Hyundai’s sharp-looking Ioniq 5 EV is Motional’s new robotaxi

In 2023, Motional will begin operating Hyundai Ioniq 5 robotaxis.

Enlarge / In 2023, Motional will begin operating Hyundai Ioniq 5 robotaxis. (credit: Motional)

In 2023, you’ll be able to take Lyft rides in autonomous Hyundai Ioniq 5s with self-driving systems provided by Motional—as long as you live in the right city. This week, we got our first look at the sensor-bedazzled battery-electric vehicles, which add lidar, radar, and cameras to one of the best-looking new vehicles we’ve seen in some time.

Motional was created in 2020 by Hyundai Motor Group and automotive supplier Aptiv, which had been testing its level 4 autonomous vehicles in Las Vegas for years. When I rode in an autonomous Aptiv vehicle during CES in 2018, it was with a safety driver behind the wheel. But in February of this year, Motional began fully driverless testing in Las Vegas. The company said it completed over 100,000 passenger rides without incident between beginning operations and removing the safety drivers.

Motional has worked with Hyundai to integrate the sensor suite and other hardware into the Ioniq 5, and Motional President and CEO Karl Iagnemma told TechCrunch that the robotaxis will roll off the line in South Korea, just like normal Ioniq 5s. “This is not a scenario where we’ll take a base vehicle, move it to a different line, take the components off, and then reintegrate or retrofit it,” he said. The cars will still have steering wheels, and passengers will not be allowed to ride in that seat.

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#aptiv, #autonomous-driving, #cars, #hyundai, #ioniq-5, #las-vegas, #motional, #robotaxis

Motional reveals its Hyundai Ioniq 5 electric robotaxi

Motional revealed Tuesday the first images of its planned robotaxi, a Hyundai all-electric Ioniq 5 SUV that will be the centerpiece of a driverless ride-hailing service the company wants customers to be able to access starting in 2023 through the Lyft app.

The purpose-built vehicle, which will be assembled by Hyundai, is integrated with Motional’s autonomous vehicle technology, including a suite of more than 30 sensors including lidar, radar and cameras that can be seen throughout the interior and exterior. That sensing system provides 360 degrees of vision, and the ability to see up to 300 meters away, according to Motional.

The company, which was born out of a $4 billion joint venture with Aptiv and Hyundai, intentionally showcases the numerous sensors, president and CEO Karl Iagnemma said in a recent interview.

“We see so many competitors bending over backwards to try to hide this sensor suite and conceal it in these big plastic casings,” Iagnemma told TechCrunch. “And the fact is, you can’t hide the sensors. They need to be where they need to be and they’re an important part of the car and a key part of the technology. So our strategy was to celebrate the sensors, and to adapt the design language of the vehicle and carry that through the design of the integrated sensor suite.”

Motional has not announced where it will launch its first driverless robotaxi service. It’s likely that it will be in one of the cities it currently is testing and validating its technology, a list that includes Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.

Motional-Hyundai robotaxi Ioniq 5

Image credit: Motional

The base of Motional’s robotaxi is the Hyundai Ioniq 5, an electric vehicle revealed in February with a consumer release date expected later this year. The consumer version will not be equipped with Motional’s autonomous vehicle technology. Unlike some AV developers, Motional didn’t chose a  shuttle design or even a larger van for its first robotaxi.

Iagnemma said that the company’s research shows the vast majority of taxi or ride-hailing trips are for two or fewer passengers. The Ioniq 5 is the right size vehicle for Motional’s use case, he added.

The Hyundai Ioniq 5 is the first vehicle based off the automaker’s dedicated battery electric vehicle platform called the Electric Global Modular Platform (E-GMP). The vehicle — both the consumer and robotaxi version — is equipped with an 800-volt electrical system. This higher voltage system is able to supply the same amount of power as the more common 400-volt with less current. The 800-volt system, which debuted in the all-electric Porsche Taycan, is lighter, more efficient and allows the vehicle to charge at a faster rate.

That fast charging rate will be an important benefit for Motional’s robotaxi service.

Motional-Hyundai IONIQ 5 Robotaxi

Image Credits: Motional

The robotaxi version of the Ioniq 5 will be assembled by Hyundai, a noteworthy detail, Iagnemma said.

“This is vehicle that will come off the assembly line looking, as you see it in the pictures,” Iagnemma said. “This is not a scenario where we’ll take a base vehicle, move it to a different line, take the components off and then reintegrate or retrofit it.

Inside the robotaxi are displays to allow riders to interact with the vehicle during their ride, such as directing the robotaxi to make an extra stop, according to the company.

The robotaxi still has a steering wheel and other features found in traditional vehicles operated by a human driver. Riders will not be permitted to sit in the driver seat.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #electric-vehicles, #hyundai, #motional, #transportation

Motional to begin testing autonomous vehicles in LA as part of California expansion plan

Motional, the autonomous vehicle company born out of a $4 billion joint venture with Aptiv and Hyundai, is expanding its presence in California by opening a new operations facility in Los Angeles to support testing on public roads, hiring more engineers and adding an office in Silicon Valley.

The investment into the area follows a hiring spree that has pushed Motional’s total headcount to more than 1,000 people, an expansion into Seoul and its announcement last December to launch fully driverless robotaxi services in major U.S. cities in 2023 using the Lyft ride-hailing network.

While Motional declined to disclose its investment into the California expansion, the company is clearly putting its capital to work with plans to hire dozens of people and scale up operations in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Motional has had an office in Los Angeles since 2016. The LA office is where some of the company’s machine learning and hardware engineers are based. As part of its expansion plan, Motional has moved the team into a larger location in Santa Monica near the Santa Monica Pier.

Mortional is also opening a new operations facility located a few miles away and plans to more than double the number of employees based in Los Angeles to more than 100 people. The operations facility will support Motional’s plans to begin mapping roads and eventually testing its autonomous vehicles on public roads. Testing routes will initially be centered in and around the Santa Monica area, near its office and operations facility.

Motional said it will use the all-electric Hyundai IONIQ 5, the vehicle that will be the cornerstone of its eventual commercial robotaxi service, in its testing there. The Hyundai IONIQ 5, which was revealed in February 2021 with a consumer release date expected later this year, will be fully integrated with Motional’s driverless system. The vehicles will be equipped with the hardware and software needed for Level 4 autonomous driving capabilities such as lidar, radar and cameras. Level 4, is a designation by SAE, that means the vehicle will handle all driving operations in certain conditions and environments.

For now, the testing will involve autonomous vehicles with a safety driver behind the wheel. The company does not yet have a permit in the state to test its AVs without a human operator behind the wheel. That permit issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles,

This is first time the company has tested on public roads in Los Angeles. Motional already tests its AVs in Boston, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Singapore.

Motional’s President and CEO Karl Iagnemma described this as a “doubling down” of its West Coast footprint. “This expansion is the latest in our growth trajectory and will position Motional with the talent, testing capabilities, and R&D resources we need to deliver on our commercialization roadmap, Iagnemma said, adding that Los Angeles has long been an important part of its global operations.

Motional has also opened an office in Milpitas, a Silicon Valley town located in the southern section of the San Francisco Bay. The company’s compute design team will be based out of this office, Motional said in its announcement.

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicle, #california, #lyft, #motional, #robotaxi, #tc, #transportation

Pittsburgh’s Locomation puts a convoy twist on autonomous trucking

The Pittsburgh Strip District, once home to Industrial Age giants Alcoa, Heinz, U.S. Steel and Westinghouse, has evolved over the past decade into a technology and robotics hub, and notably, a testbed of autonomous vehicles.  That activity has more recently spilled out beyond Smallman Street, so-called Robotics Row, past the confines of the Strip District and Lower Lawrenceville and into adjoining neighborhoods to the north and south.

And while, Argo AI, Aurora Innovation (as well as its newly acquired addition Uber ATG) and Motional are the most visible examples of autonomous vehicle testing and development in the city, numerous other AV startups have popped up in the past six years — each one betting that its application will provide the quickest path to commercialization.

