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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuro’s Nevada play

Nuro-Vegas

Image Credits: Nuro

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

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

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

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

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

Deal of the week

money the station

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other deals that got my attention this week …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

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

ADAS

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

Autonomous vehicles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Electric vehicles

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

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

Other bits

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suing your way to the stars

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

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

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


The big thing

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

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

Now then! Onto the topic at hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Other things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Extra things

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

The Nuro EC-1
“..Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu aren’t the only Google self-driving project employees to launch an AV startup, but they might be the most underrated. Their company, Nuro, is valued at $5 billion and has high-profile partnerships with leaders in retail, logistics and food including FedEx, Domino’s and Walmart. And, they seem to have navigated the regulatory obstacle course with success — at least so far…”

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

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


Thanks for reading! Until next week…

Lucas M.

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

Actuator: Stop making sense

First of all, we’ve got a fancy new name. While “Robotics Roundup” was nothing if not very technically accurate, it lacked the kind of panache one ought to strive for when rounding up robotics. Actuator, on the other hand — that’s a mover and shaker.

It’s a name you can take to the bank (or at least run by the legal department for clearance). To mark this momentous occasion, we employed our resident graphic design genius Bryce to sketch up something befitting our rebrand.

We’re also using the opportunity to announce that Actuator will be coming soon to an inbox near you as a free TechCrunch newsletter. All of this fun change seems extra fitting, given that this happens to be the 25th edition of the roundup. You can find all of the older updates under our Actuator tag if you want to catch up.

If you’ve been following for a while, you’ve got the gist of what the newsletter is about: a digestible look into the week’s robotics news. We cover all of the startups making waves and the big companies impacting the industry, along with the most fascinating updates in the world of robotic research, as well as dives into labor concerns and various ethical issues stemming from automation and AI.

If all of that sounds good, you can sign up here to get Actuator in your inbox as soon as the first issue hits. I’m told you may have to prove you’re not a robot, so apologies in advance to all of the robots reading this. But hey, if you’ve gotten this far, you’ll figure it out.

Image Credits: Intel

Following an earlier report from CRN, Intel has since confirmed with TechCrunch that it will be winding down its 3D imaging platform, RealSense. It’s always a shame to see these sorts of forward-looking initiatives go away. And certainly Intel has been leaning pretty heavily on the division as a leading indicator of its efforts to remain relevant as the industry evolves.

Over the years, we’ve covered RealSense’s involvement in drones, robotics and AR/VR. In June of last year, we covered the platform’s embrace of 5G connectivity.

Image Credits: Intel

“We are winding down our RealSense business and transitioning our computer vision talent, technology and products to focus on advancing innovative technologies that better support our core businesses and IDM 2.0 strategy,” the company said in a statement offered to TechCrunch. “We will continue to meet our commitments to our current customers and are working with our employees and customers to ensure a smooth transition.

Translation: The company is choosing to focus its core competency. IDM 2.0 refers specifically to the new chipmaking strategy into which the company is pumping $20 billion. Understandable, but it’s always hopeful to see big companies like Intel, Nvidia and Qualcomm really go all in on such forward-facing technologies.

Boston Dynamics, meanwhile, made news this week, ostensibly for another slick viral video, this one featuring the Hyundai-owned company’s humanoid Atlas robot. By now we’re all well aware of the fact that the company makes impressive robots and highly effective YouTube videos that launch a million Black Mirror and Terminator jokes on Twitter.

I’ve seen Atlas do some really impressive stuff in person at BD’s headquarters, and I’ve got a pretty good idea of what it’s currently capable of. So, while Atlas is extremely cool, I didn’t find the recent parkour video especially shocking. What did catch me off guard, however, was the fact that the company also used the opportunity to essentially publish some outtakes from the film.

Image Credits: Boston Dynamics

A six-minute, behind-the-scenes video featured a montage of Atlas falling on its face. Like any great skateboarding video, there are a few gratuitous shots included that demonstrate that, regardless of how advanced the system is, there are still going to be some face-planting, gasket-blowing falls that leave its chest scuffed in a pool of its own fluid. The company notes:

During filming, Atlas gets the vault right about half of the time. On the other runs, Atlas makes it over the barrier, but loses its balance and falls backward, and the engineers look to the logs to see if they can find opportunities for on-the-fly adjustments.

That’s probably enough news of shuttered divisions and bodily robot harm for this week. A couple of fundraising rounds are worth noting.

First is Rapid Robotics, which has been on a fundraising tear of late. The new $36.7 million Series B values the manufacturing robotics company at $192.5 million and marks its third(!) fundraising round in a year that started with a seed raise.

Image Credits: Rapid Robotics

CEO Jordan Kretchmer cites pandemic-fueled manufacturing bottlenecks as a big source of interest in the company:

We hear a lot about the semiconductor shortage, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Contract manufacturers can’t produce gaskets, vials, labels — you name it. I’ve seen cases where the inability to produce a single piece of U-shaped black plastic brought an entire auto line to a halt

Image Credits: Diamond Age

Rapid will be making its robotic systems available through the increasingly popular RaaS (robotics as a service) model also being employed by Diamond Age. The fellow Bay Area-based firm announced its own $8 million seed round this morning for an intriguing mix of robotics and 3D printing designed at speeding up house construction. The company is still in its early stages, but it claims its technology can dramatically reduce the need for manual labor and shrink house construction time from nine months to 30 days.

