Elon Musk says he’s hiking “full self driving” by another $2,000

The Model Y still includes a steering wheel for Tesla owners who want to drive for themselves.

Enlarge / The Model Y still includes a steering wheel for Tesla owners who want to drive for themselves. (credit: Tesla)

Tesla’s highly controversial “full self driving” feature is getting yet another price increase. CEO Elon Musk used his Twitter feed last Friday to announce the price hike, telling his millions of followers, “Tesla FSD price rising to $12k on Jan 17.”

Price increases have been a fairly constant theme with the driver-assistance system. In the wake of Uber’s well-publicized IPO in 2019, Tesla got ridehailing fever, with Musk claiming that a self-driving Tesla could earn $30,000 a year in income, working the streets while its owner is asleep or at work.

“If you buy a Tesla today, I believe you are buying an appreciating asset—not a depreciating asset,” Musk said. (Although the company’s EVs do command strong prices in the used car market, they are still, in fact, subject to depreciation, according to a search on Autotrader conducted this morning.)

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#cars, #elon-musk, #full-self-driving, #tesla

Elon Musk rejects claims his satellites are squeezing out rivals in space

Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad.

Enlarge / A SpaceX rocket ready for launch. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Elon Musk has hit back at criticism that his company’s Starlink satellites are hogging too much room in space, and has instead argued there could be room for “tens of billions” of spacecraft in orbits close to Earth.

“Space is just extremely enormous, and satellites are very tiny,” Musk said. “This is not some situation where we’re effectively blocking others in any way. We’ve not blocked anyone from doing anything, nor do we expect to.”

His comments, made in an interview with the Financial Times, came in response to a claim from Josef Aschbacher, head of the European Space Agency, that Musk was “making the rules” for the new commercial space economy. Speaking to the FT earlier this month, Aschbacher warned that Musk’s rush to launch thousands of communications satellites would leave fewer radio frequencies and orbital slots available for everyone else.

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#elon-musk, #fcc, #satellites, #science, #space-junk, #spacex, #starlink

Tesla sexual harassment lawsuits multiply as 6 more women sue Musk-led firm

Tesla signs outside of a showroom and service center.

Enlarge / A Tesla showroom and service center on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in Burbank, California. (credit: Getty Images | Kent Nishimura )

Six more women sued Tesla yesterday, alleging that the company failed to stop rampant sexual harassment at factory facilities in Fremont, California, and service centers in the Los Angeles area.

The lawsuits are similar to one filed last month by employee Jessica Barraza, who alleged that she and other women working in the carmaker’s Fremont factory have been subjected to “nightmarish conditions of rampant sexual harassment,” including offensive comments, propositions, and “frequent groping on the factory floor.” Barraza alleged that managers and human resources personnel failed to protect her even though she complained repeatedly.

The lawsuits filed yesterday “detail specific instances of harassment that each woman experienced, and the lack of action from Tesla when these claims were reported,” according to a press release from law firm Rudy Exelrod Zieff & Lowe, which represents Barazza and the six other women. “Those who complained were sometimes threatened into silence or faced undesirable transfers. The message was clear, there would be no consequences for abusers. The six women describe an environment in which it was normal for women to be catcalled, ogled, touched inappropriately, and propositioned.”

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#elon-musk, #policy, #sexual-harassment, #tesla

ESA head says Europe needs to stop facilitating Elon Musk’s ambitions in space

Elon Musk being allowed to “make the rules” in space, ESA chief warns

Enlarge (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

The head of the European Space Agency has urged the continent’s leaders to stop facilitating Elon Musk’s ambition to dominate the new space economy, warning that the lack of co-ordinated action meant the US billionaire was “making the rules” himself.

Josef Aschbacher, the new director-general of ESA, said that Europe’s readiness to help the rapid expansion of Musk’s Starlink satellite internet service risked hindering the region’s own companies from realising the potential of commercial space.

“Space will be much more restrictive [in terms of] frequencies and orbital slots,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times. “The governments of Europe collectively should have an interest to… give European providers equal opportunities to play on a fair market.”

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#elon-musk, #esa, #nasa, #satellites, #science, #space-junk, #spacex, #starlink

Millionaire Space Tourism Doesn’t Come With an Awe Guarantee

Space tourism is one of those ostensibly awesome experiences that often feel anticlimactic because they promise the sublime.

#blue-origin, #elon-musk, #emotions, #high-net-worth-individuals, #jeff-bezos, #private-spaceflight, #richard-branson, #senses-and-sensation, #space, #space-and-astronomy, #travel-and-vacations, #virgin-galactic

Tesla relocates from California, sets up new corporate HQ in Texas

Tesla is not completely abandoning California, but it has moved its HQ to Austin, Texas.

Enlarge / Tesla is not completely abandoning California, but it has moved its HQ to Austin, Texas. (credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

On Thursday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk told investors that the US’s largest electric carmaker has moved its headquarters from California to Texas. In 2020, Musk personally relocated to Texas, which is home to SpaceX facilities and a new Tesla factory outside Austin. Now the Texas state capital will be the new official home of Tesla, too.

In 2020, Musk was at loggerheads with the California government in response to public health measures enacted to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 700,000 Americans. Musk was dismissive about the threat of COVID-19, predicting that infections would fizzle out by April 2020, and he was infuriated at having to temporarily close Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California—an act he described as “frankly… the final straw.”

Tesla filed and then dropped a lawsuit against Alameda County and then declared that the company would leave the state. Within days, Musk revealed that he had picked Texas for the site of Tesla’s next American factory. This week’s announcement finalizes that decision.

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#california, #cars, #elon-musk, #tesla, #texas

Inspiration4’s successful splashdown is just the beginning of private spaceflight for SpaceX

Just like that, they came back.

The Inspiration4 crew made a triumphant splashdown on Saturday evening off the east coast of Florida, marking the close of the first completely private, all-civilian space mission. SpaceX’s Go Searcher recovery ship hauled the Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, a little less than an hour after splashdown. The crew was then ferried via helicopter to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where they received standard medical checks.

The successful completion of the mission is a major triumph for Elon Musk and SpaceX (and, more peripherally, NASA, which funded the development of the tech), who conducted the entirety of the mission. It’s also perhaps our clearest signal that a new dawn of space travel is officially here.

Benji Reed, SpaceX’s senior director for human-spaceflight programs, told reporters that the company is seeing an increased number of inquiries from potential customers for private missions. The company could fly “three, four, five, six times a year at least,” he said.

Of course, mission commander Jared Isaacman is not the first billionaire to go to space. This summer, both Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos conducted their own orbital joy-rides in vehicles developed by their respective companies, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. But those trips were significantly shorter – Bezos and his three crewmates went to space and back in under fifteen minutes, essentially traveling in a long parabolic arc.

In contrast, the Inspiration4 crew spent three days orbiting Earth at an altitude that went as high as 590 kilometers – that’s higher than the International Space Station, meaning they were the most ‘outer’ of all the people in space. Over the course of their mission, they travelled around the Earth an average of fifteen times per day.

While in orbit, the crew conducted a handful of science experiments, mostly capturing data on themselves with the aim of furthering our understanding of the effects of spaceflight on the human body. The crew also spent some time in the large glass domed window, which SpaceX calls the “cupola,” snapping pictures of space.

Other than Isaacman, who made his fortune from his payment processing company Shift4 payments, the crew included physician assistant and childhood cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux; geoscientist Sian Proctor; and Lockheed Martin engineer Chris Sembroski. Among the other firsts for the crew, Arceneaux is the youngest American to go to space and the first person with a prosthesis to go to space; Proctor is the first Black woman to pilot a space mission.

The historic mission was paid for entirely by Isaacman, though both he and SpaceX are staying mum on how much it cost in total. Instead, the mission was being framed as a $200 million fundraiser for St. Jude Research Hospital, to which Isaacman donated $100 million and Musk donated $50 million. The fundraiser received an additional $60.2 million in public donations.

This is the second time the Resilience spacecraft has safely carried humans to and from space. The first mission, Crew-1, carried four astronauts (three from NASA, one from the Japanese space agency) to the ISS and returned them back to Earth in May. SpaceX will be conducting another handful of crewed missions over the next six months, including another mission to the ISS on behalf of NASA and the European Space Agency, as well as the private AX-1 mission on behalf of Axiom Space.

“Thanks so much SpaceX, that was a heck of a ride for us,” Isaacman said moments after the capsule landed. “We’re just getting started.”

Watch a full stream of the splashdown here:

#aerospace, #crew-dragon, #elon-musk, #inspiration4, #private-spaceflight, #space, #spacex

Elon Musk praises Chinese automakers amidst regulatory scrutiny

An unusually scripted Elon Musk issued conciliatory and complimentary comments to Chinese automakers during a pre-recorded appearance at China’s World New Energy Vehicle Congress, striking a pose that is worlds away from his commentary style in the United States.

“I have a great deal of respect for the many Chinese automakers for driving these [EV and AV] technologies,” he said, the reflection of a ring light just visible in the window over his left shoulder. The entire tableau was enough to make one suspect that there was a crisis communications expert just out of frame, urging him to continue with his prepared remarks.

Then again, perhaps Musk doesn’t need any external coaxing; China is one of the most lucrative markets for electric vehicles in the entire world, accounting for around one-fifth – or $6.66 billion – of Tesla’s overall sales last year, according to regulatory filings.

While the United States continues to be one Tesla’s largest market, the company has aggressively pursued expansion in China, including opening Gigafactory Shanghai in 2019 to manufacture the Model 3 and Model Y. Tesla faces competition from Chinese automakers, including electric car startup Xpeng and the search giant company Baidu.

“My frank observation is that Chinese automobile companies are the most competitive in the world, especially because some are very good at software, and it is software that will most shape the future of the automobile industry, from design to manufacturing and especially autonomous driving,” Musk said in the message.

The company’s entrance into the EV market of the world’s most populous nation was bumpy at first, but Tesla managed to turn it around. Last year, the Tesla Model 3 was the best-selling EV in China. Tesla has also received unprecedented autonomy in the region, especially as it is the only non-Chinese automaker allowed to wholly own its local subsidiary. It’s a fact that Musk’s noted in past public appearances.

