Tesla takes aim at upstarts with 390-mile range, 200 mph Model S Plaid

On Thursday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to a stage in Fremont, California, to debut the production Model S Plaid. The Model S redefined our expectations of an electric car when it was first introduced. But it has remained little changed since 2016 as Tesla has focused on the cheaper but much higher volume Models 3 and Y. Five years is a long time in the car world, and others in the industry—notably Lucid and Mercedes-Benz—have the potential to change what was once the default answer to the question “what’s the best, fanciest electric car I can buy?”

The Model S Plaid is Tesla’s response to all the upstarts, and the first 25 vehicles will meet their new owners on Friday. “Then [Tesla] basically should be at several hundred cars per week soon and a thousand cars per week next quarter,” Musk told attendees.

Unfortunately, we’re light on technical specs—Tesla got rid of those kinds of resources when it decided to do away with a press office. Its three-motor powertrain provides a peak power of 1,020 hp (760 kW). That’s sufficient for a sub-2 second time in the 0-60 mph (0-98 km/h) dash (with a rollout) and a 9.23-second 1/4-mile time, which really is quick. Top speed will be 200 mph (321 km/h), but if you plan to drive that fast, you’ll have to wait until the fall, when the right tires and wheels are available.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cars, #elon-musk, #tesla, #tesla-model-s-plaid

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The executive in charge of the Tesla Semi has left the company

Jerome Guillen, a critical executive at Tesla who was working on the development and eventual production of the Tesla Semi has left the company, the automaker said Monday in a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Guillen had a decade-long career at Tesla and held numerous roles, including his most recent position as head of heavy duty trucking. He started as the acting VP of vehicle engineering in 2012 before becoming program director of the Model S. He was later appointed president of automotive before becoming president of heavy duty trucking in March 2021.

The Tesla Semi, a battery electric semi-truck, is still in development. Earlier this month, the company announced that the first Tesla Semi Megacharger would be installed at Frito-Lay’s Modesto, California delivery center. The Megacharger charging stations will be capable of serving up to 100 Tesla Semi trucks.

It was reported earlier this year that Tesla is building a new production line for its Semi model near its Nevada Gigafactory location, with the aim of producing five semi-trucks per week.

Developing …

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

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Equity Monday: Jeff’s going to space, and everyone wants a piece of Flipkart

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

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

It’s WWDC week, so expect a deluge of Apple news to overtake your Twitter feed here and there over the next few days. But there’s a lot more going on, so let’s dig in:

And that’s your start to the week. More to come from your friends here on Wednesday, and Friday. Chat soon!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#amazon, #china, #ecommerce, #elon-musk, #equity, #equity-podcast, #flipkart, #fundings-exits, #jeff-bezos, #kanzhun, #nigeria, #social-media, #space, #startups, #tesla, #trulioo, #twitter, #wwdc

0

Elon Musk officially hits the brakes on Tesla Model S Plaid+

Tesla CEO Elon has made it official and publicly cancelled plans to produce the Model S Plaid+, a supercharged version of the upcoming Plaid version of the electric vehicle that will be delivered to the first customers this month.

Musk’s reason: Plaid is so good that another variant isn’t needed.

“Model S goes to Plaid speed this week,” Musk tweeted on Sunday. “Plaid+ is canceled. No need, as Plaid speed is just so good.”

Tesla Model S Plaid powertrain can go from 0 to 60mph in 1.99 seconds, has a top speed of 200 miles per hour and an estimated range of 390 miles, according to the company’s website. The powertrain produces 1,020 horsepower, and the cost of the vehicle starts at $112,990. In late May, Musk tweeted that the delivery event for the electric sedan would be pushed back until June 10 in order to finish one last tweak. Musk described driving the Plaid, which has three motors as feeling like a spaceship.

The now-canceled Plaid+ wasn’t coming to market until mid-2022. Musk had promised this version would pushed the performance and range even higher. The listed starting price also popped up to $150,000. Tesla stopped taking pre-orders for the vehicle on its website in May, prompting coverage and speculation that the Plaid+ would never come to fruition. The tweet from Musk on Sunday confirms those theories.

#elon-musk, #tc, #tesla, #tesla-model-s, #tesla-model-s-plaid, #transportation

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In search of a new crypto deity

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, I wrote about tech taking on Disney. This week, I’m talking about the search for a new crypto messiah.

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

Elon has worn out his welcome among the crypto illuminati, and the acolytes of Bitcoin are searching out a new emperor god king.

This weekend, thousands of crypto acolytes and investors have descended on a Bitcoin-themed conference in Miami, a very real, very heavily-produced conference sporting crypto celebrities and actual celebrities all on a mission to make waves.

Even though I am not at the conference in person (panels from its main stage were live-streamed online), I have plenty of invites in my email for afterparties featuring celebrities, open bars and endless conversations on the perils of fiat. The cryptocurrency community has never been larger or richer thanks to its most fervent bull run yet, and despite a pretty noteworthy correction in the past few weeks, people believe the best is yet to come.

Despite having so much, what they still seem to be lacking is a patron saint.

For the longest bout, that was SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk who bolstered the currency by pushing Tesla to invest cash on its balance sheet into bitcoin, while also pushing for Tesla to accept bitcoin payments for its vehicles. As I’ve noted in this newsletter in the past, Musk had a tough time reconciling the sheer energy use of bitcoin’s global network with his eco warrior bravado which has seemed to lead to his mild and uneven excommunication (though I’m sure he’s welcome back at any time).

There are plenty of celebrities looking to fill his shoes — a recent endorsement gone wrong by Soulja Boy was one of the more comical instances.

Crypto has been no stranger to grift — of that even the most hardcore crypto grifters can likely agree — and I think there’s been some agreement that the only leader who can truly preach the gospel is someone who is already so rich they don’t even need more money. It’s one reason the community has offered up so much respect for Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin who truly doesn’t seem to care too much about getting any wealthier — he donated about $1 billion worth of crypto to Covid relief efforts in India. A Musk-like cheerleader serves a different purpose though, and so the community is in search of a Good Billionaire.

The best runner-up at the moment appears to be one Jack Dorsey, and while — like Musk — he is also another double-CEO, he is quite a bit different from him in demeanor and desire for the spotlight. He was, however, a headline speaker at Miami’s Bitcoin conference.

Dorsey gathers the most headlines for his work at Twitter but it’s Square where he is pushing most of his crypto enthusiasm. Users can already use Square’s Cash App to buy Bitcoin. Minutes before going onstage Friday, Dorsey tweeted out a thread detailing that Square was interested in building its own hardware wallet that users could store cryptocurrency like bitcoin on outside of the confines of an exchange.

“Bitcoin changes absolutely everything,” Dorsey said onstage. “I don’t think there is anything more important in my lifetime to work on.”

And while the billionaire Dorsey seems like a good choice on paper — he tweets about bitcoin often, but only good tweets. He defends its environmental effects. He shows up to House misinformation hearings with a bitcoin tracker clearly visible in the background. He is also unfortunately the CEO of Twitter, a company that’s desire to reign in its more troublesome users — including one very troublesome user — has caused a rift between him and the crypto community’s very vocal libertarian sect.

Dorsey didn’t make it very far into his speech before a heckler made a scene calling him a hypocrite because of all this with a few others piping in, but like any good potential crypto king would know to do, he just waited quietly for the noise to die down.


(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things 

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

Facebook’s Trump ban will last at least 2 years
In response to the Facebook Oversight Board’s recommendations that the company offer more specificity around its ban of former President Trump, the company announced Friday that it will be banning Trump from its platforms through January 2023 at least, though the company has basically given itself the ability to extend that deadline if it so desires…

Nigeria suspends Twitter
Nigeria is shutting down access to Twitter inside the country with a government official citing the “use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” Twitter called the shutdown “deeply concerning.”

Stack Overflow gets acquired for $1.8 billion
Stack Overflow, one of the most-visited sites of developers across the technology industry, was acquired by Prosus. The heavy hitter investment firm is best known for owning a huge chunk of Tencent. Stack Overflow’s founders say the site will continue to operate independently under the new management.

Spotify ups its personalization
Music service Spotify launched a dedicated section this week called Only You which aims to capture some of the personalization it has been serving up in its annual Spotify Wrapped review. Highlights of the new feature include blended playlists with friends and mid-year reviews.

Supreme Court limits US hacking law in landmark case
Justices from the conservative and liberal wings joined together in a landmark ruling that put limits on what kind of conduct can be prosecuted under the controversial Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

This one email explains Apple
Here’s a fun one, the email exchange that birthed the App Store between the late Steve Jobs and SVP of Software Engineering, Bertrand Serlet as annotated by my boss Matthew Panzarino.


illustration of money raining down

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Extra things

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

For SaaS startups, differentiation is an iterative process
“The more you know about your target customers’ pain points with current solutions, the easier it will be to stand out. Take every opportunity to learn about the people you are aiming to serve, and which problems they want to solve the most. Analyst reports about specific sectors may be useful, but there is no better source of information than the people who, hopefully, will pay to use your solution..”

3 lessons we learned after raising $6 million from 50 investors
“…being pre-product at the time, we had to lean on our experience and our vision to drive conviction and urgency among investors. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. Investors either felt that our experience was a bad fit for the space we were entering (productivity/scheduling) or that our vision wasn’t compelling enough to merit investment on the terms we wanted.

The existential cost of decelerated growth
“Just because a technology startup has a hot start, that doesn’t mean it will grow quickly forever. Most will wind up somewhere in the middle — or worse. Put simply, there is a larger number of tech companies that do fine or a little bit worse after they reach scale.”

 

Again, 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.

#analyst, #app-store, #bertrand-serlet, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #bryce-durbin, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #digital-currencies, #elon-musk, #extra-crunch, #facebook, #india, #jack-dorsey, #king, #matthew-panzarino, #miami, #nigeria, #president, #prosus, #soulja-boy, #spacex, #spotify, #stack-overflow, #steve-jobs, #supreme-court, #svp, #tc, #technology, #tencent, #tesla, #trump, #twitter, #united-states, #vitalik-buterin, #week-in-review

0

SEC struggling to rein in Elon Musk’s tweets, letters reveal

A man in a suit frowns comically while shrugging.

Enlarge / Elon Musk isn’t sure. (credit: VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

The Securities and Exchange Commission is having a hard time reining in Elon Musk’s social media use, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.

The regulator sent Tesla three sternly worded letters between August 2019 and June 2020, asking Tesla’s attorney’s to enforce a 2018 settlement that demanded greater oversight of Musk’s social media posts. “Tesla has abdicated the duties required of it by the court’s order,” said the SEC in a letter from May of last year.