Locomation, a startup founded in 2018 that is working on autonomous trucks, is one of them. The co-founders, who met at the National Robotics Engineering Center, an operating unit within Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, believe the smoothest, fastest route to autonomous trucks is to use a human-guided convoy system first. 

Locomation contends that autonomous trucks that can operate without a human safety driver behind the wheel will happen eventually and after considerable validation. But until then, the company is pitching a convoy system, in which a lead driver pilots a truck and another truck follows it autonomously. The autonomous one will also have a driver, but that individual will be resting and is considered a passenger.

“We decided that we needed to expose the (autonomous) system to the real world in a safe and profitable way,” co-founder and CEO Çetin Meriçli told TechCrunch in a recent interview, adding that is how the idea of human-guided autonomous driving came about. “We are still building a Level 4 system with an extremely narrow operational design domain that can drive itself and it doesn’t require a driver in the seat as long as there is a human driven lead track right in front of it.”

Locomation’s starting point is a two-driver, two-truck system for long haul routes. When the lead driver is in place, the following driver is resting in the other vehicle. Both trucks are equipped with a self-driving system so they can periodically swap positions.  However, Meriçli noted that while the lead driver is operating the vehicle, the autonomous system is only assisting the person.


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“There is some automation there, but we don’t think it is a good idea to automate the lead truck so much that the lead driver can actually become complacent,” he said. “Keeping the driver engaged enough and at the same time trying to reduce the cognitive load as much as possible is a very delicate balance to hit there.”

The drivers then take over manual driving once they leave the interstate.

The next phase is what Locomation calls the drone follower system designed for shorter haul routes of 250 miles or less. This system involves one driver and two trucks, one lead and one following behind autonomously.

These two human guided convoy concepts will help the company progress to an autonomous system in which trucks operate without humans between hubs on an interstate and then eventually to dock to dock, which would include non-interstate roads.

Locomation has a contract to equip 1,120 Wilson Logistics trucks with its autonomous relay convoy technology over the next five years. The first trucks are expected to be delivered in 2022. The company recently signed an eight-year agreement to supply PGT Trucking with the systems for 1,000 trucks.

Today, Locomation is in test mode, although it has hauled some freight. That means safety drivers are always behind the wheel. Eventually, it will transition to a commercial operation, which Meriçli said the company is aiming to launch in the second half of 2022.

To reach that goal, Locomation is doing what some many others are aiming for: raising money, recruiting talent and expanding. Locomation, which currently operates across the Alleghany River from Pittsburgh’s Strip District, will soon move to larger facility in the Tech Forge section.

Mericli said there are at least two dozen startups working on autonomous vehicle technology in Pittsburgh.

“Most of them are really little hole in the wall operations, maybe a couple of folks,” Mericli said. ” Many of them are actually the second generation or third generation; they started their careers in one of these larger companies, worked there for a number of years, identified a few pain points and either got frustrated with the slow progress or got bit by the entrepreneurship bug.”

“It’s not quite like Silicon Valley, just yet,” Mericli said, adding that it is getting closer to that West Coast hub of tech. “What I see here, which was not the case a couple of years ago, is that now there are some role models, some success stories, some big achievers, like the Argos and Auroras of the world. Hopefully, Locomation is climbing those ladders too. Now young people and new entrepreneurs coming out of the CMU ecosystem, the way they are thinking about their business and their aspirations, it’s getting closer to the Silicon Valley mindset.”

#argo-ai, #aurora-innovation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #motional, #pittsburgh, #tc, #transportation

Motional CEO hints at an autonomous future in logistics

Motional, the $4 billion joint venture between Aptiv and Hyundai, is exploring the company’s potential involvement in autonomous trucking or logistics, its CEO said today during a live session at TechCrunch’s 2021 Mobility Event.

“The beauty of what’s on the other side of the coin is that the same core technology can of course apply to multiple use cases,” said Karl Iagnemma on the panel led by TechCrunch transportation editor Kirsten Korosec, who asked about Motional’s intention to expand its business model into trucking. “It’s similar, it’s not the same, but it’s similar. And so we are actively exploring other use cases. We will have additional activity in this area. We don’t have anything to announce today. But more to come.”

While Motional still believes the biggest economic opportunity comes from solving the hard technological problems of autonomy in the service of moving people, AKA the robotaxi model, Iagnemma recognized the same hard problems — perception, planning, decision making, localization — lie at the core of autonomy, whether that’s moving people or parcels.

“We’re looking for a great business opportunity that has the closest adjacency from a technical perspective to the stack that we’re currently developing,” said Iagnemma, responding to what is most appealing in the delivery and logistics model. “That’s really what it boils down to. These different use cases have, in some cases, quite dramatically different business cases around them, the opportunity looks quite different. And so that helps us score rank order internally. What presents an interesting opportunity? And then again, we tried to align that toward our current technology development path to say, hey, this would be the least incremental effort for the biggest incremental opportunity. That’s how we sort of guide our strategy, internally at Motional.”

For his part, Chris Urmson, co-founder and CEO of autonomous vehicle company Aurora, and the other panelist on the session, admitted that ride-hailing and moving people with automated vehicles will ultimately be both a transformational business and one that surpasses trucking in the long term. Aurora is currently focused on freight applications, rather than robotaxi, for a number of reasons, including the ability to scale now.

“[The robotaxi] market will take time to evolve, whereas the freight and trucking market is here today,” said Urmson.

Both panelists agreed that there’s no low-hanging fruit in the autonomous world. The problem of self-driving vehicles is difficult to solve, but Urmson argues it’s perhaps a bit easier to solve with trucking, where you don’t have to reckon with the amount of variability in the road network of a city. Building an autonomous stack to drive on freeways is easier due to their mostly uniform nature.

“So once you crack the initial nut of having the technology working in that operational defined design domain, the rollout moves from a technological expansion to an operational expansion,” said Urmson. “And that looks more like kind of a conventional business. So we think that’s a way to be scaling the business and operations and generating the revenue stream that allows us to then go and really take that core technology and apply it into ride hailing and build an exciting business in that space as well.”

#aurora, #autonomous-driving, #autonomous-vehicles, #logistics, #motional, #tc, #transportation

Tezlab CEO Ben Schippers to discuss the Tesla effect and the next wave of EV startups at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

As Tesla sales have risen, interest in the company has exploded, prompting investment and interest in the automotive industry, as well as the startup world.

Tezlab, a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle, is just one example of the numerous startups that have sprung up in the past few years as electric vehicles have started to make the tiniest of dents in global sales. Now, as Ford, GM, Volvo, Hyundai along with newcomers Rivian, Fisker and others launch electric vehicles into the marketplace, more startups are sure to follow.

Ben Schippers, the co-founder and CEO of Tezlab, is one of two early-stage founders who will join us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to talk about their startups and the opportunities cropping up in this emerging age of EVs. The six-person team behind TezLab was born out of HappyFunCorp, a software engineering shop that builds apps for mobile, web, wearables and Internet of Things devices for clients that include Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an array of startups.

HFC’s engineers, including Schippers, who also co-founded HFC, were attracted to Tesla  because of its techcentric approach and one important detail: the Tesla API endpoints are accessible to outsiders. The Tesla API is technically private. But it exists allowing the Tesla’s app to communicate with the cars to do things like read battery charge status and lock doors. When reverse-engineered, it’s possible for a third-party app to communicate directly with the API.

Schippers’ experience extends beyond scaling up Tezlab. Schippers consults and works with companies focused on technology and human interaction, with a sub-focus in EV.

The list of speakers at our 2021 event is growing by the day and includes Motional’s president and CEO Karl Iagnemma and Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, who will discuss the past, present and future of AVs. On the electric front is Mate Rimac, the founder of Rimac Automobili, who will talk about scaling his startup from a one-man enterprise in a garage to more than 1,000 people and contracts with major automakers.