“I think something that’s really quite noteworthy here is, Tesla’s the only foreign manufacturer to have a hundred percent owned factory in China,” Musk said during the company’s Battery Day event last year. “This is often not well understood or not appreciated, but to have the only hundred percent owned foreign factory in China is a really big deal, and it’s paying huge dividends.”

But it hasn’t all been roses: the company has faced a flurry of negative media from both consumers and regulators this year, beginning in February when Chinese government officials summoned company executives for a meeting over vehicle safety concerns.  (To which Tesla said, “We sincerely accepted the guidance of government departments and deeply reflected on shortcomings in our business operations.”)

Then, in April, a woman who said she was a Tesla owner protested the company at the Shanghai auto show in April. Bloomberg reported a few months later that Tesla was attempting to build relationships with Chinese social media influencers and auto-industry publications to combat all the bad PR.

In his pre-recorded remarks, Musk also responded to a question on self-driving vehicles and data security, calling it “not only the responsibility of a single company but also the cornerstone of the whole industry development.” This issue is especially sensitive after news emerged that the Chinese military banned drivers from parking their Tesla’s at its facilities. Last month, China released new regulations aimed at bolstering data security in connected automobiles, Tech Wire Asia reported. Tesla and other automakers, including Ford and BMW, moved to establish local data storage centers in China.

“Tesla will work with national authorities in all countries to ensure data security of intelligent and connected vehicles,” he added.

#automotive, #china, #electric-vehicles, #elon-musk, #tesla, #transportation, #xpeng

Tesla will open controversial FSD beta software to owners with a good driving record

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company will use personal driving data to determine whether owners who have paid for its controversial “Full Self-Driving” software can access the latest beta version that promises more automated driving functions.

Musk tweeted late Thursday night that the FSD Beta v10.0.1 software update, which has already been pushed out to a group of select owners, will become more widely available starting September 24.

Owners who have paid for FSD, which currently costs $10,000, will be offered access to the beta software through a “beta request button.” Drivers who select the beta software will be asked for permission to access their driving behavior using Tesla’s insurance calculator, Musk wrote in a tweet.

“If driving behavior is good for seven days, beta access will be granted,” Musk wrote.

Tesla vehicles come standard with a driver assistance system branded as Autopilot. For an additional $10,000, owners can buy “full self-driving,” or FSD — software that Musk has repeatedly promised will one day deliver full autonomous driving capabilities.

FSD, which has steadily increased in price and has added new functions, has been available as an option for years. However, Tesla vehicles are not self-driving. FSD includes the parking feature Summon as well as Navigate on Autopilot, an active guidance system that navigates a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including interchanges and making lane changes.

The latest FSD Beta is supposed to automate driving on highways and city streets. However, this is still a Level 2 driver assistance system that requires the driver to pay attention, have their hands on the wheel and take control at all times. Recent videos posted showing owners’ experiences with this beta software provide a mixed picture of its capability. In some videos, the vehicles handle city driving; in many others, drivers are seen taking control due to missed turns, being too close to the curb, failure to creep forward and, in one case, veering off suddenly toward pedestrians.

#automotive, #autopilot, #elon-musk, #fsd, #insurance, #tesla

Tesla should say something

Last weekend, a reader wrote to this editor, politely asking why tech companies should speak up about the abortion law that Texas passed last week.

“What does American Airlines have to do with abortion?” said the reader, suggesting that companies can’t possibly cater to both pro-abortion and anti-abortion advocates and that asking them to take a stand on an issue unrelated to their business would only contribute to the politicization of America.

It’s a widely held point of view, and the decision yesterday by the U.S. Department of Justice to challenge the law, which U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has called “clearly unconstitutional,” may well reinforce it. After all, if anyone should be pushing back against what happened in the Lone Star State, it should be other legislators, not companies, right?

Still, there are more reasons than not for technology companies – and particularly Tesla – to step out of the shadows and bat down this law.

It’s a fact that abortion restrictions lead to higher healthcare costs for employers, but one consequence of the Texas law that could hit tech companies especially hard is its impact on hiring. According to a study by the social enterprise Rhia Ventures, 60% of women say they would be discouraged from taking a job in a state that has tried to restrict access to abortion, and the same is true for a slight majority of men, the study found.

Texas’s abortion law also creates an extra-judicial enforcement mechanism that should alarm tech companies. The new law allows private citizens to sue not just abortion providers but anyone who wittingly or unwittingly helps a woman obtain an abortion, whether they have a connection to the case or not. More, there are significant financial awards should a plaintiff win: each defendant is subject to paying $10,000, as well as subject to covering the costs and plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.

Just imagine if this precedent were applied to an issue that involves technology companies, such as consumer privacy. As Seth Chandler, a law professor at the University of Houston Law Center, observed to ABC this week. “[the] recipe that SB 8 has developed is not restricted to abortion. It can be used for any constitutional rights that people don’t like.”

Tech companies might very well say that taking asides on the Texas abortion debate would be the political equivalent of jumping on a live wire, and it’s easy to sympathize with this viewpoint. Even though Pew Research reports that about 6 in 10 Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, passions are heated on both sides.

Still, corporations have safely stood up for their values on controversial issues before — and they’ve shown that corporate pressure works. In a 2016, a group of roughly 70 major corporations, including Apple, Cisco, and even, yes, American Airlines, joined a legal effort to block a North Carolina law that banned transgender people from using public bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. Their ‘friend of the court’ brief argued that the law condoned “invidious discrimination” and would damage their ability to recruit and retain a diverse workforce.

By 2017, having already experienced severe economic consequences a lot of these same companies stopped doing business with North Carolina, the ban was rescinded.

The handful of CEOs, including from Lyft, Uber, Yelp, and Bumble have already taken very public positions against the next Texas law.  A company like Tesla could have an even bigger impact on the state’s politics. Elon Musk’s move to Texas ignited a firestorm of interest in the Texas tech scene, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott was so cognizant of Musk’s influence that he said Musk supported his state’s “social policies” the day after the new law was passed.

Musk — whose many financial interests in Texas include plans to build a new city called Starbase and to become a local electricity provider — has so far refused to take a stand on the law. When asked about the issue, he responded, “In general, I believe government should rarely impose its will upon the people, and, when doing so, should aspire to maximize their cumulative happiness.”

He also added that he would “prefer to stay out of politics.”

That could prove a mistake as lawmakers and executives in at least seven states, including Florida and South Dakota, have said they’re closing reviewing Texas’s new law and considering similar statutes.

In May 2019, nearly 200 CEOs, including Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Peter Grauer of Bloomberg a signed a full-page New York Times ad declaring that abortion bans are bad for business: “Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion,” the ad read, “threatens the health, independence and economic stability of our employees and customers.”

If Musk truly believes government should “rarely impose its will upon the people,” he should take a similar, public stand in Texas while the federal government fights what’s anticipated to be a long, uphill battle. He has little to lose in doing so — and much to gain.

#elon-musk, #spacex, #starbase, #tc, #tesla, #texas, #womens-rights

Elon Musk warns the Tesla Roadster might not ship until at least 2023

Add the Roadster to the list of delayed Tesla vehicles. On Wednesday, CEO Elon Musk said the performance EV wouldn’t make its previously announced 2022 shipment date. “2021 has been the year of super crazy supply chain shortages, so it wouldn’t matter if we had 17 new products, as none would ship,” he said in a tweet spotted by Roadshow. The executive added the Roadster should ship in 2023, “assuming 2022 is not mega drama.”

Tesla first announced its next-generation Roadster in 2017. Back then, the company expected to debut the car sometime last year. 2020 came and went without Tesla sharing much information on the supercar. Then, at the start of the year, Musk said production on the Roadster would start in 2022. Whether the car will make its new date is a big if. The global chip shortage that delayed the Tesla Semi is expected to continue until 2023, and Musk’s tweet hints at the possibility of further delays.

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

#column, #elon-musk, #ev, #roadster, #tc, #tceng, #tesla

Pandemic-driven liquid oxygen shortage threatens ULA, SpaceX launches

The ongoing reverberations from the COVID-19 pandemic are continuing to make themselves felt in the most unlikely of places: spaceflight. On Friday, NASA took the unexpected step to ground a September satellite launch due to pandemic-related shortages of liquid oxygen (LOX), and there may be more launch delays yet to come.

Demand for oxygen has only risen with the Delta variant, which in many cities pushed hospitalization and ICU admittance rates back to where they were at the start of the pandemic. But oxygen isn’t just used in ventilators. The space industry uses LOX as an oxidizer in rocket propellant, often in combination with other gases like liquid hydrogen. (That’s why there can be so much steam during a launch – it’s the hydrogen reacting with the oxygen to form water.)

NASA and United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, said the launch date for the Landsat 9 satellite will now take place on September 23.

ULA isn’t the only launch company to potentially be impacted by the LOX shortage. “We’re actually going to be impacted this year with the lack of liquid oxygen for launch,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said last week during a panel at the Space Symposium. “We certainly are going to make sure the hospitals are going to have the oxygen that they need, but for anybody who has liquid oxygen to spare, send me an email.”

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, was more tempered a few days later on Twitter, saying that the LOX shortage “is a risk, but not yet a limiting factor.”

Even beyond the actual supply of oxygen, the gas shortage is also being exacerbated by widespread shipping delays as coronavirus-related disruptions continue to impact the supply chain. ULA CEO Tory Bruno added on Twitter that a contractor who handles nitrogen transportation to Vandenberg Space Force Base in California was diverted to assist with LOX delivery in Florida.

It’s not just the space industry that’s feeling the effects of the LOX squeeze: shortly before NASA announced the launch delay, Orlando, Florida officials sent out a separate notice urging residents to conserve water, as LOX is used to treat the city’s water supply.

“Nationally, the demand for liquid oxygen is extremely high as the priority for its use is to save lives, which is limiting the supply that [Orlando municipal water utility] OUC is receiving,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said on Facebook. “There could be impacts to our water quality if we do not immediately reduce the amount of water we need to treat.”

As early as May of last year, the nonprofit Center for Global Development called COVID-19 a “wake-up call” for ensuring an adequate supply of oxygen to hospitals.

#aerospace, #elon-musk, #gwynne-shotwell, #nasa, #space, #spacex, #supply-chains, #tory-bruno, #united-launch-alliance

Elon Musk’s Loop gets Autopilot — and an intruder

Less than two weeks after its official launch, The Boring Company’s Loop system in Las Vegas had its first security breach.

