The Nuro EC-1

Six years ago, I sat in the Google self-driving project’s Firefly vehicle — which I described, at the time, as a “little gumdrop on wheels” — and let it ferry me around a closed course in Mountain View, California.

Little did I know that two of the people behind Firefly’s ability to see and perceive the world around it and react to that information would soon leave to start and steer an autonomous vehicle company of their very own.

Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu aren’t the only Google self-driving project employees to launch an AV startup, but they might be the most underrated. Their company, Nuro, is valued at $5 billion and has high-profile partnerships with leaders in retail, logistics and food including FedEx, Domino’s and Walmart. And, they seem to have navigated the regulatory obstacle course with success — at least so far.

Yet, Nuro has remained largely in the shadows of other autonomous vehicle companies. Perhaps it’s because Nuro’s focus on autonomous delivery hasn’t captured the imagination of a general public that envisions themselves being whisked away in a robotaxi. Or it might be that they’re quieter.

Those quiet days might be coming to an end soon.

This series aims to look under Nuro’s hood, so to speak, from its earliest days as a startup to where it might be headed next — and with whom.

The lead writer of this EC-1 is Mark Harris, a freelance reporter known for investigative and long-form articles on science and technology. Our resident scoop machine, Harris is based in Seattle and also writes for Wired, The Guardian, The Economist, MIT Technology Review and Scientific American. He has broken stories about self-driving vehicles, giant airships, AI body scanners, faulty defibrillators and monkey-powered robots. In 2014, he was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT, and in 2015 he won the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Gold Award.

The lead editor of this EC-1 was Kirsten Korosec, transportation editor at TechCrunch (that’s me), who has been writing about autonomous vehicles and the people behind them since 2014; OK maybe earlier. The assistant editor for this series was Ram Iyer, the copy editor was Richard Dal Porto, and illustrations were drawn by Nigel Sussman. The EC-1 series editor is Danny Crichton.

Nuro had no say in the content of this analysis and did not get advance access to it. Harris nor Korosec have any financial ties to Nuro.

The Nuro EC-1 comprises four articles numbering 10,600 words and a reading time of 43 minutes. Here are the topics we’ll be dialing into:

We’re always iterating on the EC-1 format. If you have questions, comments or ideas, please send an email to TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton at danny@techcrunch.com.

#automation, #automotive, #california, #cvs, #dave-ferguson, #dominos-pizza, #dominos, #ec-mobility-hardware, #ec-1, #electric-vehicles, #emerging-technologies, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #fedex, #google, #kroger, #mit, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #robotaxi, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #seattle, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #technology, #transportation, #walmart

Goodbye CVs — As work went remote, companies flocked to a startup dumping CVs for skill tests

As companies scrambled to re-orient themselves last year during the pandemic, one thing was clear: the shift to remote working had come sooner than anyone expected. With this came a fundamental shift in how businesses would have to hire new talent. And the question was, were managers going to laboriously sift through CVs in a crisis situation, or would the need to hit the ground running fast force them towards assessing skills over CVs?

One startup decided to take advantage of the situation.

HR tech startup from The Netherland, TestGorilla, came up with a way of hiring people through short, skills-based tests, which had the added advantage of removing the unconscious bias brought about by snappy CVs which might help a very non-skilled person get ahead, and keep out skilled but less qualified recruits.

The startup says its bet paid off and 9 months later they claim to have garnered over 1,500 corporate clients, including the NHS, Sony, PepsiCo, and Bain & Company.

TestGorilla has now raised $10 million in a Seed funding round, led by SaaS-specialist VC, Notion Capital, Partech, Jeff Weiner´s Next Play Ventures, and Indeed co-founder Paul Forster, Peakon co-founder Phil Chambers, and Justworks co-founder Isaac Oates.

TechCrunch understands that the round was hotly contested, with the round closing in only two weeks after receiving multiple separate offers.

Launched by serial entrepreneur, Wouter Durville, and former Bain & Company Partner, Otto Verhage, TestGorilla remotely assesses cognitive abilities, soft skills, specific job skills, culture fit, motivation, and language proficiency. By replacing CV screening, it also aids the removal of unconscious biases in the hiring process.