We also recently announced a panel dedicated to China’s robotaxi industry, featuring three female leaders from Chinese AV startups: AutoX’s COO Jewel Li, Huan Sun, general manager of Momenta Europe with Momenta, and WeRide’s VP of Finance Jennifer Li.

Other guests include, GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, and Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

And we may even have one more surprise — a classic TechCrunch stealth company reveal to close the show.

Don’t wait to book your tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility as prices go up at our virtual door.

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ChargerHelp co-founder, CEO Kameale C. Terry is heading to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Thousands of electric vehicle charging stations will be built around the country over the next decade. ChargerHelp!, founded in January 2020 by Kameale C. Terry and Evette Ellis, wants to make sure they stay up and running.

The idea for the on-demand repair app for EV charging stations came to Terry when she was working at EV Connect, where she held a number of roles including director of programs and head of customer experience. She noticed long wait times to fix non-electrical issues at charging stations due to the industry practice to use electrical contractors.

“When the stations went down we really couldn’t get anyone on site because most of the issues were communication issues, vandalism, firmware updates or swapping out a part — all things that were not electrical,” Terry said in an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year.

After Terry quit her job to start ChargerHelp!, she joined the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, where she developed a first-of-its-kind EV Network Technician Training Curriculum. Shortly after, Terry and Ellis were accepted into Elemental Excelerator’s startup incubator and have landed contracts with major EV charging network providers like EV Connect and SparkCharge.

The company uses a workforce-development approach to hiring, meaning that they only hire in cohorts. Workers receive full training, earn two safety licenses, are guaranteed a wage of $30 an hour and receive shares in the startup, Terry said.

We’re excited to announce that Kameale Terry will be joining us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a one-day virtual event that is scheduled June 9. We’ll be covering a lot of ground with Terry, from how she developed her EV repair curriculum to what she sees in the company’s future.

Each year TechCrunch brings together founders, investors, CEOs and engineers who are working on all things transportation and mobility. If it moves people and packages from Point A to Point B, we cover it. This year’s agenda is filled with leaders in the mobility space who are shaping the future of transportation, from EV charging to autonomous vehicles to urban air taxis.

Among the growing list of speakers are Rimac Automobili founder Mate RimacRevel Transit CEO Frank Reig, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler and Remix/Via co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu, who will come together to discuss how (and if) urban mobility can increase equity while still remaining a viable business.

Other guests include Motional’s President and CEO Karl Iagnemma, Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, GM‘s VP of Global Innovation Pam FletcherScale AI CEO Alexandr WangJoby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation FundQuin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct CapitalZoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

We also recently announced a panel dedicated to China’s robotaxi industry, featuring three female leaders from Chinese AV startups: AutoX’s COO Jewel LiHuan Sun, general manager of Momenta Europe with Momenta, and WeRide’s VP of Finance Jennifer Li.

Don’t wait to book your tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility as prices go up at the door. Grab your passes right now and hear from today’s biggest mobility leaders.

#alexandr-wang, #aurora, #automation, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #autox, #av, #ceo, #chargerhelp, #charging-station, #china, #chris-urmson, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #coo, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicle-charging-station, #electric-vehicles, #ev-connect, #events, #frank-reig, #jesse-levinson, #jewel-li, #joby, #joby-aviation, #joeben-bevirt, #karl-iagnemma, #linkedin, #mate-rimac, #momenta, #motional, #pam-fletcher, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #revel-transit, #rimac-automobili, #robotaxi, #robotics, #scale-ai, #science-and-technology, #sparkcharge, #startups, #tamika-l-butler, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #technology, #tiffany-chu, #transport, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #weride, #zoox

Autonomous vehicle pioneers Karl Iagnemma and Chris Urmson are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Long before the multi-million-dollar acquisitions and funding rounds pushed autonomous vehicles to the top of the hype cycle, Karl Iagnemma and Chris Urmson were researching and, later, developing the foundations of the technology.

These pioneers, Iagnemma coming from MIT, Urmson from Carnegie Mellon University — would eventually go on to launch their own autonomous vehicle startups in an aim to finally bring years of R&D to the public.

That task isn’t over quite yet. Urmson, who is co-founder and CEO of Aurora, and Iagnemma, who is president and CEO of Motional, are still working on unlocking the technical and business problems that stand in the way of commercialization.

TechCrunch is excited to announce that Urmson and Iagnemma will be joining us on the virtual stage of TC Sessions: Mobility 2021. The one-day event, scheduled for June 9, is bringing together engineers and founders, investors and CEOs who are working on all the present and future ways people and packages will get from Point A to Point B. Iagnemma and Urmson will come to discuss the past, the present challenges and what both aim to do in the future. We’ll tackle questions about the technical problems that remain to be solved, the war over talent, the best business models and applications of autonomous vehicles and maybe even hear a few stories from the early days of testing and launching a startup.

Both guests have a long list of accolades and accomplishments — and too many, to cover them all here.

Urmson has been working on AVs for more than 15 years. He earned his Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and his BSc in computer engineering from the University of Manitoba in 1998. He was a faculty member of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University where he worked with house-sized trucks, drove robots in the desert, and was the technical director of the DARPA Urban and Grand Challenge teams. Urmson has authored more than 60 patents and 50 publications.

He left CMU and was one of the founding members of Google’s self-driving program, serving as its CTO. In 2017, Urmson co-founded Aurora with Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell.

Iagnemma is also considered an authority on robotics and driverless vehicles. He was the director of the Robotic Mobility Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where his research resulted in more than 150 technical publications, 50 issued or filed patents, and numerous edited volumes, including books on the DARPA Grand Challenge and Urban Challenge autonomous vehicle competitions. He holds MS and PhD degrees from MIT, where he was a National Science Foundation fellow, and a BS from the University of Michigan, where he graduated first in his class.

In 2013, Iagnemma co-founded autonomous vehicle startup nuTonomy, one of the first to launch ride-hailing pilots. The company was acquired by Aptiv in late 2017. Aptiv and Hyundai formed the joint venture, which he now heads, in 2020. 

Iagnemma and Urmson are two of the many of the best and brightest minds in transportation who will be joining us on our virtual stage in June. Among the growing list of speakers is GM’s vp of global innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event. Early Bird sales ends tonight, May 7 at 11:59 pm PT. Be sure to book your tickets ASAP and save $100.

#alexandr-wang, #aptiv, #aurora, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #autotech-ventures, #b, #carnegie-mellon-university, #ceo, #chris-urmson, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #cto, #director, #electric-vehicles, #frank-reig, #grand-challenge, #hyundai, #jesse-levinson, #joeben-bevirt, #karl-iagnemma, #linkedin, #massachusetts-institute-of-technology, #michigan, #mit, #mobility, #motional, #national-science-foundation, #nutonomy, #pam-fletcher, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #revel, #robotics-institute, #scale-ai, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #starship-technologies, #sterling-anderson, #tamika-l-butler, #technology, #tiffany-chu, #transportation, #uber-atg, #university-of-michigan, #urban-innovation-fund, #zoox

Announcing the Agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

TC Sessions: Mobility is back and we’re excited to give you the first look at who is coming to the main stage and what we plan to talk about. The event will be virtual, but never fear, we will bring you the same informative panels and provocative one-on-one interviews and networking you’re used to.

The new format has provided one massive benefit: democratizing access. If you’re a startup or investor, you can listen in, network and connect with other participants here in Silicon Valley. Plus, you’ll be able to meet all of the attendees through our matchmaking platform, CrunchMatch.

You’ll need to make sure you have your ticket to join us at the event online. Our Early Bird savings end in just a couple of days, so make sure to book your $95 pass now, and save $100 before prices go up.

TechCrunch reporters and editors will interview some of the top leaders in transportation to tackle topics such as scaling up an electric vehicle company, the future of automated vehicle technology, building an AV startup and investing in the industry. Our guests include Scale AI founder Alexandr Wang, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, Amy Jones Satrom of Nuro, famed investor Reid Hoffman, Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Bevirt, GM’s vice president of innovation Pamela Fletcher, Karl Iagnemma of Motional and Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, to name a few.