On June 21, the morning of the final day of the International Beauty Show, an “unauthorized vehicle” joined the system’s fleet of Tesla taxis underground, emails between the Loop’s operations manager and a Clark County official show. The emails were obtained by TechCrunch under public records laws.

The emails provide new insight into the operations of the Loop beyond the intrusion, including the system’s surprising reliance on a non-Tesla electric vehicle, plans to allow Tesla vehicles to use its Autopilot driver assistance system and confirmation within company ranks that the technology is not autonomous.

The Boring Company (TBC) called the Las Vegas Metro Police to handle the intrusion. “The driver of the unauthorized vehicle was cooperative and eventually escorted out of the system,” reads one email.

While there were no injuries or fatalities as a result of the security breach, the incident could be embarrassing for TBC, which has touted the security and safety of its $53 million system to the LVCC.

According to a management agreement between TBC and the LVCC, the system is supposed to have “physical barriers [to] guard against entry of accidental, rogue, or otherwise unauthorized vehicles into the tunnels.” These include security gates on roadways into the system, and dozens of concrete bollards surrounding its ground-level stations.

Neither TBC nor LVCC responded to inquiries about the incident. TechCrunch will update the article if either party responds to questions.

Autopilot gets a chance

The emails obtained by TechCrunch provide more than the exploits of a thrill-seeking trespasser.

The emails also detail plans by TBC to increase the number of Tesla vehicles in the LVCC Loop from 62 to 70, and to allow the use of Tesla Autopilot technologies. Until now, TBC has had to disable all driver assistance technologies on its vehicles, which are operated by human drivers.

The new scope of operations will require the use of seven active safety technologies — automatic emergency braking, front and side collision warnings, obstacle-aware acceleration, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure avoidance, emergency lane departure warning as well as two “full Autopilot” technologies: lane centering and traffic aware cruise control.

TBC’s justification for using Autopilot was set out in a letter to the Clark County Department of Building & Fire Prevention in June, obtained by TechCrunch along with the emails.

TBC president Steve Davis wrote that disabling the features “actively removes a layer of safety,” from a “proven, road-legal technology.” Davis quoted Tesla’s Safety Report for the first quarter of 2021 that claims Tesla drivers operating with Autopilot experienced crashes at less than a quarter the rate of Tesla drivers operating without Autopilot or active safety features, per mile driven. “As demonstrated… disabling these features in Tesla vehicles increases the likelihood of an accident,” wrote Davis.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), however, last week opened a formal safety probe into the technology, following a number of crashes.

Jerry Stueve, the director of the building and fire protection in Clark County, replied in an email: “We will take this under consideration, although it may help in our evaluation of this request if you can better define the term ‘autodrive’ and what it entails.”

“Agreed that the term ‘Autopilot’ is often unclear and can mean many different things depending on the vehicle and scenario,” replied Davis. (In this, he apparently disagrees with his boss, Elon Musk, who has called criticism of the Autopilot name as misleading “idiotic.”)

“Agreed that the term ‘Autopilot’ is often unclear and can mean many different things depending on the vehicle and scenario.” – Steve Davis, TBC

“These are not ‘autonomous’ nor ‘self-driving’ vehicles,” continued Davis. “The use of Tesla Autopilot and active safety features adds additional layers of safety while operating the vehicle, however the use of the features still requires a fully attentive driver who is ready to take over the wheel at any moment.”

Autopilot versus autonomous driving

This distinction is key, as it appears to contradict what TBC has promised LVCC since it first pitched the Loop system. In its land use application in May 2019, prior to signing the construction construct, TBC wrote: “Tesla Autonomous Electric Vehicles (AEVs) will carry passengers in express, underground tunnels to three underground stations.”

A planning document in July 2019 stated: “Utilizing autonomous electric vehicles in underground tunnels is a unique transportation solution that will minimize disruptions and conflicts to existing buildings and transportation systems.” It has used similar language in applications ever since, including for a proposed Vegas-wide Loop with dozens of stations.

In January, TechCrunch obtained a management agreement between LVCC and TBC that stated: “[The LVCC] procured the People Mover System, in part, because of the ability for People Mover System vehicles to operate autonomously … The Agreement recognizes the intent for the System to move from drivers in the vehicles to autonomous operations and provides for a fee renegotiation, no later than December 31 2021, incorporating this expected transition in operations.”

That deadline now seems almost certain to be missed. In June, Stueve told Davis: “As stated early in the project, the approval of autonomous operation will require extensive scrutiny, testing and validation. This process could take a significant amount of time.”

In reply, Davis wrote: “I want to make sure that it is clear that we are not asking for autonomous or self-driving features/operations.”

Humans in the Loop

The problem is two-fold. One is that Tesla’s Autopilot system may not be able to operate completely without a driver for some time to come. The second, arguably more serious, challenge is that the Loop is heavily reliant on its drivers to meet the safety requirements for underground transportation systems, laid out in national standards. Passengers of such systems, whether monorails, subways or using electric cars, must be safe in the event of power outages, fires, floods and other emergencies.

The LVCC Loop’s basis of design document, obtained by TechCrunch along with the emails, states: “[Our] trained drivers serve as the system’s key layer of safety. In the event of an emergency, actions taken by drivers to direct passengers in the proper and safe directions are the primary risk mitigating responses.”

Other documents obtained by TechCrunch from BFP confirm this. In the case of fire, the driver will “assist with deboarding passengers, and guide passengers on foot to the closest exit. Driver issues verbal instructions and may physically assist passengers.” As the driver leads passengers by walking ahead of them, they must “consistently look back to ensure every passenger is following closely behind.”

Drivers are responsible for assessing and responding to unruly or misbehaving passengers, and, in fact, for supervising the performance of the Autopilot itself, says TBC. “The [Loop] will have drivers, ensuring that there is always someone overseeing the use of active safety features who is ready to take over braking and steering as needed,” wrote Davis in June.

None of the dozens of documents or hundreds of emails obtained by TechCrunch, including those detailing the LVCC Loop’s future expansion, describe a path or timetable for TBC to move toward fully autonomous operation.

In response to a questionnaire on how the Loop will meet the American Society of Civil Engineers’ safety principles for autonomous systems, TBC responded: “Criteria specific to autonomous operation are not applicable to the [LVCC Loop], as the system will have drivers to operate vehicles.”

Only time will tell whether what TBC is telling Clark County, or what it is telling LVCC, is closer to how the Loop will operate in the future.

In the meantime, if the Loop vehicles are not yet driverless, can the LVCC at least expect them all to be the latest Tesla models? Perhaps not.

Another requirement for the Loop is that it complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In an email to Clark County officials in July, a TBC executive noted that it was going to buy a non-Tesla ADA electric vehicle for the LVCC Loop.

Although the email did not specify the model, it has a low-range lead-acid battery with the same specification as the Tropos Motors Able electric utility vehicle. Neither Tropos nor TBC responded to inquiries.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #elon-musk, #las-vegas, #tesla, #the-loop, #transportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuro’s Nevada play

Nuro-Vegas

Image Credits: Nuro

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

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

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

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

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

Deal of the week

money the station

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other deals that got my attention this week …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

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

ADAS

Tesla CEO Elon Musk admitted that the latest version of its so-called FSD tech — which is an upgraded version of its Autopilot advanced driver assistance system — is “not great.” He went on to write that the “Autopilot/AI team is rallying to improve as fast as possible. We’re trying to have a single tech stack for both highway & city streets, but it requires massive [neural network] retraining.”

Autonomous vehicles

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

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

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

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

Waymo has launched a robotaxi service that will be open to certain vetted riders in San Francisco. The company officially kicked off its Waymo One Trusted Tester program in the city with a fleet of all-electric Jaguar I-PACEs equipped with the company’s fifth generation of its autonomous vehicle system. This is a big step for Waymo and we’ll be watching closely to see how the ramp mirrors, or differs, from its service in the Phoenix area.

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

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

Electric vehicles

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

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

Other bits

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tesla wants to sell electricity in Texas

Elon Musk’s Tesla is looking beyond electric vehicles, solar panels and energy storage and wants to now 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. Over 100 REPs currently compete on the open market.

The company also filed separate applications for several utility-scale batteries in the Lone Star state: a 250-megawatt battery situated near its Gigafactory outside Austin, and a 100 MW separate project outside Houston. These projects are unrelated to the company’s efforts to become an electric provider, but taken as a whole, they reveal an ambitious roadmap for Tesla’s energy businesses.

Imagine: Tesla could not only sell electricity to customers, but it could also broker customers selling their excess energy – generated from Tesla Powerwall or Solar panel products, of course – back to the grid. It’s certainly one way to fulfill Musk’s vision of turning every home into a distributed power plant.

The latest request to the PUC comes just six months after an unprecedented winter storm shut down large parts of Texas’ power grid for days, leaving millions without power during a string of sub-freezing days. A handful of REPs shut down after the storm, which jammed wholesale electricity prices up to $9,000 per megawatt-hour (the seasonal average is around $50).

Musk, who moved many operations to Texas from California, including SpaceX’s sprawling facility in Boca Chica, criticized the state’s grid operator on Twitter at the time:

He said the company was not “earning that R” – referring to the R in the acronym, which stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

Tesla Energy Ventures told PUC regulators that it would use Tesla’s existing energy division to help drive sales, including leveraging the company’s mobile app and website. “Specifically, [Tesla Energy Ventures] will target its existing customers that own Tesla products and market the retail offer to customers through the mobile application and Tesla website,” the application says. “In addition to the Tesla mobile application and Tesla website, the applicant’s existing ‘Tesla Energy Customer Support’ organization will be trained to provide support and guidance to customers in customer acquisition efforts.”

Ana Stewart is listed as president of Tesla Energy Ventures. She’s been with Tesla since 2017 as the director of regulatory credit trading. Prior, she worked at Tesla-acquired SolarCity.

The application is listed under docket number 52431.

#automotive, #elon-musk, #energy, #powerwall, #tesla, #transportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

SpaceX ships 100,000 Starlink terminals to customers, eyes future launches using Starship

Elon Musk’s Starlink project, which aims to provide global broadband connectivity via a constellation of satellites, has shipped 100,000 terminals to customers.

