autonomous vehicle investments, saying Wednesday that it would spend $35 billion through 2025 – an $8 billion increase from its previous plan announced in November 2020.

The company has set a target to bring 30 new EVs to the global market 30 by 2025 and to transition to all-zero-emission by 2035. With the new investment, GM said it will add new electric commercial trucks to its North American plan, as well as build additional U.S. assembly capacity for electric SUVs.

Beyond building out a large portfolio of new electric models, the automaker has taken a multi-pronged approach in its quest to lead the EV revolution: it is also investing in two new battery cell plants under its joint venture with LG Chem, dubbed Ultium Cells LLC; and it’s poured funding into Cruise, its autonomous driving arm that it purchased for majority-ownership in 2016.

The news was announced one day after Cruise said it had tapped a $5 billion line of credit from the OEM’s financial arm as it prepares for commercialization of its Origin electric and autonomous vehicle. Commercial production of the Origin is anticipated to begin in 2023.

GM also manufactures hydrogen fuel cells under its HYDROTEC joint initiative with Honda. It confirmed Wednesday that it will launch the third-generation HYDROTEC cells by mid-decade. The automaker has partnership agreements with heavy truck developer Navistar and Liebherr-Aerospace, which is developing hydrogen fuel cell power systems for aircraft.

The company also said yesterday it would supply fuel cells and EV batteries to Wabtec Corportation, a Pittsburgh-based company developing the world’s first battery locomotive.

“GM is targeting annual global EV sales of more than 1 million by 2025, and we are increasing our investment to scale faster because we see momentum building in the United States for electrification, along with customer demand for our product portfolio,” CEO Mary Barra said in a statement Wednesday.

Ford announced a similar increase in EV investment last month, when it said it would invest $30 billion by 2025, up from $22 billion by 2023.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #cruise, #electric-vehicles, #general-motors, #gm, #transportation, #ultium, #ultium-cells-llc

Chinese startup Pony.ai plans to launch a driverless robotaxi service in California in 2022

Pony.ai, the robotaxi startup that operates in China and the United States, has started testing driverless vehicles on public roads in California ahead of plans to launch a commercial service there in 2022.

The company said the driverless vehicle testing, which means the autonomous vehicles operate without human safety drivers behind the wheel, is happening daily on public roads in Fremont and Milpitas, California. Pony.ai is also testing its driverless vehicles in Guangzhou, China.

Pony.ai said it also plans to resume a rideshare service to the public in Irvine this summer using AVs with a human safety driver. Its goal is to roll out the fully driverless service to the public in 2022.

“Going completely driverless is key to achieving full autonomy and an indispensable catalyst to realizing our ambitious vision,” said James Peng, CEO and co-founder of Pony.ai.

Pony.ai still has some regulatory hurdles to clear before it can operate commercially. Autonomous vehicle companies that want to charge the public for driverless rides need both the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Public Utilities Commission to issue deployment permits. In early June, Cruise became the first company to receive a driverless autonomous service permit from the California PUC that allows it to test transporting passengers. The final step with the DMV, which only Nuro has achieved, is a deployment permit.

Pony’s driverless testing milestone in California comes a month after the state issued the company a permit to test a fleet of six driverless vehicles in a geographic area that spans about 39 square miles. While dozens of companies — 55 in all — have active permits to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver, it is less common to receive permission for driverless vehicles. Pony was the eighth company to be issued a driverless testing permit in the state, a list that includes Chinese companies AutoX, Baidu and WeRide as well as U.S. businesses Cruise, Nuro, Waymo and Zoox. Only Nuro has been granted a so-called deployment permit, which allows it to operate commercially.

Pony.ai, which was founded in 2016 by former Baidu developers Peng and Lou Tiancheng, has been allowed to test autonomous vehicles with safety drivers since 2017.  The driverless permit issued in May by the California DMV expanded upon Pony’s existing activity in the state.

Pony has tested ridesharing in Fremont and Irvine, California. In 2019, a fleet of electric, autonomous Hyundai Kona crossovers equipped with a self-driving system from Pony.ai and Via’s ride-hailing platform began shuttling customers on public roads. The robotaxi service, called BotRide, wasn’t a driverless service, as there was a human safety driver behind the wheel at all times. The BotRide pilot concluded in January 2020.

The company then started operating a public robotaxi service called PonyPilot in the Irvine area. Pony shifted that robotaxi service from shuttling people to packages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pony.ai also partnered with e-commerce platform Yamibuy to provide autonomous last-mile delivery service to customers in Irvine. The delivery service was launched to provide additional capacity to address the surge of online orders triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pony.ai said at the time.

As the pandemic eases and California returns to normal operations, Pony is preparing to launch a commercial robotaxi service. It has already amassed a number of partners and more than $1 billion in funding, including $400 million from Toyota, to help it achieve that goal. Last November, the company said its valuation had reached $5.3 billion following a fresh injection of $267 million in funding. Pony has several partnerships or collaborations with automakers and suppliers, including Bosch, Hyundai and Toyota.

#asia, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #china, #cruise, #electric-vehicles, #nuro, #pony-ai, #robotaxi, #tc, #transportation

Cruise secures $5B credit line to buy electric, autonomous Cruise Origin vehicles from GM

Cruise, the self-driving subsidiary of GM, has tapped a $5 billion line of credit from the automaker’s financial arm to pay for hundreds of purpose-built electric and autonomous Origin vehicles as they start to roll off the assembly line.

The access to the credit provided by GM Financial will push Cruise’s “total war chest” to more than $10 billion as it prepares for commercialization, CEO Dan Ammann wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

Pre-production of the Cruise Origin, which was first unveiled in January 2020, has started at GM’s Factory ZERO assembly plant. Factory ZERO is the renamed and renovated Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant. Last year, GM announced plans to invest $2.2 billion into the factory to produce all-electric trucks and SUVs as well as Cruise Origin. The automaker said at the time it will invest an additional $800 million in supplier tooling and other projects related to the launch of the new electric trucks. Detroit-Hamtramck will be GM’s first fully dedicated electric vehicle assembly plant. When fully operational, the plant will create more than 2,200 jobs, according to GM.