Don’t forget, Early Bird Passes (including $100 savings) are currently available for a limited time; grab your tickets here before prices increase.

AGENDA

Self-Driving Deliveries with Ahti Heinla (Starship), Amy Jones Satrom (Nuro) and Apeksha Kumavat (Gatik)

Autonomous vehicles and robotics were well on their way transforming deliveries before the pandemic struck. In the past year, these technologies have moved from novel applications to essential innovations. We’re joined by a trio of companies — each with individual approaches that span the critical middle and last mile of delivery.

Supercharging Self-Driving Super Vision with Alexandr Wang (Scale AI)

Few startups were as prescient as Scale AI when it came to anticipating the need for massive sets of tagged data for use in AI. Co-founder and CEO Alex Wang also made a great bet on addressing the needs of lidar sensing companies early on, which has made the company instrumental in deploying AV networks. We’ll hear about what it takes to make sense of sensor data in driverless cars and look at where the industry is headed.

Will Venture Capital Drive the Future of Mobility? with Clara Brenner (Urban Innovation Fund), Quin Garcia (Autotech Ventures) and Rachel Holt (Construct Capital)

Clara Brenner, Quin Garcia and Rachel Holt will discuss how the pandemic changed their investment strategies, the hottest sectors within the mobility industry, the rise of SPACs as a financial instrument and where they plan to put their capital in 2021 and beyond.

From Concept to Commuter Car — and Beyond with Jesse Levinson (Zoox)

Zoox unveiled the design of its fit-for-purpose autonomous vehicle for the first time, after years of development and much anticipation. Meanwhile, the company was also acquired by Amazon in a high-profile deal that looks to give the company ample runway, while keeping its operations independent. We’ll hear from co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson about what it’s like building an autonomous car company in the shadows of a commerce giant.

EV Founders in Focus with Ben Schippers (TezLab)

We sit down with the founders poised to take advantage of the rise in electric vehicle sales. We’ll chat with Ben Schippers, co-founder and CEO of TezLab, an app that operates like a Fitbit for Tesla vehicles (and soon other EVs) and allows drivers to go deep into their driving data. The app also breaks down the exact types and percentages of fossil fuels and renewable energy coming from charging locations.

The Future of Flight with JoeBen Bevirt (Joby Aviation) and Reid Hoffman (Reinvent Technology Partners)

Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Bevirt spent more than a decade quietly developing an all-electric, vertical take-off and landing passenger aircraft. Now he is preparing for a new phase of growth as Joby Aviation merges with the special purpose acquisition company formed by famed investor and Linked co-founder Reid Hoffman. Bevirt and Hoffman will come to our virtual stage to talk about the how build a startup (and keep it secret while raising funds), the future of flight and, of course, SPACs.

Equity, Accessibility and Cities with Tamika L. Butler (Tamika L. Butler Consulting), Tiffany Chu (Remix) and Frank Reig (Revel)

Can mobility be accessible, equitable and remain profitable? We have brought 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 discuss how (and if) shared mobility can provide equity in cities, while still remaining a viable and even profitable business. The trio will also dig into the challenges facing cities and how policy may affect startups.

The Rise of Robotaxis in China with Tony Han (WeRide), Jewel Li (AutoX) and Huan Sun (Momenta Europe)

Silicon Valley has long been viewed as a hub for autonomous vehicle development. But another country is also leading the charge. 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.

Sponsored by Plus: Delivering Supervised Autonomous Trucks Globally with Shawn Kerrigan (Plus)

Plus is applying autonomous driving technology to launch supervised autonomous trucks today in order to dramatically improve safety, efficiency and driver comfort, while addressing critical challenges in long-haul trucking — driver shortage and high turnover, rising fuel costs, and reaching sustainability goals. Mass production of our supervised autonomous driving solution, PlusDrive, starts this summer. In the next few years, tens of thousands of heavy trucks powered by PlusDrive will be on the road. Plus’s COO and Co-Founder Shawn Kerrigan will introduce PlusDrive and our progress of deploying this driver-in solution globally. He will also share our learnings from working together with world-leading OEMs and fleet partners to develop and deploy autonomous trucks at scale.

Driving Innovation at General Motors with Pam Fletcher (GM)

GM is in the midst of sweeping changes that will eventually turn it into an EV-only producer of cars, trucks and SUVs. But the auto giant’s push to electrify passenger vehicles is just one of many efforts to be a leader in innovation and the future of transportation. We’ll talk with Pam Fletcher, vice president of innovation at GM, one of the key people behind the 113-year-old automaker’s push to become a nimble, tech-centric company.

AVs: Past, Present and Future with Karl Iagnemma (Motional) and Chris Urmson (Aurora)

TechCrunch Mobility will talk to two pioneers, and competitors, who are leading the charge to commercialize autonomous vehicles. Karl Iagnemma, president of the $4 billion Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture known as Motional, and Chris Urmson, the co-founder and CEO of Aurora, will discuss — and maybe even debate — the best approach to AV development and deployment, swap stories of the earliest days of the industry and provide a few forecasts of what’s to come.

EV Founders in Focus

We sit down with the founders poised to take advantage of the rise in electric vehicle sales. This time, we will chat with Kameale Terry, co-founder and CEO of ChargerHelp! a startup that enables on-demand repair of electric vehicle charging stations.

Sponsored by: Wejo: Making Mobility Data Accessible to Governmental Agencies to Meet New Transportation Demands with Bret Scott (Wejo)

Wejo provides accurate and unbiased unique journey data, curated from millions of connected cars, to help local, state, province and federal government agencies visualize traffic and congestion conditions. Unlock a deeper understanding of mobility trends, to make better decisions, support policy development and solve problems more effectively for your towns and cities.

Mobility’s Robotic Future with James Kuffner (Toyota Research Institute)

More than ever, automotive manufacturers are looking to robotics as the future of mobility, from manufacturing to autonomy and beyond. We’ll be speaking to the head of robotics initiatives at one of the world’s largest automakers  to find out how the technology is set to transform the industry.

TICKETS

As a special “Easter egg” thank you for making it to the end of the article, you can save an additional 15% on tickets with promo code “agenda2021“. Put it in the ticket widget below, and save! Early Bird pricing ends in a couple of days so be sure to book your passes today for maximum savings.

 

#africa, #alex-wang, #alexandr-wang, #amazon, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #australia, #automotive, #autonomous-car, #autotech-ventures, #av, #ben-schippers, #ceo, #chargerhelp, #chris-urmson, #clara-brenner, #crunchmatch, #driver, #europe, #frank-reig, #gm, #james-kuffner, #jesse-levinson, #jewel-li, #joeben-bevirt, #karl-iagnemma, #motional, #nuro, #plus, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #reinvent-technology-partners, #robot, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #self-driving-truck, #south-america, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #technology, #tesla, #tezlab, #tiffany-chu, #toyota-research-institute, #united-states, #urban-innovation-fund, #zoox

Lyft sells self-driving unit to Toyota’s Woven Planet for $550M

Ride-hailing company Lyft has sold off its autonomous vehicle unit to Toyota’s Woven Planet Holdings subsidiary for $550 million, the latest in a string of acquisitions spurred by the cost and lengthy timelines to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology.

Under the acquisition agreement announced Tuesday, Lyft’s so-called Level 5 division will be folded into Woven Planet Holdings. Lyft will receive $550 million in cash, with $200 million paid upfront. The remaining $350 million will be made in payments over five years. About 300 people from Lyft Level 5 will be integrated into Woven Planet. The Level 5 team, which in early 2020 numbered more than 400 people in the U.S., Munich and London, will continue to operate out of its office in Palo Alto, California.

The transaction, which is expected to close in the third quarter of 2021, officially ends Lyft’s nearly four-year effort to develop its own self-driving system.

The transaction will remove a costly annual expense from Lyft’s budget. The ride-hailing company said that by offloading Level 5 it expects to be able to remove $100 million of annualized non-GAAP operating expenses on a net basis. Those savings will be critical for Lyft as it pursues profitability — a point co-founder and president John Zimmer made special note of in the announcement.