It’s a jaw-dropping pace for the capital-intensive service, which began satellite launches in November 2019 and opened its $99/month beta program for select customers around a year later. Since that period, SpaceX has launched more than 1,700 satellites to date and — in addition to the 100,000 shipped terminals — has received over half a million additional orders for the service.

In some ways, it’s no surprise that SpaceX has managed to accelerate its Starlink service so quickly, as the company launches the satellites itself on the Falcon 9 rocket. Such vertical integration is a key strategy of the space company, now the highest-valued in the world.

Many of Starlink’s beta customers live in remote or rural areas, where access to conventional broadband is limited or nonexistent. Customers pay a $499 upfront cost for the service, which covers a starter kit to get them off the ground: a user terminal (which SpaceX lovingly refers to as “Dishy McFlatface”), Wi-Fi router, power supply, cables and a mounting tripod.

But while Starlink’s rapid growth reflects an aggressive strategy, it’s just the beginning for the project, if SpaceX has anything to say about it. The company ultimately wants to launch around 30,000 Starlink satellites into orbit, and expand its user pool to millions of customers. In an application for the next generation Starlink system, submitted to the Federal Communication Commission on August 18, SpaceX proposed two separate configurations for the constellation, one of which would use its next-gen Starship heavy-lift rocket.

That constellation would top out at 29,988 satellites in total; SpaceX also proposed an alternate configuration using its Falcon 9 rocket. But the obvious advantage of Starship is its massive-size payload capacity.

“SpaceX has found ways to leverage the advanced capabilities of its new launch vehicle, Starship, that has increased capability to deliver more mass to orbit quickly and efficiently and, combined with reuse capability of the upper stage, launch more often,” the company said in the amended application.

#aerospace, #elon-musk, #falcon-9, #space, #spacex, #starlink, #starship

Suing your way to the stars

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

I’m back from a very fun and rehabilitative couple weeks away from my phone, my Twitter account and the news cycle. That said, I actually really missed writing this newsletter, and while Greg did a fantastic job while I was out, I won’t be handing over the reins again anytime soon. Plenty happened this week and I struggled to zero in on a single topic to address, but I finally chose to focus on Bezos’s Blue Origin suing NASA.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The big thing

I was going to write about OnlyFans for the newsletter this week and their fairly shocking move to ban sexually explicit content from their site in a bid to stay friendly with payment processors, but alas I couldn’t help myself and wrote an article for ole TechCrunch dot com instead. Here’s a link if you’re curious.

Now, I should also note that while I was on vacation I missed all of the conversation surrounding Apple’s incredibly controversial child sexual abuse material detection software that really seems to compromise the perceived integrity of personal devices. I’m not alone in finding this to be a pretty worrisome development despite Apple’s intention of staving off a worse alternative. Hopefully, one of these weeks I’ll have the time to talk with some of the folks in the decentralized computing space about how our monolithic reliance on a couple tech companies operating with precious little consumer input is very bad. In the meantime, I will point you to some reporting from TechCrunch’s own Zack Whittaker on the topic which you should peruse because I’m sure it will be a topic I revisit here in the future.

Now then! Onto the topic at hand.

Federal government agencies don’t generally inspire much adoration. While great things have been accomplished at the behest of ample federal funding and the tireless work of civil servants, most agencies are treated as bureaucratic bloat and aren’t generally seen as anything worth passionately defending. Among the public and technologists in particular, NASA occupies a bit more of a sacred space. The American space agency has generally been a source of bipartisan enthusiasm, as has its goal to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024.

Which brings us to some news this week. While so much digital ink was spilled on Jeff Bezos’s little jaunt to the edge of space, cowboy hat, champagne and all, there’s been less fanfare around his space startup’s lawsuit against NASA, which we’ve now learned will delay the development of a new lunar lander by months, potentially throwing NASA’s goal to return astronauts to the moon’s surface on schedule into doubt.

Bezos’s upstart Blue Origin is protesting the fact that they were not awarded a government contract while Elon Musk’s SpaceX earned a $2.89 billion contract to build a lunar lander. This contract wasn’t just recently awarded either, SpaceX won it back in April and Blue Origin had already filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office. This happened before Bezos penned an open letter promising a $2 billion discount for NASA which had seen budget cuts at the hands of Congress dash its hoped to award multiple contracts. None of these maneuverings proved convincing enough for the folks at NASA, pushing Bezos’s space startup to sue the agency.

This little feud has caused long-minded Twitter users to dig up this little gem from a Bezos 2019 speech — as transcribed by Gizmodo — highlighting Bezos’s own distaste for how bureaucracy and greed have hampered NASA’s ability to reach for the stars:

“To the degree that big NASA programs become seen as jobs programs and that they have to be distributed to the right states where the right Senators live, and so on. That is going to change the objective. Now your objective is not to, you know, whatever it is, to get a man to the moon or a woman to the moon, but instead to get a woman to the moon while preserving X number of jobs in my district. That is a complexifier, and not a healthy one…[…]

Today, there would be, you know, three protests, and the losers would sue the federal government because they didn’t win. It’s interesting, but the thing that slows things down is procurement. It’s become the bigger bottleneck than the technology, which I know for a fact for all the well meaning people at NASA is frustrating.

A Blue Origin spokesperson called the suit, an “attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System.” But the lawsuit really seems to highlight how dire this deal is to the ability of Blue Origin to lock down top talent. Whether the startup can handle the reputational risk of suing NASA and delaying America’s return to the moon seems to be a question very much worth asking.


Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., speaks during an unveiling event for the Boring Company Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, south of Los Angeles, California on December 18, 2018.

Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

OnlyFans bans “sexually explicit content”
A lot of people had pretty visceral reactions to OnlyFans killing off what seems to be a pretty big chunk of its business, outlawing “sexually explicit content” on the platform. It seems the decision was reached as a result of banking and payment partners leaning on the company.

Musk “unveils” the “Tesla Bot”
I truly struggle to even call this news, but I’d be remiss not to highlight how Elon Musk had a guy dress up in a spandex outfit and walk around doing the robot and spawned hundreds of news stories about his new “Tesla Bot.” While there certainly could be a product opportunity here for Tesla at some point, I would bet all of the dogecoin in the world that his prototype “coming next year” either never arrives or falls hilariously short of expectations.

Facebook drops a VR meeting simulator
This week, Facebook released one of its better virtual reality apps, a workplace app designed to help people host meetings inside virtual reality. To be clear, no one really asked for this, but the company made a full court PR press for the app which will help headset owners simulate the pristine experience of sitting in a conference room.

Social platforms wrestle with Taliban presence on platforms
Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, social media platforms are being pushed to clarify their policies around accounts operated by identified Taliban members. It’s put some of the platforms in a hairy situation.

Facebook releases content transparency report
This week, Facebook released its first ever content transparency report, highlighting what data on the site had the most reach over a given time period, in this case a three-month period. Compared to lists highlighting which posts get the most engagement on the platform, lists generally populated mostly by right wing influencers and news sources, the list of posts with the most reach seems to be pretty benign.

Safety regulators open inquiry into Tesla Autopilot
While Musk talks about building a branded humanoid robot, U.S. safety regulators are concerned with why Tesla vehicles on Autopilot are crashing into so many parked emergency response vehicles.


 

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

The Nuro EC-1
“..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…”

A VC shares 5 keys to pitching VCs
“The success of a fundraising process is entirely dependent on how well an entrepreneur can manage it. At this stage, it is important for founders to be honest, straightforward and recognize the value meetings with venture capitalists and investors can bring beyond just the monetary aspect..

A crash course on corporate development
“…If you’re going to get acquired, chances are you’re going to spend a lot of time with corporate development teams. With a hot stock market, mountains of cash and cheap debt floating around, the environment for acquisitions is extremely rich.”


Thanks for reading! Until next week…

Lucas M.

#afghanistan, #america, #astronaut, #banking, #blue-origin, #computing, #congress, #dave-ferguson, #elon-musk, #entrepreneur, #extra-crunch, #facebook, #federal-government, #fedex, #food, #google, #government-accountability-office, #greg, #jeff-bezos, #lunar-lander, #nasa, #nuro, #robyn, #social-media-platforms, #spaceflight, #spacex, #taliban, #tc, #tesla, #united-states, #walmart, #week-in-review, #zack-whittaker

Top four highlights of Elon Musk’s Tesla AI Day

Elon Musk wants Tesla to be seen as “much more than an electric car company.” On Thursday’s Tesla AI Day, the CEO described Tesla as a company with “deep AI activity in hardware on the inference level and on the training level” that can be used down the line for applications beyond self-driving cars, including a humanoid robot that Tesla is apparently building.

Tesla AI Day, which started after a rousing 45 minutes of industrial music pulled straight from “The Matrix” soundtrack, featured a series of Tesla engineers explaining various Tesla tech with the clear goal of recruiting the best and brightest to join Tesla’s vision and AI team and help the company go to autonomy and beyond.

“There’s a tremendous amount of work to make it work and that’s why we need talented people to join and solve the problem,” said Musk.

Like both “Battery Day” and “Autonomy Day,” the event on Thursday was streamed live on Tesla’s YouTube channel. There was a lot of super technical jargon, but here are the top four highlights of the day.

Tesla Bot: A definitely real humanoid robot

This bit of news was the last update to come out of AI Day before audience questions began, but it’s certainly the most interesting. After the Tesla engineers and executives talked about computer vision, the Dojo supercomputer and the Tesla chip (all of which we’ll get to in a moment), there was a brief interlude where what appeared to be an alien go-go dancer appeared on the stage, dressed in a white body suit with a shiny black mask as a face. Turns out, this wasn’t just a Tesla stunt, but rather an intro to the Tesla Bot, a humanoid robot that Tesla is actually building.

Image Credits: Tesla

When Tesla talks about using its advanced technology in applications outside of cars, we didn’t think he was talking about robot slaves. That’s not an exaggeration. CEO Elon Musk envisions a world in which the human drudgery like grocery shopping, “the work that people least like to do,” can be taken over by humanoid robots like the Tesla Bot. The bot is 5’8″, 125 pounds, can deadlift 150 pounds, walk at 5 miles per hour and has a screen for a head that displays important information.

“It’s intended to be friendly, of course, and navigate a world built for humans,” said Musk. “We’re setting it such that at a mechanical and physical level, you can run away from it and most likely overpower it.”