The three letters, including the SEC’s records of its correspondence with Tesla’s attorneys, were obtained by the Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request. They show a regulator struggling to enforce a settlement that, from the outset, seemed challenging to implement.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#elon-musk, #policy, #sec, #tesla, #twitter

0

SpaceX will launch four private astronaut missions to the Space Station through 2023

SpaceX is going to be providing more rides to private astronauts to the International Space Station, on top of the previously announced mission set to take place as early as next January. All four of these flights will be for Axiom, a private commercial spaceflight and space station company, and they’re set to take place between early next year through 2023.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 spacecraft make up the first commercial launch system certified for transporting humans to the ISS, and they’ve already delivered three groups of NASA astronauts to the orbital lab, including one demo crew for its final qualification test, and two operational crews to live and work on the station. In May, Axiom and NASA revealed the details of their AX-1 mission, the first all-private launch to the ISS, which will carry four passengers to the station on a Crew Dragon to live and work in space for a duration of eight days in total.

NASA and SpaceX will be providing training to all four of the Axiom crews set to make the trip to the station. And while neither SpaceX or Axiom has shared more details yet  on what the other three missions will entail, or when they’re set to take place, four missions in two years technically absorbs all the existing capacity NASA has allocated for private astronaut missions, which is set at 2 per year, for 2022 and 2023.

One private astronaut flight to the ISS is already set for 2021: Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa booked a ride to the station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket for early December. Maezawa booked through Space Adventures, which has already provided a handful of trips for deep-pocketed private astronauts over the course of the past couple of decades.

Axiom meanwhile envisions a somewhat less niche, and more continually active future for commercial orbital space stations. The company is already working on a commercial module to be added to the existing ISS, and has designs on building a fully private successor to the station in future. Booking four trips with multiple crew members in two years goes a long way towards showing there’s more than just very sporadic demand from eccentric rich people for this kind of offering.

#axiom, #elon-musk, #falcon, #human-spaceflight, #international-space-station, #nasa, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #space, #space-adventures, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #yusaku-maezawa

0

Max Q: Selling space

Max Q is a weekly newsletter from TechCrunch all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Mondays in your inbox.

This week actually includes two, since I was out last week for a Canadian national holiday (and back today for the U.S. one, ironically). There’s plenty to cover, including Blue Origin’s bidding process, lunar landers, spaceships launching at sea and the return of our very own space event.

Blue Origin’s big bid

Blue Origin is auctioning off one seat on its first ever human spaceflight, and the bidding got started at $1.4 million — or at least, the public bidding started there. Before last week, people had been submitting blind bids, but now Blue Origin is posting the top current bid to its website whenever it hits a new high. It’s currently set at $2.8 million, meaning it’s doubled since the bids opened up to public scrutiny, and presumably FOMO.

Everything’s building up to June 12, when the auction will conclude with a live, real-time online competitive bidding round. Seems likely it’ll at least cross the $3 million mark before all’s said and done, which is good news for Blue Origin, since run-of-the-mill tickets for the few minutes in suborbital space going forward will probably end up more in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range.

The winning bidder will be flying on July 20, if all goes to the current plan, and will be accompanied by other passengers selected by Blue Origin through some other mechanism. We don’t yet know who else will be on the ride. Bezos maybe?

SpaceX’s Deimos spaceport is under construction

ENSCO offshore oil rig like the one SpaceX is converting

ENSCO offshore oil rig like the one SpaceX is converting.

SpaceX is really flexing its sci-fi-made-real muscle with its latest move: The company is turning two offshore oil rig platforms into floating spaceports, and one of the two, codenamed ‘Deimos’ after one of Mars’ moons, is already being worked on. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared that the company is hoping to have it ready for operations next year, meaning it could host actual launches in 2022.

Eventually, Deimos and its twin, Phobos, will provide launch and landing services to SpaceX’s first fully reusable launch vehicle — Starship. Starship only just managed to land successfully after a high, but still very much atmospheric flight test, however, so it has a way to go before it’s making amphibious departures and arrivals using the converted oil platforms.

Putting these in the ocean presumably helps solve some key issues, not least of which is being mindful of the impact of launching absolutely massive rockets on land anywhere near people. Ditto the landings, which at least early on, are bound to be risky affairs better carried out with a buffer of surrounding ocean.

Landers; lunar ones

Lander Rover

Concept graphic depicting ispace’s HAKUTO-R lander and rover.

There’s quite a bit of lunar lander news this week, including Japan’s ispace revealing that it’ll provide commercial lunar lander service to both Canada and Japan, with a ride for both provided by SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rocket. These will be two separate missions, with the first one set for next year, and the second one set to take place in 2023.

Both will use ispace’s Hakuto-R lander, which it originally developed to take part in the Google-backed Lunar XPRIZE competition. That ended without a winner, but some companies, including ispace, continued to work on their landers with an eye to commercialization. The Hakuto-R being sent on behalf of JAXA will carry an adorable ball-shaped Moon robot which looks like a very novel take on a rover.

Meanwhile, GM announced this past week that it’s working with space industry veteran Lockheed Martin to develop a next-gen Moon rover that will provide future lunar astronauts with more speed and greater range. GM and Lockheed will still have to win a NASA contract in order to actually make the thing, but they’re clearly excited about the prospect.

TC Sessions: Space is back in December

Last year we held our first dedicated space event, and it went so well that we decided to host it again in 2021. This year, it’s happening December 14 and 15, and it’s once again going to be an entirely virtual conference, so people from all over the world will be able to join.

We had an amazing line-up of guests and speakers at last year’s event, including Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck, NASA’s Kathy Lueders and more, and we’re already working on a fantastic follow-up agenda that’s sure to thrill all kinds of space fans.

You can already get tickets, and if you get in early, you save $100.

#bezos, #blue-origin, #canada, #ceo, #elon-musk, #falcon, #google, #google-lunar-x-prize, #ispace, #japan, #kathy-lueders, #lockheed-martin, #max-q, #outer-space, #peter-beck, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-lab, #space, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc, #techcrunch, #united-states

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Tesla has activated its in-car camera to monitor drivers using Autopilot

Tesla has enabled the in-car camera in its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles to monitor drivers when its Autopilot advanced driver assistance system is being used.

In a software update, Tesla indicated the “cabin camera above the rearview mirror can now detect and alert driver inattentiveness while Autopilot is engaged.” Notably, Tesla has a closed loop system for the data, meaning imagery captured by the camera does not leave the car. The system cannot save of transit information unless data sharing is enabled, according to Tesla. The firmware update was cited by a number of Tesla owners,  industry watchers and bloggers who are active on Twitter.

Tesla has faced criticism for not activating a driver monitoring system within the vehicle even as evidence mounted that owners were misusing the system. Owners have posted dozens of videos on YouTube and TikTok abusing the Autopilot system — some of whom have filmed themselves sitting in the backseat as vehicle drives along the highway. Several fatal crashes involving Tesla vehicles that had Autopilot engaged has put more pressure on the company to act.

Until now, Tesla has not used the camera installed in its vehicles and instead relied on sensors in the steering wheel that measured torque — a method that is supposed to require the driver to keep their hands on the wheel. Drivers have documented and shared on social media how to trick the sensors into thinking a human is holding the wheel.

“Consumer Reports has been calling for camera-based driver monitoring systems for automation systems like Tesla’s AutoPilot for years,” Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at CR told TechCrunch. “Tesla’s current system of sensing torque on the wheel cannot tell if the driver is looking at the road. If the new system proves effective, it could help prevent distraction and be a major improvement for safety – potentially saving lives. We hope that other cars are updated soon, and are looking forward to evaluating them.”

Tesla didn’t share details about the driver monitoring system — for instance, is it tracking eye gaze or head position — or whether it will be used to allow hands-free driving. GM’s Super Cruise and Ford’s Blue Cruise advanced driver assistance systems allow for hands-free driving on certain divided highways. Their systems use a combination of map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system that monitors the person behind the wheel, to ensure drivers are paying attention.

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 — a feature that CEO Elon Musk promises will one day deliver full autonomous driving capabilities. FSD, which has steadily increased in price and capability, 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. Once drivers enter a destination into the navigation system, they can enable “Navigate on Autopilot” for that trip.

The move comes just a week after Tesla tweeted that its Model Y and Model 3 vehicles bound for North American customers are being built without radar, fulfilling a desire by Musk to only use cameras combined with machine learning to support Autopilot and other active safety features.

Automakers typically use a combination of radar and cameras — and even lidar — to provide the sensing required to deliver advanced driver assistance system features like adaptive cruise control, which matches the speed of a car to surrounding traffic, as well as lane keeping and automatic lane changes. Musk has touted the potential of its branded “Tesla Vision” system, which only uses cameras and so-called neural net processing to detect and understand what is happening in the environment surrounding the vehicle and then respond appropriately.

The decision to pull radar out of the vehicles has caused some blowback for the company. Consumer Reports no longer lists the Model 3 as a Top Pick and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said it plans to remove the Model 3’s Top Safety Pick+ designation. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration has said that Model 3 and Model Y vehicles built on or after April 27, 2021 will no longer receive the agency’s check mark for automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and dynamic brake support.

#adas, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #elon-musk, #ford, #gm, #tesla, #transportation

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Tesla is no longer using radar sensors in Model 3 and Model Y vehicles built in North America

Tesla Model Y and Model 3 vehicles bound for North American customers are being built without radar, fulfilling a desire by CEO Elon Musk to only use cameras combined with machine learning to support its advanced driver assistance system and other active safety features.

Like many of Tesla’s moves, the decision to stop using the sensor runs counter to the industry standard. For now, the radar-less cars will only be sold in North America. Tesla didn’t state when or if it might remove the radar sensor in vehicles built for Chinese and European customers. Automakers typically use a combination of radar and cameras — and even lidar — to provide the sensing required to deliver advanced driver assistance system features like adaptive cruise control, which matches the speed of a car to surrounding traffic, as well as lane keeping and automatic lane changes.

Musk has touted the potential of its branded “Tesla Vision” system, which only uses cameras and so-called neural net processing to detect and understand what is happening in the environment surrounding the vehicle and then respond appropriately. Neural nets are a form of machine learning that work similarly to how humans learn. It is a sophisticated form of artificial intelligence algorithms that allows a computer to learn by using a series of connected networks to identify patterns in data. Many companies developing self-driving tech use deep neural networks to handle specific problems. But they wall off the deep nets and use rules-based algorithms to tie into the broader system.

The company detailed the transition away from radar in an update on its website, noting that the switch started this month. This camera-plus-machine learning (specifically neural net processing) approach has been dubbed Tesla Vision and will be used in its standard Autopilot advanced driver assistance system as well as its the additional $10,000 upgraded feature that has been branded Full Self-Driving or FSD. Tesla vehicles are not self-driving and require a human driver to remain engaged.

Tesla vehicles that are delivered without radar will initially limit Autopilot, including the lane keeping feature known as Autosteer. For a short period of time, Autosteer will be limited to a maximum speed of 75 mph and a longer minimum following distance. The system’s emergency lane departure avoidance feature and smart summon, which allows the driver to summon its vehicle in parking lot, may be disabled at delivery, Tesla said.