“Assuming the transaction closes within the expected timeframe and the COVID recovery continues, we are confident that we can achieve Adjusted EBITDA profitability in the third quarter of this year,” Zimmer said in a statement.

Free from this annual expense, Lyft will dedicate its resources to what the company says it was really was aiming for all along: to become the go-to ride-hailing network and fleet management platform used by any and all commercial robotaxi services. Lyft already has partnerships with AV developers, notably the $4 billion Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture known as Motional, as well as Waymo. The intent is to lock up the rest. As part of the acquisition agreement, Woven Planet signed commercial agreements to use the Lyft platform and fleet data.

Lyft said that the agreement with Woven Planet is not exclusive, and it will continue its partnership with Motional and others. Motional and Lyft have been partners for more than three years, a relationship that kicked off with what was supposed to be a weeklong pilot program to offer rides in autonomous vehicles on the Lyft network in Las Vegas during the 2018 CES tech trade show (the partnership actually predated the joint venture with Hyundai.) That temporary experiment, which has always included a human safety driver, was extended and still exists today. As of February 2020, the program had given more than 100,000 paid self-driving rides in Aptiv’s — now Motional’s — self-driving vehicles, per the Lyft app. Motional announced in December plans to launch fully driverless robotaxi services in major U.S. cities in 2023 using the Lyft ride-hailing network.

Lyft is making some structural organization changes to reflect this renewed focus. Lyft will retain its team of engineers, product managers, data scientists and UX designers that have been working on the consumer experience of hailing, and then riding in an autonomous vehicle, which will be headed up by Jody Kelman. This team, now known as Lyft Autonomous, will be folded into the company’s fleet division that manages more than 10,000 vehicles via its rental and express drive programs. Lyft Fleet, which was founded in 2019 and is led by Cal Lankton, is also the group spearheading the company’s transition to 100% electric vehicles on the network by 2030. The idea is to bring all of these efforts — shared, electric and self-driving — under one roof.

Other strategic shuffling is happening over at Toyota’s Woven Planet. The Level 5 workforce, researchers from Toyota Research Institute and Woven Planet will be combined into one team of about 1,200 employees. The company said the acquisition of Level 5 is a carve-out of Lyft’s self-driving division with a specific focus on accelerating the safety of automated driving technology and does not directly affect Toyota’s relationship with other partnerships such as AV startup Aurora.

Woven Planet Holdings is a new entity that has already made a splash. The holding company, which folded in Toyota Research Institute — Advanced Development Inc. or TRI-AD, also includes an investment arm known as Woven Capital and Woven City, a testing ground for new technologies set in an interconnected smart city prototype. In February, Toyota broke ground at the Higashi-Fuji site in Susono City, Japan, at the base of Mount Fuji.

Earlier this year, Woven Capital kicked off off its new $800 million strategic fund by announcing an investment into autonomous delivery vehicle company Nuro.

#aptiv, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #lyft, #motional, #toyota, #transportation, #woven-planet

The Station: Argo AI plots its fundraising course and Waymo changes leadership

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.

Hi there, new and returning readers. This is 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.

There is a lot to get to, so let’s dive right in.

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 station scooter1a

Rebecca Bellan is back with some micromobbin’ insights. Let’s dig in and take a look at this roundup of news.

It was a buzzy week for ebikes news, another indication that there is still demand — or at least the perception of demand — for this form of mobility.

Take Gocycle as just one example. The UK-based company released its fourth generation of folding electric bikes, which are claimed to be lighter and more powerful. The new line is made of three models — the G4 ($3,999), G4i ($4,999) and G4i+ ($5,999) — and they all have 20-inch wheels, a sealed chain drive with a 3-speed rear hub transmission, hydraulic disc brakes, a polymer reach shock and a 500-watt front motor. This is all to say, this bike can rip.

Ebike sharing also continues to be a busy market with startups making plans and governments making orders.

Smoove, a French mobility startup. is partnering with Zoov, another mobility startup that focuses on IoT and self-diagnosis features, to try to become leaders in the European e-bike sharing market. Smoove is already well-placed in major cities like Paris, Vancouver, Lima and Moscow, and now will be joining forces with Zoov’s high quality tech and compact docking stations.

China-based EZGO announced an order of e-bikes to the Ukraine worth 1 million RMB, or about $150,000. Ukraine is also purchasing EZGO’s “Dilang” brand of e-modes, as well as some electric tricycles. The company hopes to begin distribution within the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, in the land of policy …

A council committee has delayed votes to make changes to e-scooter and e-bike sharing schemes in Denver.

The deal they’re working out involves allowing the two micromobility companies to get free access to operating on the city’s streets. Usually, these companies would pay the city for the right to operate, but if the Denver City Council approves their licenses, Lyft and Lime will just be making profits. The upside is that it (hopefully) gets more people out of cars and into more sustainable modes of transport. This deal also doesn’t require Denverites to contribute to funding, unlike the deal Denver had with B-cycle, the city’s original bike share nonprofit.

 — Rebecca Bellan 

Deal of the week

money the station

Lilium became the latest electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft startup to seek capital by going public via a reverse merger with a “blank check” company. In this deal, Lilium announced a merger with special purpose acquisition company Qell Acquisition Corp, in a deal valuing the combined business at $3.3 billion.

(Side note: Qell Acquisition Corp. is a SPAC led by Barry Engle, a former president of General Motors North America.) Once the merger is complete, Lilium will trade on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbol LILM.

The German-based startup designs and builds eVTOLs and has aspirations to launch commercial air taxi operations in 2024. Lilium plans to launch an air taxi network in Florida with up to 14 vertiport development sites, which the company says will be built and operated by its infrastructure partners.

Other deals that got my attention …

Cazoo, the UK-based used car sales platform, announced it too will merge with a special purpose acquisition company in a deal that values it at an eye-popping $7 billion. Bloomberg reported.

Chargerhelp!, an on-demand EV charger repair startup, has raised $2.75 million from investors Trucks VC, Kapor Capital, JFF, Energy Impact Partners and The Fund. This round values the startup, which was founded in January 2020, at $11 million post-money. The startup is interesting to me because as far as my research has shown there isn’t a lot of competition; and there should be. They also have a progressive (dare I suggest sustainable approach) to hiring.

Glovo, a startup out of Spain with 10 million users that delivers restaurant takeout, groceries and other items in partnership with brick-and-mortar businesses, raised $528 million in a Series F round. The round is significant not just because of its size, but because of its proximity to Deliveroo’s raising more than $2 billion ahead of its debut on the London Stock Exchange this week.

To offset the thin (or even negative) margins that are typically associated with a lot of delivery startups, Glovo aims to become the market leader in the 20 markets in Europe where it is live today, in part by expanding its “q-commerce” service — the delivery of items to urban consumers in 30 minutes or less, TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden reported. It will be using the money to double down on that strategy, including hiring up to 200 more engineers to work in its headquarters in Barcelona, as well as hubs in Madrid and Warsaw, Poland to build out the technology to underpin it.

LGN, a UK-based startup focused on edge AI, raised $2 million in a round that included investors Trucks VC, Luminous Ventures, and Jaguar Land Rover.

The company, which was founded in 2018 by former Apple and BMW executive Daniel Warner, Oxbridge research fellow Dr Luke Robinson and Professor Vladimir Čeperić of MIT and the University of Zagreb, plans to use the funds to develop its product and hire more employees. Specifically, the company said it is working on low-latency inference technology that can process optical data on-chip orders faster than current technology allows, VentureBeat reported.

Wavesense, the Massachusetts-based startup that makes ground-penetrating radar (GPR) technology for self-driving cars, raised $15 million in a round led by Rhapsody Venture Partners and Impossible Ventures.