Wouter Durville, Co-Founder of TestGorilla told me over a call: “We’re removing bias because we’re making hiring very data-driven. Instead of just looking at a CV and looking at the big brands mentioned or the picture version of the person or how connected you are to a person, we are saying, hey, use these tests and test for different things that predict job success like cognitive ability or personality to fit with your culture. Then based on all the data you can automatically sort to see all your candidates, from the best to the worst, then make a decision on who you will invite into your recruiting process.”

Jos White, General Partner at Notion Capital said: “This is a big deal! A super competitive round that almost every VC wanted to get into. They are literally upending the hiring process with a platform that is more democratic, more global and ultimately a much better predictor of job success. Companies are in a major war for talent and yet only armed with a penknife. TestGorilla can open up new talent pools, break down barriers and help candidates and companies find each other. We are leading the round but the angel investors are literally a who’s who of HRtech because they know that this company is the future of hiring and addresses so many of the challenges that companies are facing.”

#co-founder, #cvs, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #general-partner, #isaac-oates, #justworks, #nhs, #notion-capital, #private-equity, #recruitment, #serial-entrepreneur, #sony, #startup-company, #tc

Everlywell raises $175 million to expand virtual care options and scale its at-home health testing

Digital health startup Everlywell has raised a $175 million Series D funding round, following relatively fast on the heels of a $25 million Series C round it closed in February of this year. The Series D included a host of new investors, including BlackRock, The Chernin Group (TCG), Foresite Capital, Greenspring Associates, Morningside Ventures and Portfolio, along with existing investors including Highland Capital Partners, which led the Series C round. The startup has now raised over $250 million to date.

Everlywell, which launched to the public at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2016 as a participant in Startup Battlefield, specializes in home health care, and specifically on home health care tests supported by their digital platform for providing customers with their results and helping them understand the diagnostics, and how to seek the right follow-on care and expert medical advice.

Earlier this year, Everlywell launched an at-home COVID-19 test collection kit – the first of this type of test to receive an emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its use that allowed cooperation with multiple lab service providers over time. The COVID-19 test kit joins its many other offerings, which include tests for thyroid hormone levels, food and allergen sensitivity, women’s health and fertility, vitamin D deficiency and more. I spoke to Everlywell CEO and founder Julia Cheek about the raise, and she acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic was definitely behind the decision to raise such a large amount so quickly again after the close of the Series C, since the company saw a sharp increase in demand coming out of the coronavirus crisis – not only for its COVID-19 test kit, but for at-home digital health care options in general.

“We obviously have a very successful COVID-19 test,” she said. “But we’ve also seen three-fourths of our test menu just explode at well over 100% year-over-year growth, and several of our tests are at 4x or 5x growth. That is really representative of this shift in consumer health behavior that will continue in a big way in many different verticals that include testing, and making things more convenient, digitally-enabled, and in the home.”

Like other companies built on solving for a shift to more remote and virtual care options, Cheek said that Everlywell had already anticipated this kind of consumer demand – but COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated the pace of change, which is why the startup put together this round, at this size, this quickly (she says they started the process of putting together the Series D just in September).

“We’ve been talking about the digital health movement, and the consumer-directed movement probably for a decade now,” she told me. “I do believe that this will be the watershed moment, unfortunately. But hopefully, we will come out on the other side of the pandemic and say, ‘There are some good things that happened broadly for healthcare.’ That is the hope of what we lean into everyday, and  fundamentally, why we went out and raised this amount of capital in this tremendous growth year.”

Image Credits: Everlywell

Everlywell has also expanded availability of its products this year, with distribution in over 10,000 retail locations across Target, Walgreens, CVS and Kroger stores across the U.S. The company also landed a number of new partnerships on the diagnostic lab and insurance payer side, as well as with major employers – a key customer group since employers shoulder the largest share of healthcare spending in the U.S. due to employee benefit plans. Cheek says that despite their commercial and enterprise customer wins, the focus remains squarely on consumer satisfaction, which is what distinguishes their offering.

“Our COVID-19 test is 75% new people buying our product, and it has an NPS [net promoter score] of 75,” she said. “And then it’s the most highly-referred product, and also one of our top tests where people buy other tests. Experience matters here – we know that if someone is a promoter of Everlywell, if they rate us a nine or a 10, on NPS, they are five times more likely to purchase again on the platform.”

That’s not new for Everlywell, according to Cheek – customers have always had a high degree of satisfaction with the company’s products. But what is new is the expanded reach, and the realization among many Americans that virtual care and at-home options are available, and are effective.