Because everyone is definitely afraid of getting beat up by a robot that’s truly had enough, right?

The bot, a prototype of which is expected for next year, is being proposed as a non-automotive robotic use case for the company’s work on neural networks and its Dojo advanced supercomputer. Musk did not share whether the Tesla Bot would be able to dance.

Unveiling of the chip to train Dojo

Image Credits: Tesla

Tesla director Ganesh Venkataramanan unveiled Tesla’s computer chip, designed and built entirely in-house, that the company is using to run its supercomputer, Dojo. Much of Tesla’s AI architecture is dependent on Dojo, the neural network training computer that Musk says will be able to process vast amounts of camera imaging data four times faster than other computing systems. The idea is that the Dojo-trained AI software will be pushed out to Tesla customers via over-the-air updates. 

The chip that Tesla revealed on Thursday is called “D1,” and it contains a 7 nm technology. Venkataramanan proudly held up the chip that he said has GPU-level compute with CPU connectivity and twice the I/O bandwidth of “the state of the art networking switch chips that are out there today and are supposed to be the gold standards.” He walked through the technicalities of the chip, explaining that Tesla wanted to own as much of its tech stack as possible to avoid any bottlenecks. Tesla introduced a next-gen computer chip last year, produced by Samsung, but it has not quite been able to escape the global chip shortage that has rocked the auto industry for months. To survive the shortage, Musk said during an earnings call this summer that the company had been forced to rewrite some vehicle software after having to substitute in alternate chips. 

Aside from limited availability, the overall goal of taking the chip production in-house is to increase bandwidth and decrease latencies for better AI performance.

“We can do compute and data transfers simultaneously, and our custom ISA, which is the instruction set architecture, is fully optimized for machine learning workloads,” said Venkataramanan at AI Day. “This is a pure machine learning machine.”

Venkataramanan also revealed a “training tile” that integrates multiple chips to get higher bandwidth and an incredible computing power of 9 petaflops per tile and 36 terabytes per second of bandwidth. Together, the training tiles compose the Dojo supercomputer. 

To Full Self-Driving and beyond

Many of the speakers at the AI Day event noted that Dojo will not just be a tech for Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) system, it’s definitely impressive advanced driver assistance system that’s also definitely not yet fully self-driving or autonomous. The powerful supercomputer is built with multiple aspects, such as the simulation architecture, that the company hopes to expand to be universal and even open up to other automakers and tech companies.

“This is not intended to be just limited to Tesla cars,” said Musk. “Those of you who’ve seen the full self-driving beta can appreciate the rate at which the Tesla neural net is learning to drive. And this is a particular application of AI, but I think there’s more applications down the road that will make sense.”

Musk said Dojo is expected to be operational next year, at which point we can expect talk about how this tech can be applied to many other use cases.

Solving computer vision problems

During AI Day, Tesla backed its vision-based approach to autonomy yet again, an approach that uses neural networks to ideally allow the car to function anywhere on earth via its “Autopilot” system. Tesla’s head of AI, Andrej Karpathy, described Tesla’s architecture as “building an animal from the ground up” that moves around, senses its environment and acts intelligently and autonomously based on what it sees.

Andrej Karpathy, head of AI at Tesla, explaining how Tesla manages data to achieve computer vision-based semi-autonomous driving. Image Credits: Tesla

“So we are building of course all of the mechanical components of the body, the nervous system, which has all the electrical components, and for our purposes, the brain of the autopilot, and specifically for this section the synthetic visual cortex,” he said.

Karpathy illustrated how Tesla’s neural networks have developed over time, and how now, the visual cortex of the car, which is essentially the first part of the car’s “brain” that processes visual information, is designed in tandem with the broader neural network architecture so that information flows into the system more intelligently.  

The two main problems that Tesla is working on solving with its computer vision architecture are temporary occlusions (like cars at a busy intersection blocking Autopilot’s view of the road beyond) and signs or markings that appear earlier in the road (like if a sign 100 meters back says the lanes will merge, the computer once upon a time had trouble remembering that by the time it made it to the merge lanes).

To solve for this, Tesla engineers fell back on a spatial recurring network video module, wherein different aspects of the module keep track of different aspects of the road and form a space-based and time-based queue, both of which create a cache of data that the model can refer back to when trying to make predictions about the road.

The company flexed its over 1,000-person manual data labeling team and walked the audience through how Tesla auto-labels certain clips, many of which are pulled from Tesla’s fleet on the road, in order to be able to label at scale. With all of this real-world info, the AI team then uses incredible simulation, creating “a video game with Autopilot as the player.” The simulations help particularly with data that’s difficult to source or label, or if it’s in a closed loop.

Background on Tesla’s FSD

At around minute forty in the waiting room, the dubstep music was joined by a video loop showing Tesla’s FSD system with the hand of a seemingly alert driver just grazing the steering wheel, no doubt a legal requirement for the video after investigations into Tesla’s claims about the capabilities of its definitely not autonomous advanced driver assistance system, Autopilot. The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration earlier this week said they would open a preliminary investigation into Autopilot following 11 incidents in which a Tesla crashed into parked emergency vehicles. 

A few days later, two U.S. Democratic senators called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Tesla’s marketing and communication claims around Autopilot and the “Full Self-Driving” capabilities. 

Tesla released the beta 9 version of Full Self-Driving to much fanfare in July, rolling out the full suite of features to a few thousand drivers. But if Tesla wants to keep this feature in its cars, it’ll need to get its tech up to a higher standard. That’s where Tesla AI Day comes in. 

“We basically want to encourage anyone who is interested in solving real-world AI problems at either the hardware or the software level to join Tesla, or consider joining Tesla,” said Musk.

And with technical nuggets as in-depth as the ones featured on Thursday plus a bumping electronic soundtrack, what red-blooded AI engineer wouldn’t be frothing at the mouth to join the Tesla crew?

You can watch the whole thing here: 

#artificial-intelligence, #computer-vision, #elon-musk, #semiconductors, #tesla, #tesla-ai-day, #transportation

Musk: The Tesla Bot is coming

Remember that weird Will Smith movie about robots?

Yeah, neither do we. But Elon Musk does. Tesla is developing a 5’8” Tesla Bot, with a prototype expected sometime next year. The news comes during Tesla’s inaugural AI Day, which was streamed on the company’s website Thursday night.

The bot is being proposed as a non-automotive robotic use case for the company’s work on neural networks and its Dojo advanced supercomputer.

Image Credits: Tesla

“Basically, if you think about what we’re doing right now with cars, Tesla is arguably the world’s biggest robotics company because our cars are like semi-sentient robots on wheels,” Musk said. “With the Full Self-Driving computer, [ … ] which will keep evolving, and Dojo and all the neural nets recognizing the world, understanding how to navigate through the world, it kind of makes sense to put that on to a humanoid form.”

The bot is “intended to be friendly and navigate through a world built for humans,” he added. He also said they’re developing it so that humans can run away from it and overpower it easily. It’ll weigh 125 pounds and have a walking gait of 5 miles per hour.

Interestingly, Musk is imagining this as replacing much of the human drudge work that currently occupies so many people’s lives — not just labor but things like grocery shopping and other everyday tasks. He waxed about a future in which physical work would be a choice, with all the attendant implications that might mean for the economy.

“In the long term I do think there needs to be universal basic income,” Musk said. “But not right now because the robot doesn’t work.”

#automotive, #elon-musk, #tc, #tesla, #transportation

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin goes toe to toe with NASA in federal court over award to SpaceX

Blue Origin, the space company helmed by billionaire Jeff Bezos, is taking NASA to court. The company filed a complaint with a federal claims court on Monday over the agency’s decision to award a lunar lander contract solely to rival company SpaceX.

The complaint, which Blue Origin successfully petitioned to have sealed, says NASA’s evaluation of proposals for the the Human Landing System was “unlawful and improper.”

“Blue Origin filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We firmly believe that the issues identified in this procurement and its outcomes must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition, and ensure a safe return to the Moon for America.”

The Human Landing System, a key part of NASA’s forthcoming Artemis program, is the lander that will return humans to the moon’s surface for the first time since the days of Apollo. NASA aims to have the human lander touching down at the lunar south pole in 2024.

In April, NASA awarded the HLS contract to a single company – SpaceX, which submitted a $2.9 billion bid. That NASA selected only one company, rather than two, was a surprise (the agency likes to hedge its bets). Only a few weeks later, Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics, which also submitted a bid for the lander program, filed separate protests with the Government Accountability Office over the decision. GAO later upheld NASA’s decision, maintaining that “the [contract] announcement reserved the right to make multiple awards, a single award, or no award at all.”

(Read a blow-by-blow of GAO’s rationale by TechCrunch’s Devin Coldewey here).

When GAO released its decision, it seemed like that might have been case closed: SpaceX won, Blue Origin lost. This new lawsuit, filed to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, is a clear signal that Jeff Bezos’ company has no intention of backing down.

If a federal court filing represents Blue Origin’s buttoned-up protests, the company has also been waging a separate attack on social media, releasing a series of infographics aimed at discrediting SpaceX’s Starship and NASA’s decision to use it for moon missions.

On one infographic, referring to Starship, the words “IMMENSELY COMPLEX & HIGH RISK” blaze across the image in red; another described it as “a launch vehicle that has never flown to orbit and is still being designed.”

The case number is 1:21-cv-01695-RAH. TechCrunch has reached out to NASA for comment and will update the story if they respond.

#aerospace, #artemis-program, #blue-origin, #elon-musk, #jeff-bezos, #lawsuit, #nasa, #space, #spacex, #starship

SpaceX to acquire satellite connectivity startup Swarm Technologies

SpaceX will be acquiring satellite connectivity startup Swarm Technologies, the first such deal for the 19-year-old space company headed by Elon Musk.

Swarm operates a constellation of 120 sandwich-sized satellites as well as a ground station network. The deal would transfer control of Swarm’s ground and space licenses to SpaceX, in addition to any licenses pending before the commission. If the transaction is approved, the startup would become a “direct wholly-owned subsidiary” of the larger company.

The acquisition, which was reported in under-the-radar filings with the Federal Communications Commission, marks a sharp departure from the launch giant’s established strategy of internally developing its tech.

The deal was reportedly reached between the two companies on July 16. The FCC filings do not disclose any financial details or terms of the transaction. Neither SpaceX nor Swarm could be reached for comment.