The Origin, the product of a multi-year collaboration with parent company GM and investor Honda, is designed for a ridesharing service. The shuttle-like vehicle has no steering wheel or pedals and is designed to travel at highway speeds. The interior is roomy, with seats that face each other, similar to what a traveler might find on some trains.

The first run of 100 pre-production Cruise Origins will be assembled over the summer and tested at GM’s Milford proving grounds. Commercial production of the Cruise Origin is expected to begin in 2023.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #cruise, #electric-vehicles, #gm, #transportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Micromobbin’

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

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

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

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

Tier gets some more money

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

Let’s talk about bikes

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

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

Best cities for biking

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

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

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

 — Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

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

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

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

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

Other deals that got my attention …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waymo: by the numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waymo one app data

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Hi folks, welcome back to Policy Corner.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

— Aria Alamalhodaei

A few more notes

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruise can now give passengers rides in driverless cars in California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real robotaxi service gets a step closer in San Francisco

One of Waymo's sensor-studded Jaguar I-Paces observes a pedestrian crossing the road in front of it.

Enlarge / One of Waymo’s sensor-studded Jaguar I-Paces observes a pedestrian crossing the road in front of it. (credit: Waymo)

The day when robotaxis roam the streets of San Francisco looking for fare-paying customers is getting closer. This week, Reuters reported that both Waymo and Cruise have applied to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles for permits to deploy driverless vehicles. The permit on its own isn’t sufficient to begin operating a commercial robotaxi service, but it is an important milestone on the way to achieving that.

For several months now, Waymo has operated a fully driverless commercial taxi service in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. But as Ars alum Tim Lee wrote recently, “Suburban Phoenix is a terrible place to run a taxi service.”

A sun-blessed suburb in the Southwest, designed with the car in mind as the primary mode of transport, is as close to easy mode for an autonomous vehicle as it’s possible to get, outside the confines of private test tracks or a gigantic retirement village. That in turn means that the Phoenix suburbs have limited value when it comes to teaching an autonomous vehicle how to cope with the big bad world. And since having a car is virtually a prerequisite for living in a suburb like Chandler, the people who live there don’t need to use taxis often.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cars, #cruise, #driverless-vehicles, #robotaxis, #waymo

Why hasn’t Waymo expanded its driverless service? Here’s my theory

A Waymo-branded minivan prowls suburban streets.

Enlarge (credit: Sundry Photography / Getty Images)

Last October, Waymo did something remarkable: the company launched a fully driverless commercial taxi service called Waymo One. Customers in a 50-square-mile corner of suburban Phoenix can now use their smartphones to hail a Chrysler Pacifica minivan with no one in the driver’s seat.

And then… nothing. Seven months later, Waymo has neither expanded the footprint of the Phoenix service nor has it announced a timeline for launching in a second city.

It’s as if Steve Jobs had unveiled the iPhone, shipped a few thousand phones to an Apple Store in Phoenix, and then didn’t ship any more for months—and wouldn’t explain why.

Read 42 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cars, #cruise, #kyle-vogt, #self-driving, #waymo

GM CEO Mary Barra wants to sell personal autonomous vehicles using Cruise’s self-driving tech by 2030

GM CEO Mary Barra sees the automaker selling personal autonomous vehicles by the end of the decade by leveraging technology from its self-driving subsidiary Cruise, according to comments made during the company’s Wednesday earnings call.

Barra wasn’t providing any specifics just yet, but instead laid out a vision for the automaker’s future and how its stake in Cruise and its own internal effort to further develop its advanced driver assistance system Super Cruise might evolve over the next nine years.

“I’ve always said we have kind of a revolutionary and an evolutionary strategy around driver assistance all the way to full Level 4, Level 5 autonomy,” she said, referring to automation levels designated by the SAE International.

On the “revolutionary” end of Barra’s vision is Cruise, the self-driving startup in which GM holds a controlling interest. Cruise is working on shared, electric, autonomous vehicles that will operate in dense urban areas and shuttle people and likely packages. The company, which is testing its technology on public roads in San Francisco, has yet to deploy a commercial-scale robotaxi or last-mile delivery business. Cruise also struck a deal earlier this month to launch a robotaxi service in Dubai in 2023.

While Cruise continues to test, validate and presumably launch its self-driving technology as a commercial product, GM continues to improve its hands-free driver assistance system Super Cruise and integrate into more of its vehicle brands. Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.

GM has historically taken a slower approach to Super Cruise compared to Tesla’s method of rolling out software updates that gives early access to some owners to test the improved features. Although now, it appears GM is keen to ramp up Super Cruise — in terms of capability and vehicle integration. Barra said Wednesday that GM plans to roll out Super Cruise to 22 models by the end of 2023.

When GM launched Super Cruise in 2017, it was only available in one Cadillac model — the full-size CT6 sedan — and restricted to divided highways. That began to change in 2019 when GM announced plans to expand where Super Cruise would be available. The company has also been ratcheting up the capabilities of Super Cruise. The company’s new digital vehicle intelligence platform known as VIP provides more electrical bandwidth and data processing power, which has allowed engineers to add to features such as automated lane changes. It is also working on making Super Cruise available on city streets, not just on highways.

“So Cruise is really focused on that full autonomy, but on Super Cruise we continue to add more and more features,” Barra said. “Our ultimate vision is that this (Super Cruise) system enables hands-free transportation in 95% of driving scenarios.” Barra added that the company’s “vehicle intelligence platform (VIP), which connects every vehicle system into one advanced high-speed and very secure network” is what makes the further development of Super Cruise possible.

VIP has 4.5 terabytes of data processing power per hour, a five-fold increase from GM’s previous architecture, according to Barra. That’s enough capacity to manage all of the data loads of its driver assistance systems, electric propulsion, over-the-air updates of every vehicle module plus capacity to manage feature applications, Barra said, adding that it also will allow the company to offer software as a service, including new apps that it can market to customers. By the end of 2023, VIP will be on 7 million vehicles and 38 global models, she said.