The company plans to restore these features through wireless software updates in the coming weeks. Tesla didn’t provide a specific timeline. All other available Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features will be active at delivery, depending on order configuration, the company said.

Meanwhile, new Model S and Model X vehicles as well as every model built for markets outside of North America, will continue to be equipped with radar and will have radar-supported Autopilot functionality.

“Model 3 and Model Y are our higher volume vehicles,” Tesla noted in its frequently asked questions section. “Transitioning them to Tesla Vision first allows us to analyze a large volume of real-world data in a short amount of time, which ultimately speeds up the roll-out of features based on Tesla Vision.”

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

0

Microsoft uses GPT-3 to let you code in natural language

Unlike in other years, this year’s Microsoft Build developer conference is not packed with huge surprises — but there’s one announcement that will surely make developers’ ears perk up: The company is now using OpenAI’s massive GPT-3 natural language model in its no-code/low-code Power Apps service to translate spoken text into code in its recently announced Power Fx language.

Now don’t get carried away. You’re not going to develop the next TikTok while only using natural language. Instead, what Microsoft is doing here is taking some of the low-code aspects of a tool like Power Apps and using AI to essentially turn those into no-code experiences, too. For now, the focus here is on Power Apps formulas, which despite the low-code nature of the service, is something you’ll have to write sooner or later if you want to build an app of any sophistication.

“Using an advanced AI model like this can help our low-code tools become even more widely available to an even bigger audience by truly becoming what we call no code,” said Charles Lamanna, corporate vice president for Microsoft’s low-code application platform.

In practice, this looks like the citizen programmer writing “find products where the name starts with ‘kids’ ” — and Power Apps then rendering that as “Filter(‘BC Orders’ Left(‘Product Name’,4)=”Kids”)”.

Because Microsoft is an investor in OpenAI, it’s no surprise the company chose its model to power this experience.

Image Credits: Microsoft

It’s important to note that while this makes programming easier, Microsoft itself stresses that users still have to understand the logic of the application they are building. “The features don’t replace the need for a person to understand the code they are implementing but are designed to assist people who are learning the Power Fx programming language and help them choose the right formulas to get the result they need. That can dramatically expand access to more advanced app building and more rapidly train people to use low code tools,” the company explains in today’s announcement.

To some degree, this isn’t all that different from using the natural language query functions that are now available in tools like Excel, PowerBI or Google Sheets. These, too, translate natural language into a formula, after all. GPT-3 is probably a bit more sophisticated than this and capable of understanding more complex queries, but translating natural language into formulas isn’t all that new.

The long-term promise here, though, is for tools like this to become smarter over time and be able to handle more complicated programming tasks. But that’s a big step up from what is essentially a translation problem, though. More complex queries require more of an understanding of a program as a whole. A formula, for the most part, is a pretty self-contained statement but a similar model that could generate “real” code would have to contend with a lot more context.

These new features will go live in public preview in English to users in North America by the end of June.

read

#artificial-intelligence, #developer, #elon-musk, #google, #microsoft, #microsoft-build-2021, #microsoft-excel, #microsoft-power-platform, #north-america, #openai, #programmer, #programming-languages, #software-development, #software-engineering

0

Bitcoin crashes as investors fear crypto bull market could be nearing its end

Bitcoin, Ethereum and a host of Altcoins suffered massive drops Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, erasing months of gains and hundreds of billions in market cap. The overall crypto market shrunk more than 20% over the past 24 hours according to crypto tracker CoinMarketCap.

What’s behind the drop? Well, some may say the market was flying too close to the sun as investors piled into speculative and technically unremarkable projects like Dogecoin. Others may pin the blame on Elon Musk, who announced that Tesla would no longer be accepting bitcoin for Tesla purchases, which investors feared could trigger a broader backlash among corporate adopters who they hoped would be encouraged to put bitcoin on their balance sheets.

Not all cryptocurrencies are seeing the same fortune, while Bitcoin dropped to nearly $31k, more than half its all-time-high, Ethereum fell to prices it first reached last month. Some of the steepest losses were seen by Dfinity’s Internet Computer token which has shed nearly 60% of its value in the past week. Meanwhile, multi-chain development platform Polygon has surged throughout the broader crash, up 88% this week.

Public market investors got a taste for the crypto market’s volatility as Coinbase stock fell 5% Wednesday morning, down more than 47% from its briefly achieved all-time-high and 10% lower than its direct listing target price.

#bitcoin, #blockchain, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #dogecoin, #elon-musk, #ethereum, #money, #tesla

0

The Station: Exits at Waymo and Bird’s SPAC reveals its scooter-nomics

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

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

Here’s a crypto-meets-transportation story for you before we move onto the rest of the news.

Just weeks after Tesla CEO Elon Musk and CFO Zach Kirkhorn said they believe in the longevity of bitcoin, the company has changed its stance. Musk, who has dubbed himself Technoking, tweeted that Tesla has suspended purchases of its electric vehicles with the cryptocurrency because of its concern about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal.

The tweet from Musk sent the price of bitcoin down. Ah, but wait, the crazy hijinks were just getting started. Musk’s tweet was clear that while bitcoin was out, other cryptocurrencies were in. “We are also looking at other cryptocurrencies that use <1% of Bitcoin’s energy/transaction,” the tweet said. Anyone who has followed Musk’s cheerleading of Dogecoin could have predicted what would come next. On May 13, Musk tweeted “Working with Doge devs to improve system transaction efficiency. Potentially promising.”

So there you have it. Perhaps, Dogecoin — which Musk jokingly called a hustle on SNL — will soon be Tesla’s crypto of choice.

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

Micromobbin’

The big micromobility news of the past week is that Bird, the shared electric scooter startup that’s scootin’ around in over 200 cities across three continents, is going public via a SPAC. Bird is merging with blank-check company Switchback II in an attempt to get cash fast and achieve profitability by 2023, confirming earlier reports from dot.LA after the website had gotten its hands on Bird’s investor pitch deck.

Fidelity Management & Research Company will lead the deal’s $160 million in private investment in public equity, with Apollo Investment Corp. and MidCap Financial Trust chucking in another $40 million in asset financing.

The SPAC deck reveals that Bird lost $387.5 million in 2019 and $208.2 million in 2020, even as it laid off 400 people in 2020. As a company with a huge cost structure and unprofitable revenue, which was made more unprofitable as the pandemic took its toll, Bird really needs this deal to work. Shifting business models may be just the thing. Buying up scooter fleets and deploying them around the world is simply too costly to work. Its move to go “franchise” and get other smaller companies to build fleets under its brand name during the pandemic generated 94% of its “sharing” revenue in the second half of 2020. So maybe there’s hope for the company after all. It’ll certainly need it if it intends to sustain its expansion into Europe in the coming years.

Speaking of expansion …

Singapore’s Neuron Mobility, the e-scooter sharing company that’s taken off in Australia and New Zealand, has announced plans to expand its reach deeper into the Commonwealth. Neuron recently won a contract to operate in Ottawa, so it’ll be heading to Canada in the coming month, with more cities in the country to come, according to the company. The company will give out free monthly passes to eligible Public Health and Emergency Service workers in the Canadian capital.

Meanwhile in Africa

Uganda-based, two-wheel ride-hailing platform SafeBoda announced that it had completed 1 million rides in the Nigerian city of Ibadan. For reference, boda-bodas in Uganda, or okadas in Nigeria, are local motorcycle taxis, so SafeBoda is disrupting this offline market while also leading ahead of the big guns like uberBODA and Bolt boda. Given the money and reputation behind Uber and Bolt, it’s somewhat surprising, and heartening, to see SafeBoda outstripping its competition. The company completes about 80,000 rides a day in Uganda, and Uber and Bolt only complete about 10,000 rides in the country.

New product roundup

Stromer’s new e-bike, the ST2 S-Pedelec comes at a steep price of $5,699, but it’s got some serious power behind it. With a 750-watt rear-wheel CYRO motor and a 618kWh battery, it can go up to 28 mph and up to 75 miles in range. If someone steals the bike, 3G and Bluetooth connection has got you covered with GPS localization and Smartlock. Comes in sport or comfort frames in royal blue or dark grey.

Razor scooter, those iconic early 2000s silver fold-up legends, has unveiled its new RipStik Rush, the electric RipStik 2.0. Sportier riders who like to flex their moves will love this scooter because the back end of the board allows you to fishtail, carve and drift like you would with a snowboard or wakeboard, according to the company. Razor will also be bringing their C25 e-scooter, which is more geared towards the daily commuter, to retail this summer.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Last year, we saw nearly two dozen transportation startups go public via a merger with special purpose acquisition companies. Most of those were electric vehicle and lidar companies. This year, we are starting to see other transportation-related companies, including autonomous trucking startup TuSimple and now Plus AI.

Plus announced this week plans to merge with Hennessy Capital Investment Corp. V in a transaction with a post-combination valuation of $3.3 billion. Plus is expected to trade on the NYSE under the ticker symbol “PLAV.” The transaction is supported by $150 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from funds and accounts managed by BlackRock and the D. E. Shaw Group.

The company said the capital provided by the public market will help it begin mass production of its so-called PlusDrive autonomous vehicle platform in 2021 with heavy-truck manufacturer FAW. Plus is also working with IVECO to jointly develop autonomous trucks that will be deployed across China, Europe and other geographies, the company said.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Clarios, the Wisconsin-based battery maker that was acquired by Brookfield Asset Management in 2019, filed confidentially for an IPO, Bloomberg reported. Brookfield is reportedly is seeking to have the portfolio company valued at more than $20 billion in an IPO.

ForU Worldwide, the Chinese freight-as-a-service transportation platform, filed for a $100 million IPO.

Innovusion, a five-year-old lidar company and a supplier to Chinese electric car upstart Nio, just landed a Series B funding round of $64 million. The new proceeds boost its total investment to more than $100 million. As TechCrunch’s Rita Liao notes, this is not a small amount, but the startup is in a race crowded with much bigger players that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, like Velodyne and Luminar. Temasek, the Singaporean government’s sovereign wealth fund, led Innovusion’s latest financing round. Other investors included Bertelsmann Asia Investment Fund, Joy Capital, Nio Capital, Eight Roads Ventures, and F-Prime Capital.

Telkomsel, a unit of Indonesia’s largest telecom operator Telkom, invested an additional $300 million in ride-hailing and payments firm Gojek. The investment comes just months after the network provider wrote a $150 million check to the Southeast Asian firm. The announcement comes amid Gojek working to seal a proposed merger with e-commerce platform Tokopedia. The $18 billion deal would result in a new entity called GoTo, according to media reports. Telkomsel’s investment today likely makes it one of GoTo’s top eight investors.

WeRide, the Chinese autonomous driving company, said it has achieved its Series C funding round that brings its post-money valuation to $3 billion. The round, which WeRide declined to provide details on beyond saying that it is in “the hundreds of millions,” comes  four months after securing Series B fundraising of $310 million. WeRide intends to use this funding round to invest in R&D and commercialization as it works toward the next-generation of Level 4 driving, a term that means a vehicle can drive without human intervention in some environments and conditions. The company is also using the funds to prepare to commercialize its technology.