“What you have is this lightbulb moment for Americans in a new way that care can be delivered where then they definitely don’t want to go back,” she said. “It’s not just for Everlywell. This is all of these verticals, that have really shifted consumer behavior around healthcare in the home, and I think that will be somewhat permanent. That is the main driver here, and is what we’re seeing, and it’s why Everlywell has resonated so well with so many Americans.”

#articles, #battlefield, #biotech, #blackrock, #ceo, #chernin-group, #cvs, #driver, #everlywell, #food, #foresite-capital, #funding, #greenspring-associates, #health, #healthcare, #highland-capital-partners, #kroger, #morningside-ventures, #national-park-service, #occupational-safety-and-health, #portfolio, #recent-funding, #science, #startups, #target, #tc, #united-states, #walgreens

GoodRx, Walgreens, CVS shares all down on Amazon’s Pharmacy news

Consumer healthcare stocks are plummeting this morning on news that Amazon has finally launched its integrated pharmacy service.

The news, which could dramatically reshape the healthcare landscape by offering deep discounts on prescription medication and two-day delivery services for Amazon Prime customers, has already taken a toll on the share price of companies like GoodRx, Walgreens, and CVS.

GoodRx was hit the hardest, with its shares slumping 19% in pre-market trading. Walgreens Boots Alliance was down nearly 10% before market open and CVS Health slid 7%.

Amazon has been steadily encroaching on pharmacy businesses in the same way the company has moved into grocery delivery and everyday consumer staples.

The convergence of food and pharmacy has been a decades-long evolution for mega-retailers on both sides of the divide — with grocers building out pharmacy services and pharmacies adding food to their shelves.

Since its acquisition of Pillpack in 2018, Amazon has been adding additional pharmaceutical and healthcare services. It launched its own over-the-counter drugs in 2019, and rolled out a healthcare network for its employees — Amazon Care for its workers in Seattle.

In August, Amazon launched its fitness tracker, Halo. The personal health and wellness monitoring and advice service includes a $64.99 wrist tracker and an application suite for monitoring health.

As TechCrunch noted, the service includes more than the standard health tracking gadget/app combo, by taking a comprehensive look at various measures of health, including body fat percentage, as measured at home with just your smartphone’s own camera and the Amazon Halo app.

Taken together, Amazon’s array of hardware, software, pharmacy services and healthcare network represents the most complete package of health services across industries.

It’s a powerful pitch to consumers, and one that could ultimately significantly drive down healthcare costs. And drive down the revenue of other pharmacies, which investors are not stoked to imagine.

#amazon, #cvs, #tc, #walgreens

CVS becomes first national retailer to offer support for PayPal and Venmo QR codes at checkout

PayPal announced this morning that its customers can now use either PayPal or Venmo QR codes when checking out at over 8,200 CVS retail stores across the U.S. This is the first national retailer to integrate PayPal’s QR code checkout technology at point-of-sale, the company noted. The additional checkout option will also expand the number of ways customers can pay “touch-free” at CVS — a way to transact that’s become increasingly popular as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across the country.

CVS and PayPal announced their plans to cooperate on a point-of-sale solution back in July. At the time, they pegged the timeframe for the rollout as sometime in Q4 2020.

The QR code checkout process itself will pull the funds needed for the purchase from the customer’s existing PayPal or Venmo account balance, bank account, or from a debit or credit card, just as it would if the transaction was taking place online. Venmo users will additionally have the option to utilize their Venmo Rewards.

Image Credits: PayPal

The transaction does not include any fees, PayPal says. Plus, CVS’ ExtraCare Rewards Program members will still be able to redeem and apply savings using their ExtraCare account when using PayPal’s QR code checkout.

The entire transaction can be touch-free, as it involves QR code scanning as opposed to using a card that has to be swiped or inserted into a terminal or numbers punched into a keypad.

The new option arrives at a time when CVS says it’s seeing increased demand for contactless payments.

Since January, CVS has seen a 43% increase in touch-free transactions, according to data from Forrester. In addition, 11% of the U.S. population says they’re now using a digital payment method for the first time as a result of the pandemic, PayPal noted. The company’s own research also indicated that 57% of consumers said merchants’ digital payment offerings impacted their decisions to shop in their stores.