Takeaways from Biden’s plans

What will it take to get Americans to choose an electric vehicle for their next car and to get American supply chains up to the task of manufacturing them in-house? According to President Joe Biden’s ambitious infrastructure plan unveiled Wednesday, the answer is $174 billion.

The funds are just one part of the $2 trillion plan, which seeks to overhaul the lifelines that keep the country running, such as our transportation networks, electric grid and even broadband. In some ways, the plan is bipartisan genius: it combines Democrats’ concern over climate change with Republicans’ concern over Chinese dominance in manufacturing, and appeals to both parties in its promise to revitalize domestic jobs. But the plan still needs approval from Congress before it can move forward.

To spur Americans to buy electric, Biden has taken a two-pronged approach: make them cheaper (through tax credits and rebates) and make EV chargers more readily available (by building a staggeringly large network of 500,000 chargers by 2030). His administration hasn’t released details on the size of the incentives, so it’s unclear whether they will be larger than the $7,500 tax credit already available for EVs. It’s also unclear whether Tesla and GM will qualify, as the current credit isn’t available for manufacturers that have already sold more than 200,000 EVs.

For now, Biden’s administration is withholding a lot of details — how will his plan help automakers “spur domestic supply chains from raw materials to parts” and “retool factories to compete globally”? — so we’ll keep an eye out for these details in the future.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Argo AI plots its fundraising course

the station autonomous vehicles1

I dared to take some time off, which is all well and good until news breaks in the world of autonomous vehicles. A report from The Information said that Argo AI CEO and co-founder Bryan Salesky told employees in an all-hands meeting that the autonomous vehicle startup was planning for a public listing later this year.

I connected with some sources – vacation be damned — and have more context to share with you. Salesky did indeed mention the prospect of an IPO during the company’s regular weekly all-hands meeting. There is a bit more to the story though. The comments were made as the CEO discussed upcoming important milestones in 2021 that will lead to an IPO or a significant raise of some kind. The upshot: apparently all fundraising options are on the table, including a merger with a special acquisition company or SPAC.

Argo, as one source told me, is intent on scaling. Raising capital is a key part of that plan. The company also plans to expand testing beyond the six cities it currently is in — including into Europe. (Remember, Volkswagen is a backer and a customer. )

All of that takes money. Argo has raised $2 billion to date. That’s no small sum and yet far below the war chests of Cruise and Waymo.

The fundraising effort has not started in earnest. There is no roadshow, according to folks familiar. The broad plan is to secure investors, which could turn into the PIPE (private investment in public equity) for a SPAC or a “fairly substantial private round,” according to one insider.

Waymo’s changing of the guard

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced on Friday that he is stepping down from the leadership position he held for five years. The CEO position will now be held by two people: Tekedra Mawakana, who was COO and Dmitri Dolgov, who was part of the original Google self-driving project and was most recently CTO.

The idea is that the co-CEOs will take their respective expertise — business and engineering — and combine them to help Waymo scale up commercially. Co-CEO models are risky, so it will be interesting to see if the pair can work together, and importantly, get their employees to buy into the idea. Dolgov and Mawakana apparently brought the co-CEO idea to the board, one source told me. (Remember Waymo is an Alphabet company, and so its leaders ultimately answer to their parent.)

In a post on LinkedIn, Krafcik described his time at the company and hinted at a few of his plans, which for now seems to be focused on settling in Austin, Texas and regrouping with family and friends. He’s also now listed as an advisor to Waymo, a contractual position that doesn’t have a specific end date.

As you might suspect, I received lots of texts and email messages from sources within the industry wanting to weigh in or provide inside information (or speculate) why Krafcik left.

Here’s what I can tell you. Krafcik could be a polarizing figure within Waymo, particularly in the early days of his employment when it was still a “project” and had not yet become an independent company under Alphabet. That transition led to the departure of some of the Google self-driving project’s key engineers and leaders, including Chris Urmson, Bryan Salesky and Dave Ferguson, who went on to found AV startups Aurora, Argo AI and Nuro.

Krafcik’s tenure was also marked by extreme growth — in terms of number of employees — as well as an aggressive push to lock up OEM and supplier partners, the launch of a ride-hailing service in the suburbs of Phoenix, expanded testing and its first external investment round of $2.25 billion. That round was extended by another $750 million, bringing the total size of the financing to $3 billion.

Dolgov and Mawakana have some decisions to make on how they want to proceed and where to place their bets. My educated forecast? Waymo Via, the company’s autonomous delivery unit, will become a bigger priority along with a more visible push into complex urban environments like San Francisco.

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

Here are a few other items worth mentioning.

It’s electric

Amazon Web Services is expanding its offerings and anticipating the inevitable spike in EVs by partnering with Swiss automation company ABB. The two are working on a single-view electric fleet management platform that can work with any charging infrastructure or EV.

“Not only do fleet managers have to contend with the speed of development in charging technology, but they also need real-time vehicle and charging status information, access to charging infrastructures and information for hands-on maintenance,” Frank Muehlon, president of ABB’s e-mobility division, told TechCrunch. “This new real-time EV fleet management solution will set new standards in the world of electric mobility for global fleet operators and help them realize improved operations.”

Autonomous vehicles

Cartken, the robotics startup founded by ex-Google employees, has partnered with REEF Technology to bring self-driving delivery robots to the streets of downtown Miami. REEF,  a startup that operates parking lots and tech-focused neighborhood hubs, to develop and deploy the robots. They are now delivering dinner orders from REEF’s network of delivery-only kitchens to people located within a 3/4-mile radius of its delivery hubs.’

Geodis, the global logistics company, has tapped startup Phantom Auto to help it deploy forklifts that can be controlled remotely by human operators located hundreds, and even thousands, of miles away. The aim is to use the technology to reduce operator fatigue — and the injuries that can occur as a result — as well as reduce the number of people physically inside warehouses, according to the Geodis.

Motional, which is partnering with Lyft for ride-hailing services, revealed this week that it would be integrating its tech with the Hyundai IONIQ5. Customers in certain markets will be able to book this vehicle starting in 2023.

Optimus Ride, an autonomous electric mobility company, announced a partnership with sports car manufacturer Polaris to commercialize a new breed of Polaris GEM low-speed vehicles. The vehicles will serve as microtransit for certain academic or corporate campuses, mixed-use developments and other geofenced, localized environments. Side note: 2023 seems to be a big year for upcoming electric, autonomous vehicles.

Delivery

Zipline, the drone delivery service startup, announced a partnership with Toyota Tsusho
Corporation that will focus on bringing medical and pharmaceutical supplies to healthcare facilities in Japan. Toyota Tsusho is already an investor in Zipline and so this is a deepening of that relationship.

The partnership also marks Zipline’s entrance into Japan. The company already delivers medical supplies in Ghana and Rwanda, and also operates in the United States.

#amazon, #amazon-web-services, #argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #chris-urmson, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #geodis, #john-krafcik, #motional, #tc, #transportation, #waymo, #zipline

Hyundai IONIQ 5 will be Motional and Lyft’s first robotaxi

Motional will integrate its driverless technology into Hyundai’s new all-electric SUV to create the company’s first robotaxi. At the start of 2023, customers in certain markets will be able to book the fully electric, fully autonomous taxi through the Lyft app.

The Hyundai IONIQ 5, which was revealed in February with a consumer release date expected later this year, will be fully integrated with Motional’s driverless system. The vehicles will be equipped with the hardware and software needed for Level 4 autonomous driving capabilities, including LiDAR, radar and cameras to provide the vehicle’s sensing system with 360 degrees of vision, and the ability to see up to 300 meters away. This level of driverless technology means a human will not be required to take over driving.

The interior living space will be similar to the consumer model, but additionally equipped with features needed for robotaxi operation, according to a Motional spokesperson. Motional did not reveal whether or not the vehicle would still have a steering wheel, and images of the robotaxi aren’t yet available.

Motional’s IONIQ 5 robotaxis have already begun testing on public roads and closed courses, and they’ll be put through more months of testing and real-world experience before being deployed on Lyft’s platform. The company says it’ll complete testing only once it’s confident that the taxis are safer than a human driver.