Ultimately, though Barra wants to take Cruise’s self-driving technology, designed over robotaxis and last-mile delivery, and get it into personal autonomous vehicles.

“There’s a lot to still unfold, but I believe we’ll have personal autonomous vehicles and then that will leverage the capability we have at Cruise with the capability that we have at the car company to really be well positioned to delight the customers from that perspective,” Barra said. “So both paths are very important because the technology we put on vehicles today I think makes them safer and delights the customers and is going to give us an opportunity for subscription revenue, and then the ultimate work that we’re doing at Cruise, that is full autonomous, really opens up, you know, more possibilities then I think we can outline today.”

Integrating into a passenger vehicle a self-driving system used in a robotaxi is a complex process. It would require GM to start now designing, testing and validating how to safely adapt this technology to vehicles consumers can buy. It’s unclear if that is already happening.

GM reported revenue of $32.47 billion in the first quarter, a skosh below the $32.7 billion in the same period last year and less than analysts expected. However, GM far surpassed expectations on earnings, pushing shares up 4% to close at $57.58. The automaker reported net income of $3 billion in the first quarter, up from $294 million in the same period last year. On an EBIT-adjusted earnings basis, which excludes nonrecurring items, it reported income of $4.4 billion and adjusted earnings per share of $2.25. Analysts had expected an adjusted EPS of $1.04.

“We are also reaffirming our guidance for the full year, and based on what we know today, we see results coming in at the higher end of the $10 billion to $11 billion EBIT-adjusted range we shared earlier this year, Barra said in a letter to shareholders, adding to the positive results. Those expectations take into account the potential impact of the ongoing chip shortage, GM said.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #cruise, #electric-vehicles, #gm, #mary-barra, #self-driving-vehicles, #tc, #transportation

GM’s Pam Fletcher is coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to talk about how to build a startup

GM might be best known for the millions of Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC-branded vehicles it designs, produces, finances and sells each year. But it also has a burgeoning incubator, where a team of 600 employees are working to develop 20 new businesses with a total addressable market of about $1.3 trillion.

A few of the first startup fruits have already come to bear, including OnStar Guardian, OnStar Insurance, GM Defense and most recently, BrightDrop — the commercial electric vehicle delivery business that launched in January. Pam Fletcher, a veteran at GM and vice president of the company’s Global Innovation team, is at the center of this effort and helped shepherd BrightDrop from idea to startup graduate. And she’s not done.

An engineer by training, Fletcher has been given a lofty directive to turn high-potential innovative ideas into scalable business ventures that drive growth and transform the GM business model beyond traditional automotive. And she’s coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a virtual event scheduled for June 9, to talk about their strategy and what’s coming next.

Fletcher’s experience is broad and global. She has held a variety of leadership positions, guiding the development of GM’s electric vehicle and self-driving portfolio and technologies. Prior to joining the innovation incubator, she was vice president of global electric vehicles at GM. The teams she directed were responsible for the development of two generations of the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt and the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV. Her team also led the development of Super Cruise, the automaker’s hands-free highway driver assist system as well as three generations of Cruise AVs.

She also serves as a corporate director of Coherent Inc., a NASDAQ-listed company based in Silicon Valley, and is also a board member of GM Defense LLC. Fletcher was named to Motor Trend’s 2018 and 2019 Power List of auto industry leaders and was one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People” of 2017. She serves on the Board of Advisors for the College of Engineering at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.

Fletcher is just one of many of the best and brightest minds in transportation who will be joining us on our virtual stage in June. Among the growing list of speakers is TechCrunch Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JonBen Bevirt, investor and Linked founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, investors Clara 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.

Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event. Early Bird sales end this Thursday, May 6. Be sure to book your tickets ASAP and save $100.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #cruise, #electric-vehicles, #gm, #joby-aviation, #mary-barra, #mobility, #onstar, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #transportation, #zoox

Who will win the self-driving race? Here are eight possibilities

black German car drives through a modern tunnel

Enlarge (credit: Emanuel M Schwermer)

The self-driving technology industry is in a strange state right now. A number of companies have been pouring millions of dollars into self-driving technology for years, and many of them have prototype self-driving vehicles that seem to work.

Yet I know of only one company—Waymo—that has launched a fully driverless commercial taxi service. And I only know of one company—Nuro—that’s running a driverless commercial delivery service on public roads. You’d expect these companies to be capitalizing on their early leads by expanding rapidly, but neither seems to be doing that.

Meanwhile, several other players, including Cruise and Mobileye, say they’re planning to launch large-scale commercial services by 2023. But plenty of self-driving companies have blown past self-imposed launch deadlines in the past, so it’s not clear if that will actually happen.

Read 44 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#argo, #cars, #cruise, #features, #mobileye, #nuro, #self-driving-cars, #tesla, #waymo

Walmart invests in self-driving startup Cruise

Walmart invests in self-driving startup Cruise

Enlarge (credit: Walmart)

Walmart is investing in self-driving startup Cruise as part of a massive $2.75 billion investment round in the company—an expansion of the $2 billion round announced in January. That original announcement featured three other big names: GM, Honda, and Microsoft.

Cruise was originally an independent startup but was acquired by GM in 2016. GM has poured billions into the company and has increasingly sought additional financial support from outside investors.

Recently, Cruise has been signaling that it is just a couple of years away from launching its technology commercially. Earlier this week, Cruise announced that it would launch a self-driving taxi service in Dubai in 2023. Cruise CEO Dan Ammann then told Bloomberg that he expected to launch a commercial service in San Francisco prior to launching in Dubai.

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#cars, #cruise, #self-driving-car, #walmart

Walmart helps push Cruise’s latest investment round to $2.75B

Cruise, the autonomous vehicle company aiming to deploy robotaxis in San Francisco and Dubai, has added Walmart as an investor in an extended fundraising round that has grown to $2.75 billion.

The company said it has a post-money valuation of more than $30 billion. Walmart and several unnamed institutional investors added capital to a $2 billion equity round announced back in January that was led by Microsoft. The companies didn’t disclose Walmart’s exact investment. Cruise, the autonomous vehicle subsidiary of GM, is also backed by Honda, Softbank Vision Fund and funds managed by T. Rowe Price.