Waymo: Executive exits and construction cones

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Waymo’s PR team most certainly had a busy week.

First up, is an article from me on the departure of Waymo’s chief financial officer Ger Dwyer and its head of automotive partnerships and corporate development Adam Frost — two longtime executives at the autonomous vehicle company.

The exits come amid some executive shuffling following CEO John Krafcik’s exit earlier this year. Krafcik announced in April that he was stepping down as CEO. Chief Safety Officer Deborah Hersman left in December and Tim Willis, who was head of manufacturing and global supply and general manager of Waymo’s Laser Bear lidar business, departed in February. Sherry House, who had been at Waymo since 2017 and was most recently treasurer and head of investor relations, left the company in April. She is now CFO at Lucid Motors.

As I noted in my article, some of the critical leaders, and the people directly below them, have remained. Tekedra Mawakana, who was COO, and Dmitri Dolgov, the CTO, are now co-CEOs of Waymo. Department heads directly below Mawakana and Dolgov are still at Waymo with a few exceptions, according to LinkedIn profiles. In March, both David Twohig, who was director of Future Automotive at Waymo, and Qi Hommes, who was once head of system safety, left. Hommes is now director of system safety engineering and analysis at Zoox, according to LinkedIn.

Changes at the top oftentimes cause a ripple effect of shuffling positions and even exits. Expect more in the weeks and months to come.

Meanwhile, a video was released by a regular user of the company’s Waymo One ride-hailing service, which uses a mix of driverless vehicles and those with a safety operator behind the wheel. This individual captured the entire trip, which devolved into a suboptimal situation when the vehicle entered into a work zone with construction cones. The vehicle became confused and essentially paralyzed. Waymo then stepped in remotely to send path planning instructions, but then sent incorrect guidance, which compounded the problem. Eventually, a roadside assistance team physically arrived and completed the trip.

The incident is a reminder of how much work still needs to be done in autonomous vehicles. It also illustrates just how many humans it takes to support one driverless vehicle on the road. Expect more incidents like this across the industry. On a side note, rival Cruise tweeted out a video showing its vehicle navigating a construction zone. I’m sure the timing was completely coincidental.

Policy cornerthe-station-delivery

I’m back with more policy news. This week, let’s kick things off with the U.S. Postal Service.

You might remember that in February, the U.S. Postal Service awarded a multi-billion dollar contract to OshKosh Corp. to replace between 50,000 to 165,000 aging trucks with a mix of diesel and electric powertrain delivery vehicles over the next 10 years. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy later specified to Congress that only around 10% of those new delivery trucks would be electric, a number that many in Washington and beyond argued was not high enough.

“The lack of commitment from the USPS to electrify its fleet directly contradicts the Biden administration’s goals and executive order to clean up pollution from the US government’s vehicles,” said Gina Coplon-Newfield, the director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign.

Now, House lawmakers are advancing a bill that would, in part, authorize an additional $8 billion for the U.S. Postal Service to switch to electric vehicles. The language adding the funds was tacked onto a bill to improve mailed ballot tracking. Given that President Joe Biden said back in January that he is committed to replacing the federal government’s fleet of around 650,000 vehicles with electric models, it was definitely more than a little odd that USPS picked a mixed diesel-electric bid less than one month later.

Meanwhile, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee vetoed a section of a bill that would have phased out the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles starting from model year 2030. This would have been the first time a state mandated all-electric auto sales via legislation, instead of executive order. Of states that have ICE phase outs in place — California and Massachusetts — both were established via orders signed by their respective governors and start in 2035.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

the station autonomous vehicles1

Autonomous vehicles

Volkswagen Group and Argo AI, which is supplying the company with a self-driving system that will allow it to commercially transport people and goods by 2025, provided an update this past week. Much of the briefing covered old ground. But there were a few new details, notably that testing will begin on European roads later this year, which builds on initial work completed at a test track that was established next to the Munich airport.

In-car tech

Ford Motor is beefing up its in-vehicle software offerings with built-in Alexa voice assistant and a wireless software update ecosystem. Ford’s over-the-air software updates, which it has branded Power-Up, will have the capability of updating “virtually all” of the computer modules in new Ford vehicles, not just the ones that focus on infotainment, the company said in a statement Thursday. Ford estimates that Power-Up will be able to update more than 80 computer modules on higher-end models. The automaker aims to manufacture 33 million vehicles equipped with this service and Alexa by 2028.

Delivery

The Information’s Paris Martineau spent five months investigating Amazon and the more than 50 serious crashes involving its semi-trucks used over the last three years.

Electric vehicles

Arrival, Canoo, Fisker, Lordstown Motors and Nikola Corp were flying high when they went public through mergers with special purpose acquisition companies. A Bloomberg report found these five companies were worth $60 billion when they first went public. But the last few months have delivered some harsh lessons. Three of the companies plunged to new lows this week as short-seller attacks, management turmoil and execution issues led investors to reconsider their prospects. They’ve lost more than $40 billion of market capitalization combined from their respective peaks.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom debuted a new proposal that earmarks $3.2 billion to boost EV infrastructure and adoption in the state. Under the proposal, over half of the $3.2 billion budget would go toward replacing 1,150 trucks, 1,000 transit buses and 1,000 school buses with electric models. Another $800 million would be put toward the state’s Clean Cars 4 All program, which aims to help lower-income drivers upgrade to a zero- or near-zero car, as well as further rebates or clean vehicles. The proposal earmarks $500 million toward infrastructure and $250 million would go toward manufacturing grants. Newsom did not specify what type of infrastructure programs would qualify; it’s likely those funds would go toward charging.

Fisker signed an agreement with Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that assembles iPhones, to co-develop and manufacture a new electric vehicle. Production on the car, which will be sold under the Fisker brand name in North America, Europe, China and India, will begin in the U.S. by the end of 2023.

Ford and BMW have each appointed members to the board of Solid Power, the solid state battery company that recently raised $130 million in a Series B round. Ford picked Ted Miller, manager of electrification subsystems and power supply research, and BMW chose Rainer Feurer, a senior vice president of corporate investments.

Ford also confirmed this week that its all-electric pickup truck will be named the F-150 Lightning, resurrecting a name that once donned the SVT F-150 in the 1990s. The company hasn’t said much about the powertrain, range or other specs. However, Ford President and CEO Jim Farley provided new details about the electric pickup that is coming to market next year. Most notably, it seems that the battery on the Ford F-150 Lightning will have the ability to power a home during an outage. Ford has touted the capability of its Hybrid F-150 to power a job site or tools, but this is the first time the company has said one of its vehicles could act as a backup generator to a home.

Harley-Davidson has spun out its LiveWire electric motorcycle as a standalone brand, complete with a new logo and brand identity. The company first unveiled the LiveWire electric motorcycle in 2018 with a listing price of $29,799, placing it on the higher end for motorcycles. It went into production the following year, with some bumps, including a brief halt to production due to a charging-related problem on one of the motorcycles. The “first LiveWire-branded motorcycle” will launch on July 8. Its public debut will come a day later at the International Motorcycle Show.

Hyundai Motor Group said it will invest $7.4 billion in the U.S. by 2025 — money that will be used to produce future electric vehicles, improve production facilities and develop what the automaker describes as smart mobility solutions. The company is also going to invest in improving electrification and hydrogen energy.

Subaru announced new details about its first-ever EV, which is set to hit the market in 2022. Subaru will call its first EV the Solterra, a fitting name for a brand synonymous with outdoor adventures and you know, the sun and the Earth. Subaru’s first full-fledged EV will be an SUV that ships with the manufacturer’s well-regarded all-wheel-drive capabilities. The Solterra is built on a new platform the company is developing in partnership with Toyota, which the latter company will use for its bZ4X crossover.

Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Chem, has executed an agreement with Canadian company Li-Cycle to recycle critical materials from the scrap produced from Ultium’s manufacturing processes from its Lordstown plant, starting later in 2021. The materials from the Lordstown location will be sent to Li-Cycle’s recycling location in Rochester, New York, to be processed and returned to the battery supply chain.

Hydrogen

Toyota tapped Japanese company ENEOS to help develop the hydrogen fuel cell system that will power its futuristic prototype city Woven City. The vision for the 175-acre city, where people will live and work amongst all of Toyota’s projects, including its autonomous e-Palette shuttles and robots, is to build a fully connected ecosystem powered by hydrogen fuel cells. ENEOS, a Japanese petroleum company that’s investing heavily into hydrogen, will help make Toyota’s “human-centered” city of the future. This new partnership not only signifies Toyota’s backing of hydrogen over electric, but it also could help Japan achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Studies

Global consulting firm AlixPartners forecasts that the ongoing semiconductor shortage will cost automakers globally $110 billion in lost revenues this year, up from the firm’s estimate in late January of $61 billion. In total, the firm is now forecasting that production of 3.9 million vehicles in total will be lost in 2021. The pandemic-induced shortage has been compounded by a fire in a key chip-making fabrication plant, severe weather in Texas and a drought in Taiwan, according to Mark Wakefield, global co-leader of the automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners.

This problem isn’t going away either. There are up to 1,400 chips in a typical vehicle today. The rise in consumer electronics, which the majority of the chip supply goes towards, continues to put pressure on the automotive industry. There has always been a need for supply chain resiliency. But now, there is a broader push from the industry and governments to shore up the supply chain for the long term.

Nexar, a company that makes an AI-based dashcam app to monitor road safety, put 36 vehicles on the streets of Milan in February. While driving around, the company collected images from dash cams and AI to map on-street parking spots and documented 262,163 free street parking spots in a month. This interesting nugget of information is part of a wider study conducted by Nexar to better understand how curbsides are used.

Nexar said the free parking spot identification along with the creation of a crowd-sourced map of such data was accomplished using vision (and specifically car camera vision). One of the goals, the company said, was to demonstrate that vision data can replicate the human understanding of what a parking spot is.

Events and opportunities

There are a number of events coming up — and not just TC Sessions: Mobility 2021.

Ford Motor will hosts its Capital Markets Day on May 26. A webcast will open at 9:15 a.m. EDT and the event will start promptly at 9:30 a.m. EDT. After the presentation, CEO Jim Farley and CFO John Lawler along with other Ford executives host a question-and-answer session with the analyst community. You can check it out here.

The Petersen Automotive Museum is launching a new three-month incubator program that is focused on women-led businesses in the automotive sector. Each year, the museum will choose one California-based startup with five or fewer employees and provide them with hands-on mentorship, access to the Petersen network of sponsors and partners, and a $25,000 to $30,000 investment. Applications are reviewed by the program’s selection committee. Once accepted, the startup will work alongside the Petersen’s mentorship team to develop a custom program that addresses its business goals. Applications are being accepted now through July 31, 2021. Click here to apply.