To use the new QR code checkout option, customers will first launch either their PayPal or Venmo app, click the “Scan” button, then select the “show to pay” option.

The new checkout experience was made possible through PayPal’s partnership with payments technology provider InComm, which distributed the PayPal QR code technology through its cloud-based software updates to make the feature available at point-of-sale.

While CVS is the first national retailer to rollout PayPal’s QR code checkout, PayPal said it has 10 other major retailers signed up for a similar rollout, including Nike, Tumi, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Samsonite, among others. It’s in discussions with well over 100 large retailers about the technology, as well.

“The launch of PayPal and Venmo QR codes in CVS Pharmacy stores will not only provide health-conscious customers with a touch-free way to pay at checkout, but also brings the safety and security of PayPal and Venmo transactions into the store with shoppers,” said Jeremy Jonker, PayPal Senior Vice President Head of Consumer In-Store and Digital Commerce, in a statement. “We are thrilled that PayPal and Venmo QR codes will help to maintain the safety of CVS customers and employees, especially in the essential pharmacy retail environment as we go into the winter months.”

In addition to the CVS news, PayPal today also noted that its recently announced “Pay in 4” option for splitting purchases across four installments is now fully live across millions of retailers.

#commerce, #cvs, #cvs-pharmacy, #finance, #financial-technology, #incomm, #money, #online-payments, #online-shopping, #paypal, #qr-code, #retail, #retail-stores, #shopping, #venmo

CVS adds another Big Health product to its point solutions management program

CVS Caremark launched its point solutions management program with a sleep service from Big Health nearly a year ago, and now it’s adding another of the digital mental healthcare startup’s products to its suite of managed point solutions. 

The Daylight product, which is designed to help people alleviate worry and anxiety, will join an expanding list of digital therapeutics that CVS Caremark offers to manage for employer-directed healthcare plans.

Other services in the CVS Caremark portfolio of offerings include Sleepio, a personalized digital sleep program from Big Health; Hello Heart, which helps members understand and improve their heart health; Hinge Health, which provides an app-based coaching and wearable sensor for chronic back and joint pain management; Livongo which provides coaching, monitoring devices, and digital treatments for conditions including diabetes, hypertension, weight management, and diabetes prevention solutions; Torchlight, a caregiver support solution; and Whil, a digital training platform for mindfulness, stress resilience, mental well-being and performance.

“Plan sponsors increasingly see the value in health care point solutions for improving workforce productivity, satisfaction and overall well-being, however with so many options on the market, it can be challenging to identify trusted solutions that best meet the needs of their members,” said Sree Chaguturu, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, CVS Caremark, the pharmacy benefit management business of CVS Health, in a statement earlier this year. “We have analyzed pharmacy and medical claims to identify where these benefits can make a difference and employ a rigorous and transparent evaluation process to assure that any vendor included in Point Solutions Management meets high standards for safety, quality and user experience at the vendor’s lowest price in the marketplace.”  

According to Chaguturu plan providers are interested in point solutions that can digitally compliment the care that patients receive from physicians that can help with self-management of chronic conditions.

These self-directed, digitally enhanced therapies are especially important at a time when more care is being conducted remotely thanks to the social distancing demands imposed by efforts to control the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.

“The point solutions management platform is a platform designed for B2B2C.. Where plan sponsors are contracting through the platform to help their members,” said Chaguturu, in an interview. “We work with Big Health to support awareness of the application through our other platforms as well.”

Rather than go direct to consumer like any number of other mental health and wellness applications vying for customers, Big Health has chosen to work with employer provided healthcare plans and services like CVS Caremark’s because it can reach more people, said Big Health co-founder Peter Hames.

“CVS has shown real forward thinking in implmenting this platform to provide this conduit to digital care,” Hames said.CVS Caremark administrates benefits to over 100 million people in America. The scope via the reimbursement space is huge… We could take a direct to consumer model. [But] my experience has shown me that going through this reimbursed pathway provides  a much bigger vector.” 

The two companies declined to disclose the financial terms of the arrangement between CVS and Big Health, but Chaguturu did say that the company did not invest in solutions offered through its program or have a financial interest in the business.

Big Health has raised over $54 million from investors including Octopus Ventures, Samsung Next, Glide Healthcare, Morningside Group, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, and Index Ventures, according to data from Crunchbase.