Cruise has long been viewed — and described itself — as a company solely focused on launching a commercial scale robotaxi service. However, comments from Walmart CEO John Furner in a blog post published Thursday suggest that laser focus continues to widened beyond robotaxis and San Francisco.

“The investment will aid our work towards developing a last-mile delivery ecosystem that’s fast, low-cost and scalable,” Furner wrote in a blog post published Thursday morning. He later wrote “this investment is a marker for us.”

Cruise has experimented with delivery over the past several years even as its efforts around robotaxis took most of its attention and resources. For instance, Cruise and DoorDash completed in 2019 a delivery pilot in San Francisco. And when the COVID-19 pandemic swept into North America, prompting government lockdowns, Cruise paused its testing in San Francisco and started delivering prepared meals for two food banks.

Walmart and Cruise also already have a relationship. The companies announced in November 2020 plans to test grocery delivery in Scottsdale, Arizona. Under the pilot program, the companies said that customers will be able to place an order from their local Walmart store and have it delivered via one of Cruise’s autonomous, electric Chevy Bolt cars. While the vehicles will operate autonomously, a human safety operator will always be behind the wheel.

Cruise is not Walmart’s only autonomous dancing partner. The retail giant has partnered with a handful of autonomous vehicle developers, including Waymo, to test out how the technology might eventually be used at a commercial scale. The retailer signed a deal in 2019 with startup Udelv to test the use of autonomous vans to deliver online grocery orders to customers in Surprise, Arizona. Autonomous delivery startup Nuro launched a pilot program with Walmart in Houston in 2020.

The retail giant participated in a pilot with Postmates and Ford in the Miami-Dade area and last year the retailer tapped AV startup Gatik to deliver customer online grocery orders from Walmart’s main warehouse to its neighborhood stores in Bentonville, Arkansas.

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

Cruise industry salty over CDC plan to keep travelers safe from COVID at sea

A person wearing a face make walks along a port on a sunny day with the Princess Diamond cruise ship docked in the background.

Enlarge / YOKOHAMA, JAPAN – FEBRUARY 10: A member of the media wears a face mask while walking past the Diamond Princess cruise ship. (credit: Getty | Carl Court)

The cruise industry is rather salty about the latest federal guidance for safe pandemic sailing, calling it “burdensome” and “unworkable. “

The new guidance is an updated phase of the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), released April 2 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While it does not mandate vaccinations for all staff and cruisegoers, it does recommend the shots and requires added layers of health measures to try giving any onboard COVID-19 outbreaks the heave-ho—which is exceedingly difficult to do on the tightly packed, highly social vessels.

Among several changes, the guidance requires cruise operators to increase how frequently they report the number of COVID-19 cases onboard, upping reporting from weekly to daily. It also requires cruise lines to implement new routine testing for crew members. Additionally, the guidance requires that cruise lines have agreements set up with port authorities and local health authorities to ensure that, in the event of an outbreak, there will be coordination and infrastructure necessary to safely quarantine, isolate, and treat passengers and crew on land.

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#cdc, #covid-19, #cruise, #infectious-disease, #no-sail, #public-health, #science, #ship

The Station: Uber’s new battles in the UK, Lucid Motors’ second life plans and Cruise acquires Voyage

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

Hi friends and new readers, welcome to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B. Before I forget, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the newsletter, if you’re interested in attending our upcoming early-stage conference. I have a gift for you.

Um, there is a #$@% ton of mobility news to get to, including a few scoops, some investment news, and a new “market map” that takes a deep look into the business of Mobility-as-a-service apps. Buckle up.

First up, here’s the market maps story (I just mentioned) from writer Jason Plautz. The upshot: As transit agencies seek to win back riders, a flurry of platforms — some backed by giants like Uber, Intel and BMW — are offering new technology partnerships. Whether it’s bundling bookings, payments or just trip planning, startups are selling these mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) offerings as a lifeline to make transit agencies the backbone of urban mobility. Third-party platforms have become more appealing to transit agencies as they scramble to keep buses, trains and rail full of customers.

And yep, this is an Extra Crunch story, which requires a subscription. As I’ve shared in here before, we’re bringing more transportation analysis to Extra Crunch. Last month, we had Mark Harris’ market analysis on solid state batteries. Next week, Extra Crunch will feature stories on the state of holographic tech in vehicles, the second-life battery marketplace and software plays in the micromobility industry.

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’

Bird peeped up this week (they’ve been sorta quiet lately) and announced it is investing $150 million into a European expansion plan that will include launching in more than 50 cities this year, a move that it says will double its footprint in the region.

According to Bird, this growth plan is already underway, with the shared micromobility company recently bringing its scooters to Bergen, Norway; Tarragona, Spain; and Palermo, Italy.

Bird emphasized that its European expansion will be more than just a geographic one. The company said it is adding more scooters to its existing fleets and made several other promises as part of its announcement, including plans to launch new mobility products and safety initiatives, “the next generation of recycling and second-life applications for vehicles,” investing in equity programs and “securing partnerships across the region.”

I might have raised an eyebrow or two when I first read this announcement. Why? Welp, for one it isn’t clear what these new mobility products or initiatives around safety or recycling will be. A Bird spokesperson told me these will be new vehicles and “transport modes” in the region. Bird didn’t provide details about what it means by “securing partnerships,” a phrase that could mean an extension of its franchise program called the Bird Platform or some other kind of arrangement with local governments or operators.

And then there’s the bit about that $150 million. A Bird spokesperson told TechCrunch it’s using “existing resources” to fund these various initiatives. However, the pandemic, its acquisition of Circ and its effort to launch operations in new cities while maintaining existing fleets have depleted its funds. (Last June, Bird shut down scooter sharing in several cities in the Middle East, an operation that was managed by Circ.) The company’s last public fundraising announcements were more than a year ago. The company raised $275 million in a Series D round back in September 2019. That round was later extended to $350 million.