Self Racing Cars is scheduled for October 16 to 17 2021 at Thunderhill Raceway. If you’re not familiar, the event is organized each year by Joshua Schachter. The event is an autonomous racing series that has a hobbyist-maker vibe. It’s as much about tinkering and troubleshooting as it is about going around the track.

While there are different teams, it is a decidedly collaborative environment. I’ll never forget the first year that Schachter hosted the event. It was here that I first met and befriended AlexRoy, now one of my co-hosts on the Autonocast podcast. It’s where George Hotz of Comma.ai finally got his vehicle around the track (Alex and I in the backseat) and won the competition. And it was where I was introduced to a young and then unknown guy named Austin Russell who was working in stealth on what we would all eventually learn was a lidar company called Luminar.

Check the website for more information and to sign up to participate. Right now, it looks like Nvidia is signed up and that list will likely grow in the coming months. And I hope to see you all there in the fall.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021! The June 9 event is right around the corner and I hope you’ll all be there. The agenda is packed for this one-day virtual event. You can check out the agenda here.

A few highlights:

We’ll have a panel on self-driving deliveries with Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO and CTO Ahti Heinla, Amy Jones Satrom, who heads operations at Nuro and Gatik co-founder and CTO Apeksha Kumavat. We’ll have one-on-one interviews with Pam Fletcher, who is leading innovation efforts at GM as well as Rimac Automobili founder and CEO Mate Rimac, Scale AI co-founder and CEO Alex Wang and Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

We’ll have investors, of course, including one panel with Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital. Then there’s investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose SPAC merged with Joby Aviation. Hoffman and Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt will come together to talk about what lies ahead. We also plan to bring together community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig to talk about equity, accessibility and shared mobility in cities.

One other panel we haven’t promoted yet will focus on China and robotaxis. The panel is bringing together Jennifer Li, vice president of finance at WeRide, Jewel Li who is COO of AutoX, and Huan Sun, who heads up Momenta Europe. These executives, from three leading Chinese robotaxi companies (that also have operations in Europe or the U.S.) will join us to provide insight into the unique challenges of developing and deploying the technology in China and how it compares to other countries.

And there is more. Have a question for any of these folks? Email me; I want to hear from you! And remember some of the panels will have a live question-and-answer period.

#alixpartners, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #autox, #bird, #electric-vehicles, #elon-musk, #harley-davidson, #hyundai, #scooter, #toyota, #transportation, #waymo, #weride

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Equity Monday: Elon Musk Elon Musk’s the crypto markets, while Indian startups raise huge rounds

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

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

There was lots to get through today, so, in order, here’s the rundown:

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#apollo, #att, #crypto, #cryptocurrency, #elon-musk, #equity, #equity-monday, #houm, #india, #moglix, #pine-labs, #real-estate, #san-francisco, #sequoia, #tc, #twitter, #verizon, #vise, #y-combinator

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Crypto and blockchain must accept they have a problem, then lead in sustainability

As the price of bitcoin hits record highs and cryptocurrencies become increasingly mainstream, the industry’s expanding carbon footprint becomes harder to ignore.

Just last week, Elon Musk announced that Tesla is suspending vehicle purchases using bitcoin due to the environmental impact of fossil fuels used in bitcoin mining. We applaud this decision, and it brings to light the severity of the situation — the industry needs to address crypto sustainability now or risk hindering crypto innovation and progress.

The market cap of bitcoin today is a whopping $1 trillion. As companies like PayPal, Visa and Square collectively invest billions in crypto, market participants need to lead in dramatically reducing the industry’s collective environmental impact.

As the price of bitcoin hits record highs and cryptocurrencies become increasingly mainstream, the industry’s expanding carbon footprint becomes harder to ignore.

The increasing demand for crypto means intensifying competition and higher energy use among mining operators. For example, during the second half of February, we saw the electricity consumption of BTC increase by more than 163% — from 265 TWh to 433 TWh — as the price skyrocketed.

Sustainability has become a topic of concern on the agendas of global and local leaders. The Biden administration rejoining the Paris climate accord was the first indication of this, and recently we’ve seen several federal and state agencies make statements that show how much of a priority it will be to address the global climate crisis.

A proposed New York bill aims to prohibit crypto mining centers from operating until the state can assess their full environmental impact. Earlier this year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission put out a call for public comment on climate disclosures as shareholders increasingly want information on what companies are doing in this regard, while Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that the amount of energy consumed in processing bitcoin is “staggering.” The United Kingdom announced plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030, and the prime minister launched an ambitious plan last year for a green industrial revolution.

Crypto is here to stay — this point is no longer up for debate. It is creating real-world benefits for businesses and consumers alike — benefits like faster, more reliable and cheaper transactions with greater transparency than ever before. But as the industry matures, sustainability must be at the center. It’s easier to build a more sustainable ecosystem now than to “reverse engineer” it at a later growth stage. Those in the cryptocurrency markets should consider the auto industry a canary: Carmakers are now retrofitting lower-carbon and carbon-neutral solutions at great cost and inconvenience.

Market participants need to actively work together to realize a low-emissions future powered by clean, renewable energy. Last month, the Crypto Climate Accord (CCA) launched with over 40 supporters — including Ripple, World Economic Forum, Energy Web Foundation, Rocky Mountain Institute and ConsenSys — and the goal to enable all of the world’s blockchains to be powered by 100% renewables by 2025.

Some industry participants are exploring renewable energy solutions, but the larger industry still has a long way to go. While 76% of hashers claim they are using renewable energy to power their activities, only 39% of hashing’s total energy consumption comes from renewables.

To make a meaningful impact, the industry needs to come up with a standard that’s open and transparent to measure the use of renewables and make renewable energy accessible and cheap for miners. The CCA is already working on such a standard. In addition, companies can pay for high-quality carbon offsets for remaining emissions — and perhaps even historical ones.

While the industry works to become more sustainable long term, there are green choices that can be made now, and some industry players are jumping on board. Fintechs like Stripe have created carbon renewal programs to encourage its customers and partners to be more sustainable.

Companies can partner with organizations, like Energy Web Foundation and the Renewable Energy Business Alliance, to decarbonize any blockchain. There are resources for those who want to access renewable energy sources and high-quality carbon offsets. Other options include using inherently low-carbon technologies, like the XRP Ledger, that don’t rely on proof-of-work (which involves mining) to help significantly reduce emissions for blockchains and cryptofinance.

The XRP Ledger is carbon-neutral and uses a validation and security algorithm called Federated Consensus that is approximately 120,000 times more energy-efficient than proof-of-work. Ethereum, the second-largest blockchain, is transitioning off proof-of-work to a much less energy-intensive validation mechanism called proof-of-stake. Proof-of-work systems are inefficient by design and, as such, will always require more energy to maintain forward progress.

The devastating impact of climate change is moving at an alarming speed. Making aspirational commitments to sustainability — or worse, denying the problem — isn’t enough. As with the Paris agreement, the industry needs real targets, collective action, innovation and shared accountability.

The good news? Solutions can be practical, market-driven and create value and growth for all. Together with climate advocates, clean tech industry leaders and global finance decision-makers, crypto can unite to position blockchain as the most sustainable path forward in creating a green, digital financial future.

#bitcoin, #blockchain, #column, #cryptocurrency, #elon-musk, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greentech, #opinion, #renewable-energy, #tc, #tesla

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Hundreds of SPAC’s waiting in the woods

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

The fully-vaxxed and officially fully-immune took over the podcast this week, with Natasha and Danny co-hosting the show while the inimitable Alex is out from Shot #2. Grace and Chris, as always, were behind the scenes making sure we sound pretty and don’t fall down too many punny board game rabbit holes after vacation.

Here’s the rundown of what we got into:

And that’s where we break! Follow the podcast on Twitter, be kind to your humans, and be the kindest to yourself. Back sooner than you can raise a $25 million pre-seed round for an audio app for Dogecoin lovers.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#better-com, #bitcoin, #blind, #caplight, #crypto, #elon-musk, #equity, #equity-podcast, #ethereum, #fintech, #midwest, #morressier, #real-estate, #sixty8-capital, #softbank, #spac, #tc, #the-last-gameboard

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NTSB: Autopilot could not have been engaged in fatal Tesla crash

Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system known as Autopilot could not have been engaged on the stretch of road where a Model S crashed last month in Texas, killing the two occupants, according to a preliminary report released Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The results help clear up some of the mysteries around the crash, which has received widespread attention after police reported that there was no one in the driver’s seat, leading to speculation that Autopilot was functioning at the time.

Only adaptive cruise control, one of the functions in Autopilot, could be engaged in that section of the road, according to the NTSB. Autosteer, another feature that keeps the vehicle in the lane, was not available on that part of the road, the report says. The preliminary report supports comments made during Tesla’s vice president of vehicle engineering Lars Moravy, who said during an earnings call that adaptive cruise control was engaged and accelerated to 30 miles per hour before the car crashed.

NTSB also confirmed there were only two occupants in the vehicle. When the two men were found, one was in the passenger seat and the other was in the back seat, which led to speculation about whether Autopilot was engaged and even conspiracy theories that there was a third occupant.

“Footage from the owner’s home security camera shows the owner entering the car’s driver’s seat and the passenger entering the front passenger seat,” the report reads. “The car leaves and travels about 550 feet before departing the road on a curve, driving over the curb, and hitting a drainage culvert, a raised manhole, and a tree.”

What is still unknown is whether the driver moved to another seat before or after the crash.

The NTSB said it will continue to collect data to analyze the crash dynamics, postmortem toxicology test results, seat belt use, occupant egress and electric vehicle fires. All aspects of the crash remain under investigation, the NTSB said.

The NTSB’s preliminary report also indicated that the crash of the Tesla Model S, which caught fire after hitting a tree, destroyed an onboard storage device and damaged the restraint control module — two components that could have provided important information about the cause of the incident. The car’s restraint control module, which can record data associated with vehicle speed, belt status, acceleration, and airbag deployment, was recovered but sustained fire damage, the agency said. The NTSB has taken the restraint control module to its recorder laboratory for evaluation.

The NTSB is investigating the crash with support from Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Harris County Texas Precinct 4 Constable’s Office is conducting a separate, parallel investigation.

#adas, #automotive, #autopilot, #elon-musk, #model-s, #ntsb, #tesla

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Equity Monday: Dogecoin is passé, but student notes are big business

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

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

This weekend was all about memecoins. And I am sorry about that. But Equity doesn’t run the world, sadly, it merely notes what is going on:

  • Dogecoin dropped during Elon Musk’s SNL appearance. Which was somewhat ironic. Also there’s another memecoin that is skyrocketing.
  • Palantir, DoorDash, Airbnb, Alibaba will report earnings this week, amongst others.
  • Clubhouse is finally coming to Android. In the United States. By invite. So, if that’s you, congrats, welcome to the app.
  • A major cyberattack and ransom situation in the United States is a data point, yet again, that we’re woefully unprepared for cyber risk.
  • StuDocu raised $50 million which was cool, while Gojek raised another $300 million, which was the very opposite of surprising.
  • This week’s Extra Crunch Live is going to be really good. I will see you there!