“Swarm’s services will benefit from the better capitalization and access to resources available to SpaceX, as well as the synergies associated with acquisition by a provider of satellite design, manufacture, and launch services,” the companies said in the filing. For SpaceX’s part, the company will “similarly benefit from access to the intellectual property and expertise developed by the Swarm team, as well as from adding this resourceful and effective team to SpaceX.”

What this means for SpaceX’s operations, particularly its Starlink satellite network, is unclear, as these satellites operate in a different frequency band from that of Swarm. In the short term, Swarm CEO Sara Spangelo told TechCrunch last month that the company is “still marching” toward its goal of operating a 150-satellite constellation.

Compared to SpaceX, Swarm is a relatively new company. It raised a $25 million Series A almost exactly three years ago, in August 2018, but it only went commercially live with its flagship product earlier this year. That product, the Tile, is a small modem that can be embedded in various connectivity devices and linked to the satellite network, to allow users a low-cost way to power Internet of Things devices.

Swarm’s Evaluation Kit. Image Credits: Swarm (opens in a new window)

Swarm also launched its second product last month, the $499 Evaluation Kit, an all-in-one package designed to give anyone the ability to create a IoT device using a Tile, a solar panel, and a few other components.

#aerospace, #elon-musk, #federal-communications-commission, #sara-spangelo, #space, #spacex, #startups, #swarm, #swarm-technologies

Walter Isaacson is working on a biography of Elon Musk

Walter Isaacson, the biographer who chronicled the lives of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo Da Vinci, is turning his attention to the life and career of Elon Musk. The Tesla CEO announced the project in a tweet Wednesday.

Musk said that Isaacson has shadowed him “for several days so far,” though he later added that an autobiography might still be in the cards one day. It’s unclear when the book will be released or how far along Isaacson is in the project. His biography on Steve Jobs (aptly titled “Steve Jobs) took over two years and included interviews with more than 100 of Jobs’ peers.

Musk has been the subject of a number of books, but Isaacson is the most high-profile biographer yet to take on his story. The author is currently a professor at Tulane University and was previously the CEO of the Aspen Institute and the CEO of CNN. Isaacson appeared onstage at TechCrunch’s Disrupt in 2014.

Other books on Musk’s life and work include Ashlee Vance’s 2015 biography, “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, which Musk participated in; Ed Niedermeyer’s “Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors” and this month’s release of Tim Higgins’ “Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century.

The comment came in the midst of a brief back-and-forth about a section of “Power Play” describing a particularly spicy interaction between him and Apple CEO Tim Cook. The conversation, which Higgins reported in his book took place over the phone, was over Cook’s purported interest in acquiring Tesla back in 2016. As Higgins tells it, Musk tells Cook he’s interested, but on the condition that he be instated as CEO of Apple – to which Cook replies, “F—you.”

Musk maintained in a tweet that he and Cook have never spoken or written to each other. Higgins replied that the anecdote came from people who reported as hearing Musk’s recounting of the conversation at the time. He added that Musk was given plenty of opportunities to comment on the anecdote. “He didn’t,” he said.

#automotive, #elon-musk, #space, #spacex, #steve-jobs, #tesla, #transportation, #walter-isaacson

Elon Musk calls Apple’s App Store fees ‘a de facto global tax on the Internet’

Elon Musk is siding with Epic Games in the App Store monopoly case, with the Tesla CEO firing off a tweet Friday morning that called Apple’s Store fees “a de facto global tax on the Internet,” also adding that “Epic is right.”

Epic Games legal battle with Apple is sure to last years and the Fortnite maker has hardly been secretive about its aims to win the battle for popular opinion as well. Musk’s vote of confidence could hold sway with consumers who have yet to develop a clear opinion on the topic.

Apple has argued publicly that dissatisfied developers can take their products to Android or mobile web on iOS, but Epic Games and others have argued that Apple’s stranglehold on apps is nothing short of a monopoly.

What’s less clear is why Musk is taking up this issue right now. While Musk is rarely one to pass up offering an outside opinion on a contentious issue that doesn’t involve him, none of Musk’s current companies seem to be deeply affected by the fees from the App Store, though there certainly could be action happening behind the scenes.

#app-store, #corporate-governance, #elon-musk, #epic-games, #hyperloop, #tc, #tesla

Drivers for Elon Musk’s Loop get a script about their ‘great leader’

Drivers for Elon Musk’s underground Loop system in Las Vegas have been instructed to bypass passengers’ questions about how long they have been driving for the company, declare ignorance about crashes, and shut down conversations about Musk himself.

Using public records laws, TechCrunch obtained documents that detail daily operations at the Loop, which opened in June to transport attendees around the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) using modified Tesla vehicles. Among the documents is a “Ride Script” that every new recruit must follow when curious passengers ask questions.

The script shows just how serious The Boring Company (TBC), which built and operates the system, is about controlling the public image of the new system, its technology and especially its founder, Elon Musk.

“Your goal is to provide a safe ride for the passengers, not an entertaining ride. Keep conversation to a minimum so you can focus on the road,” advises the document. “Passengers will pepper you with questions. Here are some you may be asked and the recommended responses.”

If riders ask a driver how long they have been with the company, they are instructed to respond with: “Long enough to know these tunnels pretty well!” The document goes on to note: “Passengers will not feel safe if they think you’ve only been driving for a week (even though that could mean hundreds of rides). Accordingly, do not share how long you’ve been employed here, but instead, find a way to evade the question or shift the focus,” the document advises drivers.

When asked how many crashes the system has experienced, drivers are told to respond: “It’s a very safe system, and I’m not sure. You’d have to reach out to the company.” Riders should expect similarly vague responses if they wonder how many employees or drivers TBC has, or how much the tunnels cost to dig. (About $53 million in total).

The use of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system that is branded “Autopilot” is clearly a sore point at TBC. Clark County does not currently permit the use of the various driver assistance features anywhere within the Loop system, including automatic emergency braking or technologies that make the vehicle aware of obstacles and keep the vehicle in lane.

Officials even require mechanics to check the vehicles to ensure these are not activated.

“In addition to completing the actions under the initial inspection checklist, maintenance staff will verify that the automatic features of the vehicle, such as steering and braking/acceleration/deceleration assist (commonly known as Autopilot) are disabled for manual loop operation,” the document reads. The following checks will be conducted on a daily basis by CWPM technicians, according to the Vehicle Maintenance plan viewed by TechCrunch.

If a passenger should ask whether the Loop’s Tesla vehicles use Autopilot, drivers will give a response. However, this content was marked “Public Safety Related Confidential” in the documents TechCrunch received and was redacted, as were many other technical details.

TechCrunch’s repeated requests to officials to explain this decision went unanswered.

He who shall not be named

The script also covers responses to questions about Musk himself: “This category of questions is extremely common and extremely sensitive. Public fascination with our founder is inevitable and may dominate the conversation. Be as brief as possible, and do your best to shut down such conversation. If passengers continue to force the topic, politely say, ‘I’m sorry, but I really can’t comment’ and change the subject.”

Nevertheless, the script provides a number of replies to common Musk questions. Ask what Musk is like and you should expect the answer: “He’s awesome! Inspiring / motivating / etc.”

Follow up with: “Do you like working for him?” and you’ll get a response that could have come straight from North Korea: “Yup, he’s a great leader! He motivates us to do great work.”

Should a customer wonder how involved Musk is in the business, the driver will tell them: “He’s the company founder, and has been very involved and supportive.” Questions about Musk’s erratic tweets will be brushed off: “Elon is a public figure. We’re just here to provide an awesome transportation experience!”

One question, however, seems to hint that not everyone is happy working for Musk: “Is it true what I’ve read about him in the papers that he [is a mean boss / smokes pot / doesn’t let employees take vacations / etc.]?” Your driver’s rather equivocal response will be: “I haven’t seen that article, but that hasn’t been my experience.”

On a side note: While the hundreds of pages of training documents and operational manuals that TechCrunch obtained detail strong policies against drug use and harassment at the Loop, the word “vacation” does not otherwise appear.

Tech that’s allowed

Because Clark County currently forbids the use of automated driving features in the Loop, human drivers could be part of the system for some time. But the system is home to plenty of other advanced technologies, according to design and operational documents submitted to Clark County. Each of the 62 Teslas in the underground Loop has a unique RFID chip — as used in contactless payment systems — that pinpoints its location when it passes over one of 55 antennas installed in the roadway, stations and parking stalls.

Each vehicle also streams data to 24 hotspots through the system, sharing its speed, state of charge, the number of passengers in the car, and whether they are wearing seatbelts. Riders should be aware that every car is also constantly streaming real-time video from a camera inside the passenger cabin. All this data, along with video from 81 fixed cameras throughout the Loop, is fed to an Operations Control Center (OCC) located a few blocks away from the Convention Center. Video is recorded and stored for at least two weeks.

In the OCC, an operator is monitoring the camera feeds and other sensors for security threats or other problems — such as a driver using their own cellphone or speeding. The OCC can communicate with any driver via a Bluetooth headset or an in-car iPad that displays messages, alerts and a map of the car’s location in the tunnels. Vehicles have strict speed limits, ranging from 10 mph within stations to 40 mph on straight tunnel sections, and must maintain at least 6 seconds of separation from the car in front.

During testing this spring, the documents reveal that Clark County officials found some drivers were not following all the rules. “When asked about the speed limitations, several drivers replied with wrong straightaway and/or curved tunnel speeds. None provided at station, express lane, or ramp speeds,” reads one document. “Drivers were not announcing to the passengers to buckle their seatbelts. When asked, [some were saying] that they are optional or not required.”

Several drivers were also failing to maintain the 6-second safety margin with cars in front. TBC told Clark County that it would provide refresher training in those areas.

TBC, Clark County, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which oversees the LVCC, did not reply to multiple requests for comment for this story.

The LVCVA recently signed a contract with Alphabet’s spin-out urban advertising agency, Intersection Media, to sell naming rights to the Loop system, which it hopes will net it $4.5 million.