Now, this could be the $100 million in convertible debt that Bird reportedly was close to finalizing (per The Information’s reporting back in January). But something tells me there is more to this. Stay tuned.

A few other interesting micromobbin’ nugs for you … 

Lime and Lyft appear to have secured a license that will allow the companies to exclusively operate scooter and bike share services in Denver. The city’s Department of Transportation & Infrastructure said it is moving two licensing agreements through the Denver City Council approval process. On March 23, he DOTI will present the licensing agreements to Denver City Council’s Land Use, Transportation & Infrastructure Committee  for approval before heading to full council for consideration.

The “license” term is important here and marks a shift in how Denver is thinking about dockless shared scooters and bikes. A license would replace how dockless electric scooter and bike companies currently operate in Denver, which is through a permit. If the licenses are approved by Council, Lyft and Lime would be the only two companies operating vehicles in Denver under the new bike and scooter share program. The license would be valid for 5 years.

Superpedestrian, the startup that makes e-scooters equipped with self-diagnostic software, is upgrading its product as it prepares for a major expansion into 10 new cities within the next two weeks, TechCrunch’s Rebecca Bellan reported. Superpedestrian might not be a household name, but it is an up-and-coming player in the micromobility world. The company has developed AI — which is integrated into the vehicle — that monitors and corrects scooter safety issues in real time.

The next-generation operating system that will provide those upgrades, codenamed “Briggs,” will be uploaded to its global fleet of LINK e-scooters. It includes improvements to geofencing capabilities and battery life, making Superpedestrian more attractive to cities looking for partners who can provide assurances around safety and reliability.

SMART, a startup founded in 2020, revealed its first product: An airless bicycle tire based on technology NASA engineers created to make future lunar and Martian rovers even more resilient. This nifty tech that shows how NASA investments towards space exploration can end up improving life on Earth. SMART has a partnership with NASA through the Space Act Agreement and is part of the agency’s formal Startup Program that aims to commercialize some of its innovations.

SMART's METL tire close up

Image Credits: SMART Tire Company

The company’s “METL tire” came out of its work with NASA’s Glenn Research Center, where NASA engineers Dr. Santo Padula and Colin Creager first developed their so-called “shape memory alloy” (SMA) technology. SMA allows for a tire constructed entirely of interconnected springs, which requires no inflation and is therefore immune to punctures, but which can still provide equivalent or better traction when compared to inflatable rubber tires, and even some built-in shock-absorbing capabilities, TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington reports.

SMART’s  co-founders, Survivor: Fiji” champion Earl Cole and engineer Brian Yennie, are targeting the cycling market first with their METL tire, which is set to become available to the general public by early next year. SMART intends to bring SMA tires to the automotive and commercial vehicle industries.

Deal of the week

money the station

Typically, my “deal of the week” has a financial figure tied to it. This time, I don’t have those terms. (Feel free to share,  if you do.) This deal made it to the top of the list because of its importance in the autonomous vehicle industry.

I am, of course, talking about Cruise acquiring Voyage, a four-year-old autonomous vehicle startup that is well-known in the industry despite its size relative to other major players. Voyage had 60 employees and raised about $52 million compared to giants like Cruise that has a nearly 2,000-person workforce and is valued at $30 billion. But Voyage made an indelible mark on the industry, in large part because of its co-founder and CEO Oliver Cameron. The company, which spun out of Udacity in 2017, is best known for its operations in two senior living communities. Voyage tested and gave rides to people within a 4,000-resident retirement community in San Jose, California, as well as The Villages, a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in Florida.

I’ve been told the majority of Voyage’s team will move over to Cruise and Cameron will take on a new role as vice president of product. Basically, Cameron will be in charge of anything that touches the customer.

Importantly, Voyage’s ride-hailing service (which always included a human safety driver behind the wheel) at the two senior communities, one in California and the other in Florida, will be ending before summer. The Villages community in Florida is massive and its where Voyage scaled up and at one point had “hundreds” of riders. The shuttering of this service would seem to open up the opportunity to other AV companies; my guess is that Cameron has already fielded a few inquiries.

Voyage’s partnership with FCA, now called Stellantis, will also end once the acquisition with Cruise closes.

Other deals that stood out …

Aerovel, the manufacturer of uncrewed vertical take-off and landing aircraft designed for surveillance, has raised $2.5 million in Series B capital. The investment is from undisclosed leaders in aviation, according to the company.

Arbe Robotics, a company that sells long-range 4D imaging radar, has agreed to merge with special purpose acquisition company Industrial Tech Acquisitions Inc. The transaction is expect4ed to deliver about $177 million in gross cash  proceeds that includes Industrial Tech’s $77 million cash-in-trust as well as $100 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, M&G Investment Management, Varana Capital, Texas Ventures and Eyal Waldman, the founder and CEO of Mellanox Technologies. You can check out their investor presentation here.

For a little insight into Arbe, check out this Autonocast podcast episode from 2018, when I — along with my co-hosts Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer — interviewed Arbe CEO Kobi Marenko about his company’s high-resolution radar technology.

Charge Amps, the Swedish maker of smart charging stations, cables, and cloud software, raised 130 million crowns ($15.3 million) in a funding round led by Swedbank Robur. The company raised the funds ahead of a planned IPO next year, Reuters reported.

Fort Robotics raised $13 million in a round led by Prime Movers Lab, the round also features Prologis Ventures, Quiet Capital, Lemnos Labs, Creative Ventures, Ahoy Capital, Compound, FundersClub and Mark Cuban. The Philadelphia-based company was founded in 2018 by Samuel Reeves, who previous headed up Humanistic Robotics. That fellow Pennsylvania startup is focused on landmine and IED-clearing remote operating robotic systems.

Momenta, the five-year-old Chinese autonomous driving startup, closed another massive round of nearly $500 million. The funding lifts its total funding to more than $700 million and in its short life has attracted a dazzling list of investors, including Kai-Fu Lee’s Sinovation Ventures, the government of Suzhou and Daimler.