It is going to be a busy week! Already since we recorded this show there’s more drama from Box, and more. Strap in!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#airbnb, #alibaba, #android, #clubhouse, #crypto, #cryptocurrency, #cyberattack, #dogecoin, #doordash, #elon-musk, #equity, #equity-monday, #equity-podcast, #gojek, #india, #palantir, #pipeline, #snl, #startups, #studocu, #tc

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SpaceX launches and lands a Falcon 9 rocket booster a record 10th time

SpaceX has launched another 60 Starlink satellites — making 180 delivered to orbit in under two weeks — but the launch early Sunday morning was more notable because it set a new, key record for Falcon 9 rocket reusability. This marked the 10th flight of the first-stage rocket booster used for the launch, which sets a record for re-use for SpaceX as the rocket booster with the most successful mission under its belt.

The launch took place at 2:42 AM EDT, flying from Cape Canaveral in Florida. SpaceX also successfully returned the booster to its drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean for a tenth successful landing for the rocket, too, making it a record-setter in that regard as well, and setting up the possibility that it could fly yet again. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said it could be “possible” for a Falcon 9 booster to fly “100+” times with servicing and component replacement.

This Falcon 9 has previously flown on missions including the original uncrewed demonstration mission of Crew Dragon, SpaceX’s astronaut spacecraft, and seven prior Starlink launches. SpaceX has shown just how reusable its rockets are with its aggressive Starlink launch schedule, most of which have employed rocket boosters that have flown a number of missions before, including other launches for the broadband internet megaconstellation.

Since SpaceX is both launch provider and customer on Starlink, it’s actually crucial for the company to realize as many cost savings as possible during its frequent flights building the network of low Earth orbit satellites. Re-use of the boosters is a key ingredient, and one where the cost savings definitely accrue over time. Musk has previously said that the economics are such that for its external customer flights, it’s at about “even” on the second use of a booster, and “ahead” in terms of costs by the third. During its Starlink launch program, SpaceX has repeatedly set and broken its own reusability records, indicating a key means of keeping the costs of building out its in-space satellite infrastructure is using flight-proven boosters as much as possible.

This is the 27th Starlink launch thus far, and SpaceX has another planned just six days from now on May 15, with at least one more likely in the works for later this month after that. The company hopes to have its broadband network built out to the point where it has global reach by the end of this year.

#broadband, #elon-musk, #falcon, #falcon-9, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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Tesla refutes Elon Musk’s timeline on ‘full self-driving’

What Tesla CEO Elon Musk says publicly about the company’s progress on a fully autonomous driving system doesn’t match up with “engineering reality,” according to a memo that summarizes a meeting between California regulators and employees at the automaker.

The memo, which transparency site Plainsite obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request and subsequently released, shows that Musk has inflated the capabilities of the Autopilot advanced driver assistance system in Tesla vehicles, as well the company’s ability to deliver fully autonomous features by the end of the year. 

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 — a feature that Musk promises will one day deliver full autonomous driving capabilities. FSD, which has steadily increased in price and capability, 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. Once drivers enter a destination into the navigation system, they can enable “Navigate on Autopilot” for that trip.

Tesla vehicles are far from reaching that level of autonomy, a fact confirmed by statements made by the company’s director of Autopilot software CJ Moore to California regulators, the memo shows.

“Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality per CJ,” according to the memo summarizing the conversation between regulators with the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ autonomous vehicles branch and four Tesla employees, including Moore.

The memo, which was written by California DMV’s Miguel Acosta, states that Moore described Autopilot — and the new features being tested — as a Level 2 system. That description matters in the world of automated driving.

There are five levels of automation under standards created by SAE International. Level 2 means two primary functions — like adaptive cruise and lane keeping — are automated and still have a human driver in the loop at all times. Level 2 is an advanced driver assistance system, and has become increasingly available in new vehicles, including those produced by Tesla, GM, Volvo and Mercedes. Tesla’s Autopilot and its more capable FSD were considered the most advanced systems available to consumers. However, other automakers have started to catch up.

Level 4 means the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention and is what companies like Argo AI, Aurora, Cruise, Motional, Waymo and Zoox are working on. Level 5, which is widely viewed as a distant goal, would handle all driving in all environments and conditions.

Here is an important bit via Acosta’s summarization:

DMV asked CJ to address from an engineering perspective, Elon’s messaging about L5 capability by the end of the year. Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality per CJ. Tesla is at Level 2 currently. The ratio of driver interaction would need to be in the magnitude of 1 or 2 million miles per driver interaction to move into higher levels of automation. Tesla indicated that Elon is extrapolating on the rates of improvement when speaking about L5 capabilities. Tesla couldn’t say if the rate of improvement would make it to L5 by end of calendar year.

Portions of this commentary were redacted. However, Plainsite was able to copy and paste the redacted part, which shows up as white space on a PDF, into another document.

The comments in the memo are contrary to what Musk has said repeatedly in the public sphere.

Musk is frequently asked on Twitter and in quarterly earnings calls for progress reports on FSD, including questions about when it will be rolled out via software updates to owners who have purchased the option. In a January earnings call, Musk said he was “highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of a human this year.” In April 2021, during the company’s first quarter earnings call, Musk said “it’s really quite, quite tricky. But I am highly confident that we will get this done.”

The memo released this week provided other insights into Tesla’s push to test and eventually unlock greater levels of autonomy, including the number of vehicles testing a beta version of “Navigate on Autopilot on City Streets,” a feature that is meant to handle driving in urban areas and not just highways. Regulators also asked the Tesla employees if and how participants were being trained to test this feature, and how the sales team ensures that messaging about the vehicle capabilities and limitations are communicated.

As of the March meeting, there were 824 vehicles in a pilot program testing a beta version of “city streets.”  About 750 of those vehicles were being driven by employees and 71 by non-employees. Pilot participants are located across 37 states, with the majority of participants in California. As of March 2021, pilot participants have driven more than 153,000 miles using the City Streets feature, the memo states. The memo noted that Tesla planned to expand this pool of participants to approximately 1,600 later that month.

Tesla told the DMV that it is working on developing a video for the participants and that the next group of participants will include referrals from existing participants. “The new participants will be vetted by Tesla by looking at insurance telematics based on the VINs registered to that participant,” according to the memo.

Tesla also told the DMV that it is able to track when there are failures or when the feature is deactivated. Moore described these as “disengagements,” a term also used by companies testing and developing autonomous vehicle technology. The primary difference worth noting here is that these companies only use employees who are trained safety drivers, not the public.

#automated-driving, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #dmv, #electric-vehicles, #elon-musk, #tc, #tesla, #transportation

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Longevity startup Gero AI has a mobile API for quantifying health changes

Sensor data from smartphones and wearables can meaningfully predict an individual’s ‘biological age’ and resilience to stress, according to Gero AI.

The ‘longevity’ startup — which condenses its mission to the pithy goal of “hacking complex diseases and aging with Gero AI” — has developed an AI model to predict morbidity risk using ‘digital biomarkers’ that are based on identifying patterns in step-counter sensor data which tracks mobile users’ physical activity.

A simple measure of ‘steps’ isn’t nuanced enough on its own to predict individual health, is the contention. Gero’s AI has been trained on large amounts of biological data to spots patterns that can be linked to morbidity risk. It also measures how quickly a personal recovers from a biological stress — another biomarker that’s been linked to lifespan; i.e. the faster the body recovers from stress, the better the individual’s overall health prognosis.

A research paper Gero has had published in the peer-reviewed biomedical journal Aging explains how it trained deep neural networks to predict morbidity risk from mobile device sensor data — and was able to demonstrate that its biological age acceleration model was comparable to models based on blood test results.

Another paper, due to be published in the journal Nature Communications later this month, will go into detail on its device-derived measurement of biological resilience.

The Singapore-based startup, which has research roots in Russia — founded back in 2015 by a Russian scientist with a background in theoretical physics — has raised a total of $5 million in seed funding to date (in two tranches).

Backers come from both the biotech and the AI fields, per co-founder Peter Fedichev. Its investors include Belarus-based AI-focused early stage fund, Bulba Ventures (Yury Melnichek). On the pharma side, it has backing from some (unnamed) private individuals with links to Russian drug development firm, Valenta. (The pharma company itself is not an investor).

Fedichev is a theoretical physicist by training who, after his PhD and some ten years in academia, moved into biotech to work on molecular modelling and machine learning for drug discovery — where he got interested in the problem of ageing and decided to start the company.

As well as conducting its own biological research into longevity (studying mice and nematodes), it’s focused on developing an AI model for predicting the biological age and resilience to stress of humans — via sensor data captured by mobile devices.

“Health of course is much more than one number,” emphasizes Fedichev. “We should not have illusions about that. But if you are going to condense human health to one number then, for a lot of people, the biological age is the best number. It tells you — essentially — how toxic is your lifestyle… The more biological age you have relative to your chronological age years — that’s called biological acceleration — the more are your chances to get chronic disease, to get seasonal infectious diseases or also develop complications from those seasonal diseases.”

Gero has recently launched a (paid, for now) API, called GeroSense, that’s aimed at health and fitness apps so they can tap up its AI modelling to offer their users an individual assessment of biological age and resilience (aka recovery rate from stress back to that individual’s baseline).

Early partners are other longevity-focused companies, AgelessRx and Humanity Inc. But the idea is to get the model widely embedded into fitness apps where it will be able to send a steady stream of longitudinal activity data back to Gero, to further feed its AI’s predictive capabilities and support the wider research mission — where it hopes to progress anti-ageing drug discovery, working in partnerships with pharmaceutical companies.

The carrot for the fitness providers to embed the API is to offer their users a fun and potentially valuable feature: A personalized health measurement so they can track positive (or negative) biological changes — helping them quantify the value of whatever fitness service they’re using.

“Every health and wellness provider — maybe even a gym — can put into their app for example… and this thing can rank all their classes in the gym, all their systems in the gym, for their value for different kinds of users,” explains Fedichev.

“We developed these capabilities because we need to understand how ageing works in humans, not in mice. Once we developed it we’re using it in our sophisticated genetic research in order to find genes — we are testing them in the laboratory — but, this technology, the measurement of ageing from continuous signals like wearable devices, is a good trick on its own. So that’s why we announced this GeroSense project,” he goes on.

“Ageing is this gradual decline of your functional abilities which is bad but you can go to the gym and potentially improve them. But the problem is you’re losing this resilience. Which means that when you’re [biologically] stressed you cannot get back to the norm as quickly as possible. So we report this resilience. So when people start losing this resilience it means that they’re not robust anymore and the same level of stress as in their 20s would get them [knocked off] the rails.

“We believe this loss of resilience is one of the key ageing phenotypes because it tells you that you’re vulnerable for future diseases even before those diseases set in.”