TBC is currently building two extensions to the Loop to serve nearby hotels and ultimately wants to build a transit system covering much of the Strip and downtown Las Vegas with more than 40 stations. That system would be financed by TBC and supported by ticket sales.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #elon-musk, #las-vegas, #tc, #tesla, #tesla-autopilot, #the-boring-company

What Tesla’s bet on iron-based batteries means for manufacturers

Elon Musk earlier this week made his most bullish statements yet on iron-based batteries, noting that Tesla is making a “long-term shift” toward older, cheaper lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) cells in its energy storage products and some entry-level EVs.

The Tesla CEO mused that the company’s batteries may eventually be roughly two-thirds iron-based and one-third nickel-based across its products. “And this is actually good because there’s plenty of iron in the world,” he added.

Musk’s comments reflect a change that is already underway within the automotive sector, mainly in China. Battery chemistries outside of China have been predominantly nickel-based — specifically nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) and nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA). These newer chemistries have become attractive to automakers due to their higher energy density, letting original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) improve the range of their batteries.

If Musk’s bullishness is heralding a genuine shift across the EV industry, the question is whether battery makers outside of China will be able to keep up.

Musk is not the only automotive executive to signal a return to the LFP formula. Earlier this year, Ford CEO Jim Farley said the company would use LFP batteries in some commercial vehicles. Meanwhile, Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess announced during the company’s inaugural battery day presentation that LFP would be used in some VW entry-level EVs.

On the energy storage front, Musk’s comments about using LFP-based chemistries in Powerwall and Megapack are in line with other stationary energy storage companies pushing for iron-based formulas. “The stationary storage industry wants to move to LFP because it’s cheaper,” Sam Jaffe, who heads the battery research firm Cairn Energy Research Advisors, told TechCrunch.

LFP battery cells are attractive for a few different reasons. For one, they’re not dependent on ultra-scarce and price-volatile raw materials like cobalt and nickel. (Cobalt, which is predominantly sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has undergone additional scrutiny due to inhumane mining conditions.) And while they are less energy-dense than nickel-based chemistries, LFP batteries are much cheaper. This is good news for those looking to spur the shift to electric vehicles because lowering the cost per vehicle will likely be key to greater EV adoption.

Musk clearly sees a major future for iron-based chemistries at Tesla, and his comments have helped thrust LFP back into the spotlight. But there’s one place where they’ve remained the star of the show: China.

China’s monopoly on LFP

“LFP is pretty much only produced in China,” Caspar Rawles, head of price and data assessments at the research firm Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, explained in a recent interview with TechCrunch.

China’s dominance in LFP battery production in part relates to a series of key LFP patents, which are managed by a consortium of universities and research institutions. This consortium came to an agreement with Chinese battery makers a decade ago under which the manufacturers would not be charged a licensing fee providing that the LFP batteries were used only in Chinese markets.

Hence, China cornered the LFP market.

Battery makers in China may benefit most from a potential tectonic shift toward LFP — specifically BYD and CATL, the latter of which already manufactures LFP batteries for Tesla vehicles built and sold in China. (Volkswagen, meanwhile, has a substantial stake in Chinese LFP maker Gotion High-Tech.) These battery makers aren’t slowing down: In January, CATL and Shenzhen Dynanonic signed an agreement with a local Chinese province to build an LFP cathode plant at a cost of $280 million over three years.

The LFP patents are due to expire in 2022, industry analyst Roskill explains, which could give battery manufacturers outside China time to start shifting some of their production toward iron-based formulas. However, all of the planned battery factories in Europe and North America, many of which are joint ventures with South Korean industry giants like LG Chem or SK Innovation, are still focused on nickel-based chemistries.

“For the U.S. to take advantage of LFP’s strengths, North American manufacturing will be necessary,” Jaffe explained. “Everyone building a gigafactory in the U.S. today is planning on making high nickel chemistries. There’s an enormous unmet need for locally manufactured LFP batteries.”

Rawles said he expects some LFP capacity in North America and Europe in the coming years, particularly after the patents expire. He pointed out that both CATL and SVOLT, another battery maker, have been making moves in Germany — but both of these companies are Chinese, which leaves open the question of whether other Asian or Western companies can compete in the LFP market. (Stellantis chose SVOLT as one of its battery suppliers from 2025 onwards.)

On the energy storage front, Jaffe said he thinks “it’s inevitable that most stationary storage systems will eventually be LFP.”

However, not all is lost for domestic manufacturing in the United States. “The good news for building local LFP manufacturing is that the supply chain is simple: Outside of lithium, it’s iron and phosphoric acid, two cheap materials already made [in the U.S.] in large quantities,” Jaffe added.

In the end, it is not a question of one battery chemistry versus another. What’s more likely is what we’ve already started to see from automakers, including Tesla: Iron-based batteries will be used predominately in entry-level and cheaper vehicles, while nickel-based cells will be used for higher-end and performance cars. Many consumers will likely be content with a 200- to 250-mile-range vehicle that’s thousands of dollars cheaper than one with a range of 300 to 350 miles.

Automakers have also begun making moves to take control of the battery supply, whether through vertical manufacturing or joint ventures with established battery companies. That means that growing LFP capacity in North America and Europe is not only likely, but inevitable.

#automotive, #catl, #china, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicle-batteries, #elon-musk, #ford, #tesla, #transportation, #volkswagen

Tesla delays Semi truck to 2022; Cybertruck back-burnered for Model Y

Tesla is pushing the launch of its electric Semi truck program to 2022 due to supply chain challenges and the limited availability of battery cells, the company said in its second-quarter earnings report Monday.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has warned about battery supply constraints before and the effect it might have on the Tesla Semi, which was first unveiled as a prototype in November 2017. Back in January, Musk said the engineering work on the Tesla Semi had been completed and deliveries were expected to begin this year. He did add the caveat, at the time, that the availability of battery cells could limit the company’s ability to produce the Semi.

That warning was apparently warranted. From the shareholders’ letter posted today after the market closed:

We believe we remain on track to build our first Model Y vehicles in Berlin and Austin in 2021. The pace of the respective production ramps will be influenced by the successful introduction of many new product and manufacturing technologies, ongoing supply-chain-related challenges and regional permitting.

To better focus on these factories, and due to the limited availability of battery cells and global supply chain challenges, we have shifted the launch of the Semi truck program to 2022. We are also making progress on the industrialization of Cybertruck, which is currently planned for Austin production subsequent to Model Y.

While not mentioned on the call or in its earnings report, the delay follows the departure of Jerome Guillen, a critical executive at Tesla who was working on the development and eventual production of the Tesla Semi. Guillen’s resignation in June came just three months after he was moved from the president of automotive position, which included oversight of the Tesla Semi, to a role with less responsibility as head of heavy-duty trucking. Guillen had led Tesla’s entire automotive business from September 2018 until March 2021.

Meanwhile, Tesla’s Cybertruck, which is supposed to go into production in late 2021, looks like it might be pushed into next year as well. Musk didn’t answer questions, but comments from Musk as well as Tesla VP of engineering Lars Moravy during the earnings call suggest that it could shift to 2022.

Cybertruck is currently in its alpha stages of prototyping, with the basic engineering and architecture of the vehicle completed. While the Model Y takes priority, the company is moving into a beta phase of the Cybertruck later this year, Moravy said.

“We’ll be looking to ramp that in production in Texas after Model Y is up and going,” he added.

Musk leaned in on how difficult the Cybertruck would be, perhaps as a way to cushion expectations for its arrival in 2021.

“Cybertruck ramp will be difficult because it is such a new architecture,” Musk said. “It’s going to be a great product; it might be our best product ever, but it does have a lot of fundamentally new design ideas.”

He went on to make the point that he has used as other vehicles have gone from prototype to volume production: Manufacturing is hard.

“At the risk of being repetitive, it’s actually easy to make prototypes or a handful of small-volume production, but anything produced at a high volume, which is really what’s relevant here, is it’s going to move as fast as the slowest of the rough order of magnitude of 10,000 unique parts and processes.”

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #elon-musk, #jerome-guillen, #tesla, #tesla-cybertruck, #tesla-model-s, #tesla-semi, #transportation

Tesla’s solar and energy storage business rakes in $810M, finally exceeds cost of revenue

Tesla’s primary source of revenue comes from the sale of its electric vehicles, but its latest quarterly earnings report showed growth in its energy storage and solar business.

The demand picture will get even sunnier for the division if the company can access enough chips for its energy storage products, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Tesla on Monday reported $801 million in revenue from its energy generation and storage business — which includes three main products: solar, its Powerwall storage device for homes and businesses, and its utility storage unit Megapack — but that’s just a sliver of the nearly $12 billion in total revenue. Small as it is, the division is selling more energy storage and solar. Revenue from this division grew 62% from the previous quarter and more than 116% from the same quarter in 2020. Tesla doesn’t separate solar and energy storage revenue.

More importantly, the cost of revenue for its solar and energy storage business was $781 million, meaning that for the first time the total cost of producing and distributing these energy storage products was lower than the revenue it generated. That’s good news.

As one might expect, total deployments also rose. Tesla installed 1,274 megawatt-hours of energy storage in the second quarter of 2021, a 205% increase from the same period last year. Similarly, the amount of solar energy deployed in the second quarter of this year was 85 MWh, up 214% from Q2 2020. As a side note: Tesla’s total solar and energy storage deployments were essentially flat when comparing Q2 2019 and Q2 2020 numbers, likely due to the pandemic’s general halting of business.

The important nugget is revenue growth. In 2019, Tesla reported $369 million in revenue from solar and storage. Revenue was stagnant in Q2 2020, with $370 million from that business. This quarter was more than double what Tesla brought in during the same quarters of 2019 and 2020.

What changed? Besides COVID-19, Tesla points to several Megapack projects coming online and growing popularity in its combined solar and Powerwall product. (Tesla no longer allows customers to order Powerwall without a solar installation.) According to a configurator on Tesla’s website, one Megapack is about $1.2 million before taxes. In some states, Tesla says the earliest deliveries will be in 2023.

Tesla’s energy storage business is facing headwinds, however. Musk said demand for both the Megapack and the Powerwall both exceed supply, and a backlog is growing. The company is unable to meet that demand because of the global chip shortage, he said.

Tesla uses the same chips in its Powerwall as it does in its vehicles, and Musk said vehicles are the priority while supply is low.