Motional, the Aptiv-Hyundai $4 billion joint venture aimed at commercializing driverless cars, announced its partnership with Lyft in December, signaling the ride-hailing company’s primary involvement in Motional’s plans. The company recently announced that it began testing its driverless tech on public roads in Las Vegas. Hyundai’s IONIQ 5 is Motional’s second platform to go driverless on public roads.

#aptiv, #automation, #driver, #emerging-technologies, #hyundai, #hyundai-motor-company, #las-vegas, #lyft, #mobility, #motional, #robotaxi, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #technology, #transport

Self-driving companies are inching toward fully driverless service

A Motional self-driving car in Las Vegas.

Enlarge / A Motional self-driving car in Las Vegas. (credit: Motional)

Motional, a joint venture of Hyundai and giant auto parts supplier Aptiv, has begun testing its self-driving vehicles in Las Vegas without anyone behind the wheel, the company announced in a Monday blog post.

Motional isn’t ready to launch a driverless commercial service yet. But Motional—which was part of Aptiv before Hyundai’s investment—has been operating a commercial self-driving taxi service (with safety drivers) for several years. The service is operated in partnership with Lyft; Lyft customers in Las Vegas can opt to ride in a Motional car during some of their rides. Motional says its vehicles have completed more than 100,000 rides without causing any crashes.

Motional says that it hired the German testing firm TÜV SÜD to examine its self-driving technology. After an 18-month review process, the firm endorsed the technology for driverless testing.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#aptiv, #cars, #hyundai, #motional

A look at the soaring valuations of Rivian and Cruise with transportation VC Reilly Brennan

Reilly Brennan loves cars. The native Michigander happily did grunt work for an automotive magazine as an undergrad at the University of Michigan before landing a gig as a trackside communications manager at General Motors, spending a few years as an editor and a general manager with an automotive publisher called NextScreen, then becoming a programming director for AOL’s automotive properties.

His next role would be on the West Coast, as executive director of an automotive research program at Stanford, where Brennan continues to be a lecturer. Little surprise that soon after, a seed-stage fund began to make sense, too, and thus was born Trucks Venture Capital, which has since made dozens of bets out of a $20 million debut effort and is wrapping up a larger fund soon.

Late last week, we talked with Brennan about two of the fastest-soaring valuations we’ve seen recently in automotive sector: that of the electric vehicle company Rivian, which raised a giant new round last week at a nearly $30 billion post-money valuation, and Cruise Automation, which also raised a giant new round last week, and also at $30 billion valuation. (Along with some other interesting bets, Trucks managed to write an early check for Cruise before it was acquired in 2016 by GM, which maintains majority ownership of the company.) We wondered if even an auto aficionado might deem things a little bubbly.

You can listen to that full conversation here. In the meantime, the excerpts below have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

TC: Who are your investors in Trucks VC? Are they individuals? Are any auto manufacturers that are trying to get a look at nascent technologies?

RB: We have some former execs from the car industry in the tech world, and a handful of family offices and definitely some large strategic companies. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you their names because I’ve signed documents that prevent me from doing that. But one of the cool things about our little Rolodex of [limited partners] is that our founders — when they want to come in and do something in transportation — it’s an easy doggie door into a lot of those entities, whether they’re people or businesses. One of the things I love about [the mix is] there’s probably no part of a vehicle, whether you’re talking about a car, truck, a bike, or a plane, that one of our investors couldn’t help out with.

TC: Do you look to be the first money into your deals?

RB: One of the interesting learnings I had in the first fund was, we were just trying to participate; we were just happy to be at the party. So we were participating in rounds that other people were leading, and our checks [from Fund I] were anywhere from $100,000 to a few thousand dollars.

The new fund is designed to take advantage of leading rounds [because] halfway through our first fund, founders would ask us to lead rounds, and frankly, the fund wasn’t big enough to do that. Our new fund is really designed so we can lead seed rounds, and that’s what we do. We’ll lead or co-lead and sit on the board. Usually, we’re  owning about 10% to 12% of a company at seed.

TC: One of Truck’s early checks went to Cruise, the self-driving car company that GM acquired for an amount that has variously been reported as more than $1 billion, as well as for closer to $500 million . . .

RB: The Cruise investment, my [fellow general partners] Jeff and Kate made. I can’t tell you specifically what the acquisition price was, but it was pretty good. That being said, if you read about the valuation of Cruise now within General Motors, or that of another [self-driving] company we invested in, Nutonomy, which was acquired by [automotive supplier] Delphi [for $450 million in 2017] and is now essentially a company called Motional, they’re pretty high.

I think a lot about those early exits because they validated the space, but I also think a lot of the early investors probably wish they had more ownership. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have sold. But you look at the valuation of Cruise and Motional today — if you put those two entities together — it’s more than the valuation of General Motors, or maybe Ford Motor Company.

TC: But is Cruise’s valuation perhaps too high right now? They still have a very long lead time to making money.

RB: I would agree with you that in the public market, it feels a little bubbly when it comes to electric vehicles and some of these ideas related to technology and auto. But I do think a lot of these companies look at the opportunity to automate things greater than just robo-taxis. Last year in particular provided good insight into how the logistics and delivery part of automation is probably on the nearer term horizon than robo-taxis and therefore more valuable.

TC: How much have valuations been driven up by Tesla, whose valuation now dwarfs all the major car manufacturers?

RB: One of the things the market appears to want is the simple story, and belief in Tesla is now highly aligned to [thinking that] this is just the way that transportation is going to be organized. It’s going to be a zero-emission vehicle that is highly connected and maybe attached to a consumer in a new way.

You’re seeing the same with a lot of these pure-play EV companies, whether it’s [carmaker] Fisker doing a SPAC or the way that [carmaker] Neo is received in China. There’s this purity of their message.

You can argue, successfully, that a lot of other companies have more engineering or a greater dealer network or more IP around a particular idea, but when it comes to the public market stuff, it really is about painting the picture in this one specific way that’s aligned with the future. And right now, the public markets really don’t like that composite, liberal arts approach to vehicle manufacturing; they really just want one thing that aligns very well with the future, which they believe is better electric vehicles.

TC: This seemingly applies to the Detroit carmaker Rivian. What do you think of this company that’s valued at nearly $30 billion yet hasn’t yet sold a truck or SUV? You aren’t one of its investor. Does its valuation make sense to you?

RB: From an engineering perspective, Rivian is probably one of the companies I respect most out of this new breed of manufacturers.

Tens years ago, when they started, there were a lot of new supercar entrepreneurs who were trying to start something new, but they were always small batch ideas. Like, maybe you could get 100 people to buy one. But they weren’t really well-aligned with what consumers were buying, which is increasingly utilities and trucks. So Rivian’s approach, with the segment it’s going after, is really smart, and it has fantastic engineering. So I’m actually quite bullish on Rivian.

In a year’s time, there will probably be two big events for Rivian. One, they will deliver the first batch of [electric delivery vans being built for investor] to Amazon, along with [other orders] to some of the early customers. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they’re public at some point in the next year.
They haven’t told me that; just my own personal speculation here.

TC: When you say it will go public, do you mean through a traditional IPO or maybe through a giant SPAC? Would what you guess?

I bet that Rivian will probably do a traditional IPO, that’s my guess. But they could also do a SPAC at some point. [Either way] I think the public markets are going to be really interested in Rivian. I just think there’s really good stuff there.

TC: Have you been able to test-drive its cars? Have you seen its tech up close? What makes you so confident that what Rivian is building is superior?

RB: I think the point of view they have about the segments is really interesting In the U.S., they are going after two great-growing segments in the business, which is utilities and trucks where, by the way, there’s a lot of margin, and there’s nobody specifically going after those segments.

The Rivian engineering that I speak about is really about the hires they’ve made and a lot of things they’ve done for years in advance of getting these vehicles ready. They’ve got a lot of amazing talent from big manufacturers. They made an unusual but really smart investment in a vehicle assembly facility that they purchased for relatively cheap years ago that was owned by Mitsubishi. And they put together all these components well in advance of anybody really even knowing about them, which is really smart.