“In-house everything is ageing. We are totally committed to ageing: Measurement and intervention,” adds Fedichev. “We want to building something like an operating system for longevity and wellness.”

Gero is also generating some revenue from two pilots with “top range” insurance companies — which Fedichev says it’s essentially running as a proof of business model at this stage. He also mentions an early pilot with Pepsi Co.

He sketches a link between how it hopes to work with insurance companies in the area of health outcomes with how Elon Musk is offering insurance products to owners of its sensor-laden Teslas, based on what it knows about how they drive — because both are putting sensor data in the driving seat, if you’ll pardon the pun. (“Essentially we are trying to do to humans what Elon Musk is trying to do to cars,” is how he puts it.)

But the nearer term plan is to raise more funding — and potentially switch to offering the API for free to really scale up the data capture potential.

Zooming out for a little context, it’s been almost a decade since Google-backed Calico launched with the moonshot mission of ‘fixing death’. Since then a small but growing field of ‘longevity’ startups has sprung up, conducting research into extending (in the first instance) human lifespan. (Ending death is, clearly, the moonshot atop the moonshot.) 

Death is still with us, of course, but the business of identifying possible drugs and therapeutics to stave off the grim reaper’s knock continues picking up pace — attracting a growing volume of investor dollars.

The trend is being fuelled by health and biological data becoming ever more plentiful and accessible, thanks to open research data initiatives and the proliferation of digital devices and services for tracking health, set alongside promising developments in the fast-evolving field of machine learning in areas like predictive healthcare and drug discovery.

Longevity has also seen a bit of an upsurge in interest in recent times as the coronavirus pandemic has concentrated minds on health and wellness, generally — and, well, mortality specifically.

Nonetheless, it remains a complex, multi-disciplinary business. Some of these biotech moonshots are focused on bioengineering and gene-editing — pushing for disease diagnosis and/or drug discovery.

Plenty are also — like Gero —  trying to use AI and big data analysis to better understand and counteract biological ageing, bringing together experts in physics, maths and biological science to hunt for biomarkers to further research aimed at combating age-related disease and deterioration.

Another recent example is AI startup Deep Longevity, which came out of stealth last summer — as a spinout from AI drug discovery startup Insilico Medicine — touting an AI ‘longevity as a service’ system which it claims can predict an individual’s biological age “significantly more accurately than conventional methods” (and which it also hopes will help scientists to unpick which “biological culprits drive aging-related diseases”, as it put it).

Gero AI is taking a different tack toward the same overarching goal — by honing in on data generated by activity sensors embedded into the everyday mobile devices people carry with them (or wear) as a proxy signal for studying their biology.

The advantage being that it doesn’t require a person to undergo regular (invasive) blood tests to get an ongoing measure of their own health. Instead our personal device can generate proxy signals for biological study passively — at vast scale and low cost. So the promise of Gero’s ‘digital biomarkers’ is they could democratize access to individual health prediction.

And while billionaires like Peter Thiel can afford to shell out for bespoke medical monitoring and interventions to try to stay one step ahead of death, such high end services simply won’t scale to the rest of us.

If its digital biomarkers live up to Gero’s claims, its approach could, at the least, help steer millions towards healthier lifestyles, while also generating rich data for longevity R&D — and to support the development of drugs that could extend human lifespan (albeit what such life-extending pills might cost is a whole other matter).

The insurance industry is naturally interested — with the potential for such tools to be used to nudge individuals towards healthier lifestyles and thereby reduce payout costs.

For individuals who are motivated to improve their health themselves, Fedichev says the issue now is it’s extremely hard for people to know exactly which lifestyle changes or interventions are best suited to their particular biology.

For example fasting has been shown in some studies to help combat biological ageing. But he notes that the approach may not be effective for everyone. The same may be true of other activities that are accepted to be generally beneficial for health (like exercise or eating or avoiding certain foods).

Again those rules of thumb may have a lot of nuance, depending on an individual’s particular biology. And scientific research is, inevitably, limited by access to funding. (Research can thus tend to focus on certain groups to the exclusion of others — e.g. men rather than women; or the young rather than middle aged.)

This is why Fedichev believes there’s a lot of value in creating a measure than can address health-related knowledge gaps at essentially no individual cost.

Gero has used longitudinal data from the UK’s biobank, one of its research partners, to verify its model’s measurements of biological age and resilience. But of course it hopes to go further — as it ingests more data. 

“Technically it’s not properly different what we are doing — it just happens that we can do it now because there are such efforts like UK biobank. Government money and also some industry sponsors money, maybe for the first time in the history of humanity, we have this situation where we have electronic medical records, genetics, wearable devices from hundreds of thousands of people, so it just became possible. It’s the convergence of several developments — technological but also what I would call ‘social technologies’ [like the UK biobank],” he tells TechCrunch.

“Imagine that for every diet, for every training routine, meditation… in order to make sure that we can actually optimize lifestyles — understand which things work, which do not [for each person] or maybe some experimental drugs which are already proved [to] extend lifespan in animals are working, maybe we can do something different.”

“When we will have 1M tracks [half a year’s worth of data on 1M individuals] we will combine that with genetics and solve ageing,” he adds, with entrepreneurial flourish. “The ambitious version of this plan is we’ll get this million tracks by the end of the year.”

Fitness and health apps are an obvious target partner for data-loving longevity researchers — but you can imagine it’ll be a mutual attraction. One side can bring the users, the other a halo of credibility comprised of deep tech and hard science.

“We expect that these [apps] will get lots of people and we will be able to analyze those people for them as a fun feature first, for their users. But in the background we will build the best model of human ageing,” Fedichev continues, predicting that scoring the effect of different fitness and wellness treatments will be “the next frontier” for wellness and health (Or, more pithily: “Wellness and health has to become digital and quantitive.”)

“What we are doing is we are bringing physicists into the analysis of human data. Since recently we have lots of biobanks, we have lots of signals — including from available devices which produce something like a few years’ long windows on the human ageing process. So it’s a dynamical system — like weather prediction or financial market predictions,” he also tells us.

“We cannot own the treatments because we cannot patent them but maybe we can own the personalization — the AI that personalized those treatments for you.”

From a startup perspective, one thing looks crystal clear: Personalization is here for the long haul.

 

#ageing, #api, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #biotech, #deep-neural-networks, #drug-development, #drug-discovery, #elon-musk, #gero-ai, #google, #health, #humanity-inc, #insilico-medicine, #insurance, #longevity, #machine-learning, #mobile, #mobile-devices, #peter-thiel, #russia, #science, #smartphones, #tc, #wearable-devices

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SpaceX might try to fly the first Starship prototype to successfully land a second time

SpaceX is fresh off a high for its Starship spacecraft development program, but according to CEO Elon Musk, it’s already looking ahead to potentially repeating its latest success with an unplanned early reusability experiment. Earlier this week, SpaceX flew the SN15 (i.e., 15th prototype) of its Starship from its development site near Brownsville, Texas, and succeeded in landing it upright for the first time. Now, Musk says they could fly the same prototype a second time, a first for the Starship test and development effort.

The successful launch and landing on Wednesday included an ascent to around 30,000 feet, where the 150-foot tall spacecraft flipped onto its ‘belly’ and then descended back to Earth, returning vertical and firing its engines to slow its descent and touch down softly standing upright. This atmospheric testing is a key step meant to help prove out the technologies and systems that will later help Starship return to Earth after its orbital launches. The full Starship launch system is intended to be completely reusable, including this vehicle (which will eventually serve as the upper stage) and the Super Heavy booster that the company is also in the process of developing.

A second test flight of SN15 is an interesting possibility among the options for the prototype. SpaceX will obviously be conducting a number of other check-outs and gathering as much data as it can from the vehicle, in addition to whatever it collected from onboard sensors, but the options for the craft after that basically amounted to stress testing it to failure, or dismantling it and studying the pieces. A second flight attempt is an interesting additional option that could provide SpaceX with a lot of invaluable data about its planned re-use of the production version of Starship.

Whether or not SpaceX actually does re-fly SN15 is still up in the air, but if it does end up being technically possible, it seems like a great learning opportunity for SpaceX that could help fast-track the overall development program.

 

#aerospace, #elon-musk, #outer-space, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #texas

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Tesla taps tiny startup’s tech to build cheaper, cleaner batteries

When Elon Musk stood on stage at Tesla’s Battery Day in September and promised to cut lithium-ion battery prices in half, he claimed some of the savings would come from reinventing the dirty and complex process of making their nickel metal cathodes.

“It’s insanely complicated, like digging a ditch, filling it in and digging the ditch again,” he said at the event. So we looked at the entire value chain and said how can we make this as simple as possible?”

The simplest route to appears to involve a small Canadian battery startup — or at least its patent applications.

Two weeks before Battery Day, Tesla purchased a number of patent applications from Springpower International, a small company based just outside Toronto, for a grand total of $3, according to public records.

One of those applications details an innovative process similar to one that Drew Baglino, Tesla’s senior vice-president of engineering, described on stage at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, on Battery Day. Buying the patent application means that when the patent itself was finally granted in January, it was issued to Tesla, with no mention of Springpower.

Manufacturing cathodes for electric vehicle batteries traditionally generates large quantities of contaminated water –  up to 4,000 gallons containing ammonia, metal particles and toxic chemicals for every ton of cathode material produced. Springpower’s process cleverly recirculates the chemical solution, removing the need for expensive water treatment.

Baglino’s presentation also depicted a method that also reuses water and produces no effluent. In addition to cutting operational costs by more than 75%, he said: “We can also use that same process to directly consume the metal powder coming out of recycled electric vehicle and grid storage batteries.”

It now seems likely that Tesla may have bought more than just Springpower’s intellectual property. A week before Battery Day, Springpower International’s website was replaced by a single holding page. And in the months since then, several Springpower researchers have altered their LinkedIn profiles to indicate that they are now working at Tesla. 

Springpower International CEO Michael Wang, whose own LinkedIn pagenow features dozens of updates from Tesla staffers (including Baglino), did not respond to a request for comment, and calls to the company’s switchboard went unanswered.

A senior Springpower International executive reached by phone would neither confirm nor deny Tesla’s purchase, and referred TechCrunch to Tesla’s public affairs team. (Tesla no longer has a press office, and emails to the company did not receive a reply).

Springpower International was founded in March 2010, in part by Chinese battery firm Highpower International, as a research arm for its Springpower subsidiary in Shenzen. But Highpower walked away from Springpower International within six months, writing off a $100,000 investment after deciding its technologies were too far from commercialization.

James Sbrolla, an “entrepreneur in residence” at a Canadian government-funded program, stepped in to mentor the young company. He helped it secure some small grants, and ultimately a $3.4 million (Canadian) sustainable technology award in 2018. However, he told TechCrunch that he has not talked to anyone at Springpower International since late 2020.

Sbrolla was not surprised to hear that the company might have been purchased.