Momenta’s chief of business development Sun Huan told TechCrunch’s Rita Liao that the investment marks an important step toward the firm’s international expansion. In a few months’ time, Sun will head to Stuttgart, the German hometown of Mercedes-Benz, and open Momenta’s first European office.

Unagi, the startup behind the portable, design-centric electric scooters, raised $10.5 million in a Series A round led by led by the Ecosystem Integrity Fund with participation from Menlo Ventures, Broadway Angels and Gaingels, among others. Unagi, which was launched in late 2018 by former Beats Music CEO and MOG co-founder David Hyman, plans to use the money to fund its expansion and bring  its subscription service to six more U.S. cities, including Austin, Miami, Nashville, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle. Unagi will also be expanding its existing service in the New York and LA metropolitan regions, including all five NYC boroughs, Long Island, Westchester and Northern New Jersey, as well as the Westside and Southeast LA, the San Fernando Valley and Orange County.

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

Lots. of. news. Let’s get to it.

Autonomous vehicles and robotics

Ford Motor announced plans to embed 100 of its researchers and engineers in a new $75 million robotics and mobility facility on the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus. The arrangement will give Ford space to conduct robotics research and access to students — and vice versa — from the top floor of the four-floor, 134,000 square-foot building. In addition to its fourth-floor lab, Ford will have access to a high-bay garage space to test autonomous vehicles.

Shortly after the event wrapped up, TechCrunch hardware editor Brian Heater hopped on the phone with Ford’s Technical Expert Mario Santillo, who will help head up the expanded robotics efforts. Here’s what Santillo had to say.

Electric

Amazon is expanding customer deliveries via electric cargo vehicle to San Francisco, making the Bay Area the second of 16 total cities the company expects to bring its Rivian-sourced EVs to in 2021. San Francisco’s unique terrain and climate were a couple of the reasons Amazon said it chose the city for its second round of testing. Its EVs, which were designed and built in partnership with Rivian, can last up to 150 miles on a single charge.

BMW takes the wraps off of the all-electric i4 sedan. The German automaker also announced version 8 of its iDrive operating system, which will feature a new dashboard layout and visual design, with two curved screens. It will make its debut in the i4 and iX.

Chanje, EV startup that emerged from stealth in 2017 and is owned by Chanje is owned by Chinese automotive company  FDG, is being sued by truck rental company Ryder for alleged failing to deliver 100 of the 125 vans it was promised, The Verge reported. Ryder says it’s owed nearly $4 million. Chanje was on The Autonocast waayyyyy back in 2018. At the time, I was impressed by the idea and the van, which I drove with co-host Alex Roy around downtown Los Angeles. But it seems that Chanje is riddled with problems — and lawsuits. The Verge reported that Chanje has been sued more than once in Los Angeles Superior Court by former employees who say they’re owed tens of thousands in back pay and bonuses. The company has also been hit with liens from the California Secretary of State for not paying taxes.

Lucid Motors, which is already experimenting with energy storage systems for commercial and residential customers, is also eyeing ways to repurpose batteries from its electric vehicles, according to this scoop by TechCrunch’s Aria Alamalhodaei. While Lucid CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson has previously discussed plans to eventually build energy storage systems like Tesla that uses new batteries, this is the first time the company has talked about second-life applications for the product.

This is interesting because Lucid is still years from having to contend with a large number of used batteries. After all, its first EV, the luxury Lucid Air sedan, isn’t coming to market until the second half of 2021.

Hyundai is offering owners of the 2021 Kona Electric and Ioniq Electric access to 250 kWh of complimentary charging (approximately 1,000 miles of EPA estimated driving range) on the  Electrify America fast-charging network.

Rivian plans to install more than 10,000 chargers by the end of 2023. The network will have a dual purpose: quickly power its electric vehicle models with fast chargers installed along highways and provide Level 2 chargers at further afield locations next to parks, trailheads and other adventurous destinations. The company said that its so-called Rivian Adventure Network will include more than 3,500 DC fast chargers at over 600 sites, which will only be accessible to owners of its electric vehicles. Each site will have multiple chargers and located on highways and main roads, often by cafes and shops.

Rivian is also installing thousands of “waypoint” Level 2 AC chargers throughout the United States and Canada. These waypoint chargers will have a 11.5 kW charging speed, which should be able add up to 25 miles of range every hour for its R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV. The waypoint chargers will be strategically located along and near routes that Rivian customers are likely to take. They will be found at shopping centers restaurants, hotels, campsites and parks.

Volkswagen AG revealed how it aims to seize the top spot as the world’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer, outlining plans to have six 40 gigawatt hour (GWh) battery cell production plants in operation in Europe by 2030. To get there, the automaker put in a 10-year, $14 billion order with Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt — and that’s only one of the six planned factories. A second plant in Germany will commence production in 2025.

Volkswagen Power Day 2021

Thomas Schmall, VW Group board member and CEO of Volkswagen Group Components. Image credits: Volkswagen

Ride-hailing

Uber says that drivers in the U.K. who use its ride-hailing app will be treated as workers, a designation that will give them some benefits such as holiday pay. However, even as Uber seemingly concedes to a Supreme Court ruling last month, a new fight could already be brewing over the company’s decision to calculate working time from the point a trip commences — rather than when drivers log on to the app.

All drivers in the U.K. will be paid holiday time based on 12.07% of their earnings, which will be paid out every two weeks. Drivers will also be paid at least the minimum wage after accepting a trip request and after expenses. Eligible drivers in the U.K. will automatically be enrolled into a pension plan with contributions from Uber. These contributions will represent approximately 3% of a driver’s earnings.

However … Uber will only guarantee that drivers’ working time and other benefits will accrue once they accept a trip and not based on when they have signed into the app to begin working. That already has labor activists fuming.

Meanwhile, Uber’s use of facial recognition technology for a driver identity system is being challenged in the U.K., where the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) and Worker Info Exchange (WIE) have called for Microsoft to suspend the ride-hailing giant’s use of B2B facial recognition after finding multiple cases where drivers were mis-identified and went on to have their licence to operate revoked by Transport for London (TfL).

The union said it has identified seven cases of “failed facial recognition and other identity checks” leading to drivers losing their jobs and licence revocation action by TfL, TechCrunch reporter Natasha Lomas writes.