Obviously, there’s still a huge amount of risk. What I’m saying is not investment advice. I just think there’s a lot of interesting stuff there that’s head and shoulders above many of the other EV companies, where there’s not a lot of substance, to be candid.

TC: My colleague Kirsten reported in December that Rivian is developing a network of charging stations along interstate highways and also at spots like hiking trails to accommodate who it imagines will be its customers. Does that make sense to you? Relatedly, how many different types of charging stations are we going to have in the world?

[Regarding the location of its stations], it’s definitely a nice ingredient in the story they’re trying to tell, though I don’t think you’ll see a Rivian charger at the entry point of every national park. They’ll probably have access to other charging networks. One of the things we’re seeing in the U.S. is you have some of these dedicated networks like Tesla has, and then you have a lot of agnostic [stations], where you can plug in and charge in a lot of other places, and Rivian will likely take advantage of that. An open question would be whether Rivian builds its own [larger] dedicated network that has a lot of coverage, and I don’t know about that yet.

The other component about Rivian that’s really fascinating is what they do for service and maintenance. I saw an open job that Rivian had a few months ago around remote diagnostics, and one of the bullet points of the job posting was that this job was really designed so that people didn’t have to go back to the dealership. [It begs the question of]: could you design experiences digitally,  as with [on-demand remote doctor visits], where you could potentially talk to somebody live, you could [have Rivian] assess the vehicle, or maybe walk you through a situation where you can fix something that would prevent a lot of the trips to dealer?

If you consider the traditional dealer and OEM relationship, a lot of the ways that cars are designed is that they’re constantly having to go back to the dealer. Rivian’s point of view on that is really different, and that’s one of the other reasons it’s one to watch.

#automotive, #cruise-automation, #ev, #motional, #rivian, #tc, #tesla, #trucks-venture-capital

Motional gets approval to test fully driverless vehicles in Las Vegas

Motional, the Aptiv-Hyundai $4 billion joint venture aimed at commercializing autonomous vehicles, is preparing to roll out fully driverless vehicles on public roads in Las Vegas after receiving approval from the state of Nevada.

The company’s president and CEO Karl Iagnemma announced Tuesday in a blog post that the state has given permission to test its autonomous vehicles without a human safety driver behind the wheel.

That doesn’t mean these vehicles will be plying Las Vegas streets tomorrow. Iagnemma, whose AV startup nuTonomy was acquired by Aptiv in 2017 and has since evolved into the Hyundai joint venture Motional, said the company will spend the next several months completing what he describes as a “rigorous, self-imposed testing and assessment period.” That testing and assessment period, which is already underway, included studying the performance and safety of its vehicles on public and private roads. Based on that timeline, driverless testing on public roads will begin sometime in early 2021. 

Iagnemma also noted that Motional was working with one of the “world’s most respected safety assessors.” The company didn’t name the safety assessor, but told TechCrunch more details of the safety and assessment progress would be revealed in the coming weeks.

Motional is no stranger to Las Vegas. As the Aptiv Autonomous Mobility Group, the company spent years testing its autonomous vehicles (with a human backup driver behind the wheel) in the city. The company launched in January 2018 a one-week program with Lyft to test a robotaxi service during CES, the large tech conference. That temporary experiment, which has always included a human safety driver, was extended and still exists today. As of February 2020, the program had given more than 100,000 paid self-driving rides in Aptiv’s self-driving vehicles per the Lyft app.

Aptiv’s investment in Las Vegas expanded as those ridership numbers grew. The company opened in December 2018 a 130,000-square-foot technical center in the city to house its fleet of autonomous vehicles as well as an engineering team dedicated to research and development of software and hardware systems, validation and mapping.

The fully driverless testing will be separate from the company’s self-driving fleet operating on the Lyft network in Las Vegas, according to Iagnemma.

Since its joint venture with Hyundai, the newly branded Motional company is stepping up its efforts in Las Vegas as well as other U.S. cities like Pittsburgh and international locations, including Singapore and South Korea. The aim, Iagnemma says, is to create AV technology that can navigate a wide range of international road environments, including left-hand and right-hand drive, harsh sun and heavy rain, highways and city streets, roundabouts and uncontrolled intersections.

What is unclear is where these driverless vehicles will operate and when Morional might make them accessible to the public. If Motional follows the lead of Waymo, which has started to scale up a driverless service in the Phoenix area, the process will be slow and likely in the testing phase for months. 

Another unknown is whether Motional will partner with Lyft or another company to operate a driverless service. Last month, Motional and on-demand shuttle startup Via announced plans to launch a shared robotaxi service for the public in a U.S. city in the first half of 2021. The companies said at the time that the aim is to develop a “blueprint” for on-demand shared robotaxis and learn how these driverless vehicles can be integrated into mass transit. The partnership with Via will begin with autonomous vehicles with a human safety driver behind the wheel.

The details on this partnership and the service were scant. Motional and Via didn’t identify the city, provide information on the geographic scope of the service or number or type of vehicles that would be used. The companies did say that the service will be launched in one of the U.S. cities where Motional already operates, narrowing down the possible list to Boston, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas and Santa Monica.

#aptiv, #automotive, #hyundai, #motional

Via and Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture to offer shared robotaxi rides next year

Motional, the Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture, and on-demand shuttle startup Via plan to launch a shared robotaxi service for the public in a U.S. city in the first half of 2021. The companies said the aim is to develop a “blueprint” for on-demand shared robotaxis and learn how these driverless vehicles can be integrated into mass transit.

The details on this partnership and the service are scant — at least for now. The companies, which said more specifics would be shared at a later date, didn’t identify the city, provide information on the geographic scope of the service or number or type of vehicles that would be used. The companies did say that the service will be launched in one of the U.S. cities where Motional already operates, narrowing down the possible list to Boston, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas and Santa Monica.

Via-Motional App robotaxi app

Image Credits: Via

Under the partnership, Motional’s autonomous vehicles will be connected with Via’s platform, which handles booking, routing, passenger and vehicle assignment and identification, customer experience and fleet management. The partnership is similar to the arrangement that Motional has with Lyft in Las Vegas.

This shouldn’t be considered a “driverless” service just yet. All of the autonomous vehicles will have a human safety operator behind the wheel. The service will, however, charge users a fee, indicating that the companies are attempting to home in on all of the aspects that go into operating a commercially viable business. riders will access the robotaxi service through the Via platform and is open to the public. Users won’t be vetted in advanced nor do they have to sign non-disclosure agreements, a practice used by Waymo in its early rider program.

The pursuit of a commercial-scale on-demand shared robotaxis service that is part of a transit network is riddled with hurdles. Vehicles have to be on-demand, optimally routed, and shared by multiple passengers, the companies said. The COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of complexity — and even opportunity, according to Motional President and CEO Karl Iagnemma.

“This partnership comes at an especially significant moment, as COVID reshapes our views on transportation and consumers demand more, flexible, and varied options,” Iagnemma noted in the announcement, pointing to recent research by Motional that found 70% of Americans who were surveyed said the risk of infection impacts their transportation choices, and one-in-five are more interested in self-driving vehicles than they were before the pandemic.

Via and Motional said the service will take a number of security measures such as partitions, personal protective equipment like masks, frequent sanitizing, contact tracing to ensure the health and safety of vehicle occupants.

Via already has some experience testing and demonstrating how its platform can be used to hail autonomous vehicles. Last October, Via, Hyundai and Chinese AV company Pony.ai partnered to offer a BotRide service in Irvine, California. The service used a fleet of electric, autonomous Hyundai Kona crossovers — equipped with a self-driving system from Pony.ai  and Via’s ride-hailing platform. Via has also conducted  demonstrations with Navya and Aurrigo, and in its “BusBot” AV service in New South Wales, Australia.

#automotive, #hyundai, #motional, #transportation, #via