#america, #big-health, #companies, #cvs, #cvs-health, #cvs-pharmacy, #diabetes, #healthcare, #hypertension, #livongo, #octopus-ventures, #pain-management, #samsung, #tc, #united-states

Nuro’s self-driving vehicles to deliver prescriptions for CVS Pharmacy

Nuro, the autonomous robotics startup that has raised more than $1 billion from Softbank Vision Fund, Greylock and other investors, said Thursday it will test prescription delivery in Houston through a partnership with CVS Pharmacy. The pilot, which will use a fleet of the startup’s autonomous Toyota Prius vehicles and transition to using its custom-built R2 delivery bots, is slated to begin in June.

The partnership marks Nuro’s expansion beyond groceries and into healthcare. Last month, the startup dipped its autonomous toe in the healthcare field through a program to delivery food and medical supplies at temporary field hospitals in California set up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pilot program centers on one CVS Pharmacy in Bellaire, Texas and will serve customers across three zip codes. Customers who place prescription orders via CVS’ website or pharmacy app will be given the option to choose an autonomous delivery option. These pharmacy customers will also be able add other non-prescription items to their order.

Once the autonomous vehicle arrives, customers will need to confirm their identification to unlock their delivery. Deliveries will be free of charge for CVS Pharmacy customers.

“We are seeing an increased demand for prescription delivery,” Ryan Rumbarger, senior vice
president of store operations at CVS Health, said in a prepared statement. “We want to give our customers more choice in how they can quickly access the medications they need when it’s not convenient for them to visit one of our pharmacy locations.”

Nuro is already operating in the Houston area. Walmart announced in December a pilot program to test autonomous grocery delivery in the Houston market using Nuro’s autonomous vehicles. Under the pilot, Nuro’s vehicles deliver Walmart online grocery orders to a select group of customers who opt into the service in Houston. The autonomous delivery service involves R2, Nuro’s custom-built delivery vehicle that carries products only, with no on-board drivers or passengers, as well as autonomous Toyota Priuses that deliver groceries.

Nuro also partnered with Kroger (Fry’s) in 2018 to test autonomous Prius vehicles and its first-generation custom-built robot known as R1. The R1 autonomous vehicle was operating as a driverless service without a safety driver on board in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale. In March 2019, Nuro moved the service with Kroger to Houston, beginning with autonomous Priuses.

nuro sleep train autonomous

Image Credits: Nuro

The company’s contactless delivery program shuttling medical supplies and food is also continuing. Under that program, which began in late April, Nuro’s R2 bots are used at two events centers — in San Mateo and the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento — that have been turned into temporary healthcare facilities for COVID-19 patients. Nuro is delivering meals and equipment to more than 50 medical staff at both sites every week.

It’s unclear how long the field hospital program will continue. Last week, there were 25 patients across the two sites. The Sleep Train Arena is accepting patients through June 30 via California Office of Emergency Services. The hospital may be converted to a shelter for those affected by fires through the end of this year.

#automotive, #companies, #cvs, #cvs-health, #cvs-pharmacy, #dave-ferguson, #houston, #nuro, #pharmacy, #retailers, #select, #softbank, #toyota, #transportation, #walmart

UPS and CVS will offer prescription drug delivery to Florida community via drone

On May 4, CVS and UPS will begin offering drone-based prescription drug delivery to Florida’s massive retirement community, The Villages. The news is part of a partnership with Matternet that began last year, utilizing the company’s M2 drone system to make similar delivers to customers in North Carolina. Last March, the company announced an initial deal, which found Matternet’s drones delivering medical supplies at WakeMed’s flagship hospital in North Carolina. The drones are capable of carrying a five pound payload up to 12 miles.

The expansion comes as residents all over the U.S. have had diminished access to the outside world as part of state issued lockdown measures. Florida’s state at home order order is currently expected to last at least through April 30, though some restrictions have been loosened on beaches throughout the state.

The move is falls under the FAA’s Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft regulations, “with authority to operate through the pandemic and explore ongoing needs as they arise after that period,” according to UPS. The parcel delivery services is exploring opening up deliveries to two more CVS locations in the immediate area.

Seniors (60 and up) are, of course, the most vulnerable to this novel coronavirus. Those over 80 are even more at risk, with a fatality risk of around 15% among those who contract the virus.

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #cvs, #hardware, #matternet, #ups