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#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #cruise, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #lucid-motors, #momenta, #startups, #transportation, #uber, #venture-capital, #voyage

Another self-driving startup got gobbled up by incumbents

Promotional image of two men standing next to an electric car.

Enlarge / Cruise CTO Kyle Vogt and Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron. (credit: Voyage)

Two weeks ago, I wrote about reports that Cruise—a self-driving venture co-owned by GM and Honda—was on the verge of buying startup Voyage. Now it’s official: Cruise is acquiring Voyage.

Voyage’s strategy was to launch its first self-driving taxi service at the Villages, a massive retirement community in Florida. The Villages is large enough that people need a car to get around, yet many of its residents are at or near the age where they can’t drive safely. The community had a speed limit of 25 miles per hour, reducing the risk that anyone would be killed if a self-driving car malfunctioned.

In a piece two years ago, I suggested that focusing on a relatively easy application of self-driving technology like this could allow a startup like Voyage to succeed while their larger rivals floundered. I argued that once a company like Voyage has a viable commercial service in a limited area, expanding over time to a larger area and higher speeds would be relatively easy.

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#cars, #cruise, #oliver-cameron, #self-driving-car, #voyage

Cruise acquires self-driving startup Voyage

Voyage, the autonomous vehicle startup that spun out of Udacity, has been acquired by Cruise, a deal that points to the continued consolidation within the nascent industry.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed; the majority of Voyage’s 60-person team will move over to Cruise and the company’s co-founder and CEO Oliver Cameron will take on a new role as vice president of product.

Voyage, which was founded in 2017, was a tiny startup compared to well-funded operations like Cruise, Argo AI, Waymo and Aurora. But despite its size and only raising $52 million, Cameron helped Voyage stand out. The company is best known for its operations in two senior living communities. Voyage tested and gave rides to people within a 4,000-resident retirement community in San Jose, Calif., as well as The Villages, a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in Florida.

“Voyage’s approach has always been to leverage our limited resources to deliver a product that restores mobility to those who need it most: senior citizens. We’ve made tremendous progress towards this goal, moving countless senior citizens (some as old as 92!) around their communities,” Cameron wrote in a blog post announcing the deal. “Now at Cruise, we are thrilled to have the substantial resources to eventually serve not just senior citizens, but every possible demographic who stands to benefit from self-driving services.”

Voyage won’t be shutting down operations at the two senior communities immediately. However, Cruise reiterated to TechCrunch that its focus is commercial operations in San Francisco. Inevitably, any testing or operations at the senior communities will come to end, although Cruise did not provide a timeline.

Cameron’s role as VP of product is another signal that Cruise is inching forward with plans to launch a commercial robotaxi service in San Francisco. Cruise has hired hundreds of engineers, both hardware and software, but it will need to win over customers if it hopes to build a loyal base of robotaxi users. In his new role, Cameron will be the one who will be thinking through every customer touchpoint for Cruise’s self-driving service.

Cameron described the union of Cruise and Voyage as a “wonderful marriage,” in a tweet Monday morning. He noted that Cruise has the “most advanced self-driving technology, unique auto partners and the first purpose-built self-driving vehicle.” “With Voyage and our customer-service obsessed team, we’ll together deliver a game-changing self-driving product.”

Cruise has the funds to put towards this component of the business. Earlier this year, Cruise said it raised $2 billion in a new equity round that has pushed its valuation up to $30 billion and delivered Microsoft as an investor and partner. GM, Honda and other institutional investors also put more capital into Cruise as the autonomous vehicle company inches closer to commercializing its technology.

 

#cruise, #tc, #voyage

California bill would require all self-driving vehicles to be zero emission by 2025

California might be the first state to give self-driving cars a deadline to electrify.

In mid-February, a bill was quietly introduced into the California State Legislature that would require all autonomous vehicles to also be zero emission by 2025. Proposed Bill SB 500, which was introduced by Senator Dave Min and sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), would directly affect the nascent AV industry in applications like ride-hailing, delivery and trucking.

The amendment is in line with many of California’s goals to reduce emissions. It would add to the state’s vehicle code, which currently provides for programs to promote zero-emission vehicles, such as the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project and the Charge Ahead California Initiative.

Governor Gavin Newsom has said he wants all new vehicle sales to be zero emission by 2035, but that doesn’t apply to commercial fleets. Not unless this bill is passed. The proposed bill is in its infancy stages, so there are plenty of opportunities for it to be quashed. But it surfaces an issue for a burgeoning AV industry and the companies trying to develop and commercialize autonomous driving technology in California. It also has the potential to provide a boost to the companies that only use electric vehicles.

“California has set important standards to aggressively address our climate crisis,” Min told TechCrunch. “My SB 500 aligns with these ambitions and takes a critical first step in requiring autonomous vehicles to be zero emission before they are put to widespread use.”

Proponents of the bill don’t want to see future means of transportation married to the technology of the past, pointing out the potential for AVs to either help or hurt attempts to cut emissions. California has a reputation for leading the rest of the country in EV adoption and other emissions-related policies, so the success or failure of this bill could create ripple effects in states across the nation.

“It definitely seems like we’re going to start seeing AVs in these fleet applications, whether that’s ride-hailing or delivery, and that makes it even more important that these vehicles are electric,” said Elizabeth Irvin, senior transportation analyst at UCS. “The average person drives their car 11,000 to 13,000 miles per year, but a full-time Uber or Lyft driver drives 30,000 or more.”

The strategy

Close to half of California’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. And while there’s nothing quite like a smoggy Los Angeles sunset, supporters say the danger of not placing requirements on the AV industry could lead to a world in which autonomous commercial vehicles are commonplace and powered by fossil fuels.

In a statement defending support of this bill, UCS points to research that shows how AVs could dramatically increase driving, and thus emissions, as people get used to living the luxurious life of a passenger. One study, which examined the potential effects of AVs on the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region transportation system in 2040, found that AVs would cause the total amount of driving to increase by as much as 66% relative to the 2040 baseline year.