“It’s a group of smart people, no question about it,” Sbrolla said. “Technology like Springpower’s gives tremendous upside with a reduced environmental footprint, and being attached to a larger organization makes scaling much quicker and easier.”

If, as seems likely, Springpower International has been acquired by Tesla, it would join only a dozen or so others, including another Canadian battery company, Hibar, bought in similar stealth in 2019.

Elon Musk has long looked north of the border for lithium-ion battery expertise. In 2015, Tesla signed a five-year exclusive partnership with Jeff Dahn, a leading battery researcher and professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. Dahn is named on a number of recent Tesla battery patents, and in January Tesla renewed Dahn’s contract for another five years.
Musk is on a years-long push to bring battery production in-house and scale back Tesla’s reliance on its current suppliers, Panasonic, LG Chem, and CATL. “Now that we have this process, we’re going to start building our own cathode facility in North America,” said Baglino on Battery Day.

Musk added that the combined benefits of Tesla’s new battery technologies could enable a $25,000 vehicle, but cautioned not to expect too much, too soon: “It will take us probably a year to 18 months to start realizing these advantages, and three years or thereabouts to fully realize them.”

Perhaps by that time, Springpower International’s role will be a little clearer.

#automotive, #batteries, #catl, #electric-vehicles, #elon-musk, #lg-chem, #lithium-ion-batteries, #panasonic, #tesla, #transportation

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FAA authorizes SpaceX’s next three Starship test launches

SpaceX is continuing its Starship spacecraft testing and development program apace, and as of this afternoon it has authorization from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct its next three test flights from its launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. Approvals for prior launch tests have been one-offs, but the FAA said in a statement that it’s approving these in a batch because “SpaceX is making few changes to the launch vehicle and relied on the FAA’s approved methodology to calculate the risk to the public.”

SpaceX is set to launch its SN15 test Starship as early as this week, with the condition that an FAA inspector be present at the time of the launch at the facility in Boca Chica. The regulator says that has sent an inspector, who is expected to arrive today, which could pave the way for a potential launch attempt in the next couple of days.

The last test flight SpaceX attempted from Boca Chica was the launch of SN11, which occurred at the end of March. That ended badly, after a mostly successful initial climb to an altitude of around 30,000 feet and flip maneuver, with an explosion triggered by an error in one of the Raptor engines used to control the powered landing of the vehicle.

In its statement about the authorization of the next three attempts, the FAA noted that the investigation into what happened with SN11 and its unfortunate ending is still in progress, but added that even so, the agency has determined any public safety concerns related to what went wrong have been alleviated.

The three-launch approval license includes flights of SN16 and SN17 as well as SN15, but the FAA noted that after the first flight, the next two might require additional “corrective action” prior to actually taking off, pending any new “mishap” occurring with the SN15 launch.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has at time criticized the FAA for not being flexible or responsive enough to the rapid pace of iteration and testing that SpaceX is pursuing in Starship’s development. On the other side, members of Congress have suggested that the FAA has perhaps not been as thorough as necessary in independently investigating earlier Starship testing mishaps. The administration contends that the lack of any ultimate resulting impact to public safety is indicative of the success of its program thus far, however.

#elon-musk, #faa, #federal-aviation-administration, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #spacex-starship, #tc

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Tesla wants to make every home a distributed power plant

Tesla CEO Elon Musk wants to turn every home into a distributed power plant that would generate, store and even deliver energy back into the electricity grid, all using the company’s products.

While the company has been selling solar and energy storage products for years, a new company policy to only sell solar coupled with the energy storage products, along with Musk’s comments Monday, reveal a strategy that aims to scale these businesses by appealing to utilities.

“This is a prosperous future both for Tesla and for the utilities,” he said. “If this is not done, the utilities will fail to serve their customers. They won’t be able to do it,” Musk said during an investor call, noting the rolling blackouts in California last summer and the more recent grid failure in Texas as evidence that grid reliability has become a bigger concern.

Last week, the company changed its website to prevent customers from only buying solar or its Powerwall energy storage product and instead required purchasing a system. Musk later announced the move in a tweet, stating “solar power will feed exclusively to Powerwall” and that “Powerwall will interface only between utility meter and house main breaker panel, enabling super simple install and seamless whole house backup during utility dropouts.”

Musk’s pitch is that the grid would need more power lines, more power plants and larger substations to fully decarbonize using renewables plus storage. Distributed residential systems — of course using Tesla products — would provide a better path, in Musk’s view. His claim has been backed up in part by recent studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which found that the U.S. can reach a zero-carbon grid by more than doubling its transmission capacity, and another from Princeton University showing that the country may need to triple its transmission systems by 2050 to reach net-zero emissions.

Musk is imagining a radically different electricity grid system than the one we have today, which is centrally controlled and run by grid operators, independent organizations such as the California Independent System Operator or the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. It’s a vision that is riddled with bureaucratic and logistical challenges. Utilities and regulatory policy would need to solve how to handle a large influx of so-called “distributed energy resources,” such as solar panels on residential roofs, which may run contrary to utilities’ long-established business models.

It’s important to note that whether renewables-plus-storage will be alone sufficient to decarbonize the energy grid is a contentious question. Many experts believing that the land use demands, storage requirements and intermittency issues of renewables may make their role as the country’s primary electricity generator a pipe dream. But Musk has long been bullish on the renewables-plus-storage model, tweeting last July that “physics favors electric transport, batteries for stationary storage & solar/wind for energy generation.”

#automotive, #elon-musk, #greentech, #powerwall, #tc, #tesla

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SpaceX successfully launches astronauts with a re-used Dragon spacecraft for the first time

SpaceX has another successful human space launch to its credit, after a good takeoff and orbital delivery of its Crew Dragon spacecraft on Friday morning. The Dragon took off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 5:49 AM EDT (2:49 AM EDT). On board were four astronauts, including NASA’s Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, as well as JAXA’s Akihiko Hoshide and the ESA’s Thomas Pesquet.

This was Spacex’s second official astronaut delivery mission for NASA, after its Crew-1 operation last year. Unlike Crew-1, Crew-2 included use of two re-flown components in the spacecraft system, including the first stage booster, which was used during the Crew-1 launch, and the Dragon capsule, which was used for SpaceX’s first ever human spaceflight, the final demonstration mission of its spacecraft certification program for NASA, which flew Bob Behnken (side note: this mission’s pilot, McArthur, is Behnken’s wife) and Doug Hurley to the ISS. SpaceX has characterized the use of re-flown elements as arguably even safer than using new ones, with CEO Elon Musk noting that you wouldn’t want to be on the “first flight of an airplane when it comes out of the factory” during a conversation with XPRIZE’s Peter Diamandis on Thursday evening.

Now that the Crew Dragon is in its target transfer orbit, it’ll be making its way to rendezvous with the Space Station, which will take just under 24 hours. It’ll be docking with the station early tomorrow morning, attaching to a docking port that was just cleared earlier this month when SpaceX’s other Crew Dragon relocated to another port on the ISS earlier this month.

This launch also included a recovery attempt for the booster, with a landing at sea using SpaceX’s drone landing pad. That went as planned, meaning this booster which has already flown two different sets of human astronauts, could be used to fly yet another after refurbishment.

SpaceX’s Commercial Crew program with NASA continues to be the key success story in the agency’s move to partner with more private companies for its research and space exploration missions. NASA also recently tapped SpaceX to develop the human landing system for its Artemis program, which will return humans to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo program, and which will use SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft. For SpaceX’s human spaceflight program, the next big milestone will be its first flight of a mission made up entirely of paying private citizens, which is currently set to take place this fall.

#astronaut, #commercial-crew, #elon-musk, #esa, #falcon-9, #human-spaceflight, #jaxa, #nasa, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #space, #space-station, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #united-states

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Consumer Reports shows Tesla Autopilot works with no one in the driver’s seat

Consumer Reports shows Tesla Autopilot works with no one in the driver’s seat

Enlarge (credit: Sjo / Getty)

Last Saturday, two men died when a Tesla Model S crashed into a tree in a residential neighborhood. Authorities said they found no one in the driver’s seat—one man was in the front passenger seat, while the other was in the back. That led to speculation that the car might have been under the control of Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assistance system at the time of the crash.

Elon Musk has tweeted that “data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled.” Tesla defenders also insisted that Autopilot couldn’t have been active because the technology doesn’t operate unless someone is in the driver’s seat. Consumer Reports decided to test this latter claim by seeing if it could get Autopilot to activate without anyone in the driver’s seat.

It turned out not to be very difficult.

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#autopilot, #cars, #elon-musk, #model-s, #tesla, #texas

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Tesla mulls cars tailored to China amid mounting criticisms

Tesla is working on vehicles tailored to Chinese consumers as complaints about the quality of its electric vehicles send shock waves through the internet in the country.

The American EV giant is mulling new products that will be designed from the ground up for China, Grace Tao, a vice president at Tesla, told 21st Century Business Herald, a Chinese business news outlet, during the Shanghai auto show this week. The vehicles developed in China will also be sold globally, she added.

At the same auto event on Monday, a woman showed up at Tesla’s booth, climbing atop a Tesla car and shouting allegations of faulty brakes made by the company. The person was later detained for damaging the vehicle, and Tesla said on microblogging platform Weibo that her car had crashed due to exceeding the speed limit, not quality issues.

Nonetheless, the protestor won widespread sympathy when videos of her spread online. Many users joined in to vent about their Tesla problems. Posts with the hashtag “Tesla stand turned into a stage for defending rights” garnered over 220 million views on Weibo within two days.

“We have since the start been willing to work with national and authoritative third-party organizations to thoroughly inspect the issues raised by the public. By doing this, we wish to win assurance and understanding from consumers,” Tesla China said in a statement posted on Weibo in response to the incident.

“But we still haven’t fulfilled this wish, mainly because our ways of communicating with customers may be problematic. Secondly, we indeed can’t decide for our customers how they want to resolve these issues.”

Like in the West, Tesla has fostered a cult-like following in China. And along with Apple, it’s one of the few American tech giants that have gained a firm foothold in China. Last year, Tesla shipped nearly 500,000 vehicles globally and China contributed 20% to its revenues.

But the company also faces mounting competition from Chinese homegrown challengers. Xpeng, Nio, and Li Auto, the well-funded startups, as well as old-school carmakers, with help from high-tech firms like Huawei, are ready to take a slice of Tesla’s market. The designed-in-China vehicles are already finding a spot among the more patriotic crowds.

It doesn’t help that the Chinese government is placing more scrutiny over Tesla. In January, the firm was summoned by local regulators over quality concerns, shortly after it recalled several tens of thousands of vehicles in the country. The government restricted the use of Tesla by military facilities over national security concerns, The Wall Street Journal reported in March. Elon Musk later said his company would be shut down if its cars were used to spy.

#asia, #automotive, #battery-electric-vehicles, #brakes, #cars, #china, #electric-car, #elon-musk, #huawei, #li-auto, #shanghai, #tc, #tesla, #tesla-model-s, #transportation, #xpeng

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