“As that significant shortage is alleviated, then we can massively ramp up Powerwall production,” Musk said during an earnings call. “I think we have a chance of hitting an annualized rate of a million units of Powerwall next year — maybe, on the order of 20,000 a week. Again dependent on cell supply and semiconductors. … As the world transitions to a sustainable energy production, solar and wind are intermittent, and by their nature really need battery packs in order to provide a steady flow of electricity. And when you look at all the utilities in the world, this is a vast amount of backup batteries that are needed.”

Musk said in the long term, Tesla and other suppliers would need to produce a combined 1,000 to 2,000 gigawatt-hours per year in order to keep up with energy storage demands. Musk said the company has asked its cell suppliers to double their supply in 2022, a goal that Musk caveated would be dependent on supply chain issues. The company’s current strategy is to overshoot cell supply and route it outward to its energy storage products, but as in the case of chip shortages, vehicle production would be prioritized, according to Musk.

Battery cell plans

While much of the battery cell discussion focused on its 4680 cell that is in development, Musk also touched on Tesla’s intentions to power some of its products with cheaper lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries. Specifically, he said there’s a good chance that all stationary storage could move to iron-based batteries and away from nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) and nickel-cobalt-aluminum batteries.

“I think probably will see a shift, my guess is probably to two-thirds iron, one-third nickel,” Musk said of Tesla’s plans. “And this is actually good because there’s quite a bit of iron in the world, an insane amount of iron. But there’s much less nickel and there’s way less cobalt.”

The one-third of batteries that will remain nickel-based will be used for its longer-range electric vehicles. All of its other EVs would also move to LFP batteries, which is already the case in its vehicles assembled in China.

#cars, #electricity, #elon-musk, #energy, #energy-storage, #lithium-ion-batteries, #solar-energy, #tc, #tesla-model-s

Tesla’s quarterly profit surpasses $1 billion

Tesla reported Monday an eye-popping $1.14 billion in net income in the second quarter, results that blew past analysts expectations and marked the first time the company’s quarterly profit (on a GAAP basis) has passed the three-comma threshold. The results pushed shares up more than 2.2% in after-hours trading.

Tesla was able to beat expectations and log its eighth straight quarter of profitability even as it grappled with supply chain challenges and lost money from its bitcoin investment. Operating income was $1.3 billion, which increased year-over-year from $327 million, due to volume growth and cost reduction, the company said. Those positive results were partially offset by an increase in operating expenses, supply chain challenges, lower regulatory credit revenue and a bitccoin-related impairment of $23 million.

Supply chain challenges, notably the global shortage of semiconductor chips and congestion at ports, were two factors that affected its business in the second quarter. Tesla noted that it will continue to impact operations and its rate of delivery growth in 2021.

“With global vehicle demand at record levels, component supply will have a strong influence on the rate of our delivery growth for the rest of this year,” the company said in its shareholder deck released Monday.

Tesla reported revenue of $11.95 billion, a nearly 100% increase from the $6.04 billion it generated in the second quarter of 2020. Revenue in the second quarter was also higher than last quarter’s total of $10.38 billion. Analysts surveyed by Factset estimated $11.4 billion in revenue and $600 million in profit.

Tesla’s automotive revenue was $10.2 billion in the second quarter. Notably, only $354 million of that automotive revenue came from the sale of regulatory credits, which is 17% lower than last quarter and the lowest in the past four quarters. Meanwhile, Tesla’s automotive gross margins popped to 28.4%, the highest it has ever been.

Tesla reported that it earned $1.14 billion in net income compared with $104 million in net income in the same period last year. That record-setting number is nearly three times more than last quarter’s net income of $438 million. Tesla’s adjusted EBITDA in the second quarter was $2.24 billion in the quarter, up from $1.21 billion in the same year-ago period.

Quarter-end cash and cash equivalents decreased to $16.2 billion in the second quarter, according to Tesla, which said that decrease was driven mainly by net debt and finance lease repayments of $1.6 billion, partially offset by free cash flow of $619 million.

Earlier this month, Tesla reported its produced 206,421 vehicles in the second quarter. Of those, the company delivered 201,250 vehicles, nearly 9% more than the first quarter of 2021.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #elon-musk, #model-3, #tc, #tesla

Elon Musk says Tesla will ‘most likely’ accept Bitcoin again when it becomes more eco-friendly

Tesla will ‘most likely’ resume accepting bitcoin as a form of payment once the mining rate for the cryptocurrency reaches 50% renewables, CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday at a virtual panel discussion hosted by the Crypto Council for Innovation, remarks that are in line with statements he made last month on Twitter.

Tesla started accepting bitcoin as a form of payment in February, the same time that the company purchased a historic $1.5 billion in bitcoin – before reneging on its decision just three months later, citing environmental concerns.

Cryptocurrencies get a bad rap for energy usage because they do indeed use up an awful lot of energy, at least many of them do. Bitcoin and Ethereum, the space’s two biggest currencies, use a mechanism called proof-of-work to power their networks and mint new blocks of each currency. The “work” is solving complex cryptographic problems and miners do so by stringing together high-end graphics cards to tackle these problems. Major mining centers have thousands of GPUs running around the clock.

While Ethereum has already committed to transitioning away from proof-of-work to something called proof-of-stake, which vastly reduces energy usage, Bitcoin seems less likely to make this transition. So, becoming “eco-friendly” likely doesn’t mean making any major underlying changes to Bitcoin, but rather shifting what energy sources are powering those mining centers.

While Bitcoin’s global mining network does clearly lean on renewables, it’s pretty difficult to get exact insights on what the spread of renewables usage is given how, ahem, decentralized the grid is. What is clear is that it’s going to take some unprecedented transparency from the global network to even give Musk a starting point here to judge bitcoin’s current or future “eco-friendliness,” and in all likelihood Musk will have a lot of wiggle room to make this decision based on anecdotal data whenever he wants.

Today’s comments come as no surprise: he tweeted in June, “When there’s confirmation of reasonable (~50%) clean energy usage by miners with positive future trend, Tesla will resume allowing Bitcoin transactions.”

His comments do give him plenty of wiggle room, however. “As long as there is a conscious effort to move bitcoin miners toward renewables then Tesla can support that,” he added later in the talk. A large portion of bitcoin mining was done in China, where cheap coal and hydropower made it slightly more economical; but Musk noted that some of these coal plants have been shut down (and a large portion of miners in China have started to migrate abroad, in response to mining crackdowns by the Chinese party).

It should also be noted that his concerns over bitcoin’s environmental impact have caused controversy in the bitcoin community, with some arguing that bitcoin receives an oversized amount of scrutiny relative to its actual energy consumption. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who also participated in the virtual panel, has actually argued that bitcoin can incentivize the transition to renewable energy. A white paper published by the Bitcoin Clean Energy Initiative, a program created by Square, argues that bitcoin mining could make renewables even cheaper and more economically feasible than they are today.

Musk’s comments, as ambiguous as they were, shows he still exerts considerable power over cryptocurrency markets. Bitcoin price fell below $30,000 on Monday, after hitting an all-time high of over $63,000 in April. But after the billionaire founder revealed more details about his and his companies’ holdings at the virtual panel, the price rebounded.

In addition to personal bitcoin holdings and Tesla’s bitcoin holdings, his aerospace company SpaceX also owns bitcoin. Musk added that he also personally owns ether and (of course) dogecoin. The price for all three cryptocurrencies rose after his comments.

#automotive, #bitcoin, #cryptocurrencies, #dogecoin, #elon-musk, #ethereum, #jack-dorsey, #spacex, #tc

Elon Musk defends Tesla’s $2.6B acquisition of SolarCity in Delaware court

Elon Musk is testifying Monday morning in a lawsuit over Tesla’s 2016 acquisition of SolarCity, a $2.6 billion transaction that a group of shareholders allege was a “bailout” of the failing solar company. The shareholders are seeking repayment to Tesla of the cost to purchase SolarCity.

The suit, filed in the Delaware District Court in 2017, alleges that SolarCity was near bankruptcy at the time of the acquisition. Musk, who was the ailing company’s chairman of the board of directors and its largest stockholder, directly benefited from the transaction, as did some of his friends and family, the lawsuit alleges. SolarCity’s founders, Lyndon and Peter Rive, are Musk’s cousins.

SolarCity “had consistently failed to turn a profit, had mounting debt, and was burning through cash at an unsustainable rate,” the plaintiffs say. The suit goes on to note that the company had accumulated over $3 billion in debt in its ten-year history, nearly half of which was due for repayment before the end of 2017. The purchase by Tesla was approved by vote by 85% of shareholders.

Attorneys for Musk say that the acquisition was part of the CEO’s longer-term vision to transform Tesla into a transportation and energy company. In a blog post titled “Master Plan, Part Deux,” published to Tesla’s website around the time of the deal’s closing, Musk says that combining SolarCity and the electric vehicle startup was key to realizing his vision of combining Powerwall (Tesla’s home and industry battery storage product) and solar roof panels.

A Model X stood ready for inspection by attendees at the Kauai solar storage facility launch. Tesla acquired SolarCity in November 2016. 

In his testimony Monday, Musk said Tesla was forced to shift focus away from its solar business to meet production deadlines for the Model 3 sedan, the Washington Post’s Will Oremus tweeted from outside the courtroom. USA Today reporter Isabel Hughes, also at the courtroom, tweeted that Musk blamed the pandemic for poor performance of the company’s solar division. He was being questioned by attorney for the plaintiffs Randall Baron, whom Musk called “a shameful person” at a 2019 deposition.

Musk’s lawyers say that he recused himself from board discussions and negotiations relating to the acquisition – but the plaintiffs maintain that the recusal was “superficial.” A primary question for the court will be whether Musk exerted undue influence over the transaction, and whether he and other board members concealed information relating to the transaction from shareholders.

The other board members named in the suit – Robyn Denholm, Ira Ehrenpreis, Antonio Gracias, Kimbal Musk and Stephen Jurvetson – settled for $60 million last year, plus $16.8 million in legal fees and expenses, paid for by insurance. The trial, with Musk as the sole defendant, was postponed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The trial is expected to last ten business days. The Delaware Court of Chancery, where the suit is being heard, does not have a jury; instead, the case will be heard by judge Vice-Chancellor Joseph Slights III. Even if Slights finds that the deal was improper, he could order Musk to pay far less than the $2.6 billion that Tesla paid for SolarCity at the time.

#automotive, #elon-musk, #lawsuit, #powerwall, #solarcity, #tesla, #transportation