Irvin told TechCrunch that UCS has been in talks with various stakeholders — such as Nuro, the SoftBank-backed autonomous delivery startup, and Cruise, General Motor’s self-driving subsidiary — regarding strategies for advancing policy that would require all AVs to be zero-emission in California before mainstream adoption.

“We are supportive of efforts to accelerate the industry’s transition to clean energy, which aligns with Nuro’s goals and values,” said a spokesperson from Nuro. “We are excited for autonomous vehicles to pave the way for the rest of the auto industry, which we believe will lead to a greener and healthier future.”

nuro av lineup

Image Credits: Nuro

The sentiment is mirrored by Cruise, which unveiled last year a driverless vehicle called Origin that’s designed for sharing and powered by an all-electric platform built by GM, the result of a multi-year partnership with Honda. Cruise is not testing autonomous Origin vehicles in San Francisco yet; the battery platform is still undergoing testing at GM’s proving grounds. Cruise does have aspirations to roll out a fleet of autonomous vehicles — initially using the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt — as part of a ride-hailing, and possibly a delivery, service in San Francisco.

“Because this industry is so new, everyone has a choice to be an EV or not,” Rob Grant, SVP government affairs at Cruise, told TechCrunch. “It’s not like you have to transform an existing fleet. You have a choice to do this in the beginning rather than going down this path and being forced to change it at some later date.”

Hybrids versus electric

Not all AVs use electric vehicles. The Ford Fusion hybrid and Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid minivans have been the go-to choices for AV developers, including Argo AI, Aurora, Waymo and Voyage.

Argo AI is a technology platform company that works with major automakers, like Volkswagen and Ford, to develop autonomous driving systems. While Volkswagen’s ID.Buzz will be the company’s first fully electric self-driving car, Ford still prefers to take a more measured approach by modifying the hybrid Ford Fusion.

“We all want to transition to BEVs eventually, but we also need to find the right balance that will help develop a profitable, viable business model,” John Davis, chief engineer at Ford Autonomous Vehicles said. “This means launching with hybrids first.”

Davis outlined various challenges in developing all-electric vehicles as AVs, including depletion of range from on-board tech, decreased use of the vehicle during charge times and degradation of the battery.

“Testing shows that upwards of 50% of BEV range will be used up due to the computing power of an AV system, plus the A/C and entertainment systems that are likely required during a ride-hailing service (for passenger comfort),” Davis said. “We continue to be encouraged as battery chemistry and cost continue to improve to address these issues.”

Image credits: Andrej Sokolow/dpa picture alliance via Getty Images

Waymo, which tested and then launched a robotaxi service in a limited and growing area in the Phoenix suburbs, intends to bring a commercial service to California. The Mountain View, California-based company regularly tests its vehicles, which includes the electric Jaguar I-Pace, in San Francisco and the surrounding area. The company said it supports Newsom’s recent executive order, but stopped short of endorsing the current language in Min’s bill.

“As the first company to commercially deploy our fully autonomous technology to the public, we strongly support the goals outlined in Governor Newsom’s recent Executive Order N-79-20 which takes a holistic approach to transition California towards a 100% EV future,” a Waymo spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Waymo has business lines and partnerships that span ride-hailing, trucking and local delivery, and we want to ensure that California’s EV policy reflects the myriad issues and industries affected. It’s early in the legislative process, and we look forward to working with Sen. Min in his efforts.”

Industry sources familiar with the bill have noted that the current language, which is fairly brief, is just a placeholder and unlikely to make much headway this session. Those same sources have criticized the sponsors and author for neglecting to specify a plan for charging infrastructure or making distinctions between light and heavy-duty vehicles. Trucks carrying freight are expected to be among the first vehicles with widespread autonomous use. Most self-driving truck development occurs outside of California in regulatory-light states like Arizona and Texas. And while there are some efforts to develop electric and autonomous semi trucks, most testing today involves diesel-powered vehicles. That could prompt companies hoping to deploy in California to lean on the senator’s office to include an exemption for heavy-duty vehicles.

“We’re still looking to fill out details as we move through the legislative process, but UCS’s intention is that this bill stay focused on the electrification requirement,” responded Irvin.

#argo-ai, #aurora, #automotive, #autonomous-trucks, #autonomous-vehicles, #cruise, #ford, #gm, #nuro, #self-driving-vehicles, #tc, #transportation, #waymo

Self-driving startups are becoming an endangered species

A Voyage vehicle at the Villages in Florida.

Enlarge / A Voyage vehicle at the Villages in Florida. (credit: Voyage)

Bloomberg reports that Cruise, a self-driving company jointly owned by GM and Honda, is in talks to acquire the startup Voyage. Founded four years ago, Voyage is working to launch a self-driving taxi service at the Villages, a massive retirement community in Florida.

Bloomberg says that “no deal is imminent,” and I don’t have any inside information. But such a deal would be consistent with an ongoing trend: it’s becoming harder and harder for self-driving startups to remain independent.

Voyage was part of a wave of self-driving startups that were founded between 2013 and 2018. Cruise itself was one of the earliest of these companies; it was co-founded in 2013 by its current CEO Kyle Vogt. Others included nuTonomy in 2013, Zoox in 2014, Drive.ai, Optimus Ride, and TuSimple in 2015, Starsky Robotics, Nuro and Udelv in 2016, Voyage, Aurora, and May Mobility in 2017, and Ike and Kodiak Robotics in 2018.

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#cars, #cruise, #self-driving-cars, #voyage

The only take about the future of media is that media is the future

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture-capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we — Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace — had more than a little to noodle over, but not so much that we blocked out a second episode. We try to stick to our current format, but, may do more shows in the future. Have a thought about that? equitypod@techcrunch.com is your friend and we are listening.

Now! We took a broad approach this week, so there is a little of something for everything down below. Enjoy!

Like we said, it’s a lot, but all of it worth getting into before the weekend. Hugs from the team, we are back early Monday.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#a16z, #bolt-mobility, #cruise, #equity-podcast, #fintech, #forbes, #fundings-exits, #gps,