Image Credits: Picnic

Following its own recent funding back in May, Picnic this week announced that it’s finally selling its modular robotic pizza maker. Pizza is, of course, a popular target for food robotics companies, because Americans eat a ton of it — reportedly 100 acres a day, as of 2015. It’s also relatively uniformly constructed as far as self-contained meals go, and is therefore easier to automate.

Nuro-validation test

Nuro team on test track during early validation in Arizona, before first-ever public road deployment in Arizona. Image Credits: Nuro

And speaking of pizza robots, before we leave you this week, a note to check out the EC-1 on Nuro. Here’s a fun anecdote from Domino’s chief innovation officer that seems to ring true across the robotic spectrum:

One of the things we laugh about is how customers constantly talk to the bot. It’s almost like they think it’s ‘Knight Rider.’ It’s very common for customers to thank it or say goodbye, which is great because that indicates we’re creating an engaging experience that they’re not frustrated by.

#actuator, #boston-dynamics, #intel, #nuro, #picnic, #robotics, #robotics-roundup

Extra Crunch roundup: The Nuro EC-1, early-stage growth tactics, understanding Salesforce+

In 2010, Google’s autonomous vehicle project placed self-driving cars on Bay Area streets and freeways, but practical applications were thought to be at least a decade away.

The futurists were right on schedule: In 2020, Mountain View-based Nuro was testing its second-generation R2 robotic vehicle, the first to earn a federal exemption to operate an autonomous vehicle.

But before Nuro could even consider reaching product-market fit, its founders had to overcome technological challenges, win over regulators and strike partnerships with a range of consumer-facing companies.

“Neither JZ nor I think of ourselves as classic entrepreneurs or that starting a company is something we had to do in our lives,” says co-founder Dave Ferguson. “It was much more the result of soul searching and trying to figure out what is the biggest possible impact that we could have.”


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


Across four articles, reporter Mark Harris (The Guardian, Wired, MIT Technology Review) explores Nuro’s origins and operations, including the founders’ decision to focus on creating autonomous delivery vehicles instead of entering the passenger EV market.

I’ve lived inside the San Francisco Bay Area bubble for most of my adult life, so it’s interesting to see how people in Houston’s Woodland Heights neighborhood react to seeing Nuro’s R2 delivering pizza and prescriptions on a limited basis.

As one Redditor recently posted in r/houston: “With these self-driving cars, it’s only a matter of time before a country song is written about a guy’s truck leaving him.”

Part 1: How Google’s self-driving car project accidentally spawned its robotic delivery rival

Part 2: Why regulators love Nuro’s self-driving delivery vehicles

Part 3: How Nuro became the robotic face of Domino’s

Part 4: Here’s what the inevitable friendly neighborhood robot invasion looks like

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Why fintechs are buying up legacy financial services companies

Image of a bank vault.

Image Credits: Peter Dazeley (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Why bother to beat the competition when you can buy them outright?

“It used to be that if you were a fintech startup or, for lack of a better term, a digitally native financial services business, you might be eyeing an acquisition from an incumbent in the industry,” Ryan Lawler writes.

“But lately, fintech upstarts are the ones doing the acquiring.”

Growth tactics that will jump-start your customer base

Image of a megaphone on a pink background with colorful balls in the air to represent marketing.

Image Credits: Jasmin Merdan (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

“With audiences spread out over so many platforms, reaching cult status requires some level of hacking,” Jenny Wang, a principal investor at Neo, writes in a guest column.

Covering everything from collecting user-generated content to launching splashy guerrilla marketing strategies that can take advantage of someone else’s events, she shares several growth tactics for startups, plus the metrics required to track their success.

There could be more to the Salesforce+ video streaming service than meets the eye

Behind the scenes of video recording or filming online movie by 8K high definition digital camera and professional monitor. And flare lighting set up with film crew team in the studio production.

Image Credits: ppengcreative / Getty Images

Salesforce announced last week that it plans to launch a video streaming service.

The industry analysts who enterprise reporter Ron Miller interviewed said the initiative has tremendous potential, but one noted that Salesforce will have to dig deep to compete in today’s crowded media landscape.

Salesforce hasn’t released details on the type of programming it plans to offer, but given its vast and diverse customer base, its options are many. Said Brent Leary of CRM Essentials:

“A customer could sponsor a show, advertise a show or possibly collaborate on a show. And have leads generated from the show [which could be] directly tied to the activity from those options and track ROI. And it’s all done on one platform. And the content lives on with ads living on with them.”

More companies should shift to a work-from-home model

An orange tabby kitten rests his paw on a hand as a person works from home

Image Credits: Ann Schwede (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Karl Laughton, president and COO of Insightly, offers best practices for companies looking to make the move to a remote model.

“Employers are at a crucial crossroads when it comes to deciding where and how to let employers do their jobs,” he writes in a guest column. “There are those who will adopt the work-from-anywhere model and those who resist it.

“Those who resist it will likely struggle to keep employees.”

Early-stage benchmarks for young cybersecurity companies

3D illustration of a conceptual maze.

Image Credits: Getty Images under a Olivier Le Moal (opens in a new window) license.

YL Ventures’ Yoav Leitersdorf and Michael Cortez lay out a roadmap for founders of early-stage cybersecurity companies that are heading toward unicorn status.

“The early days of any young startup decide how successful it can be, which is why we’ve developed a focused, value-add program to support cybersecurity founders during this most critical stage and maximize their potential in building market-leading companies,” they write in a guest column.

“It’s never too early to think big, and, with the right support, launch the next industry titan.”

The hyperactive late-stage market should keep the startup investing game afoot

Alex Wilhelm considers last week’s funding news from Carta, Chime and Discord and noodles on what the recent rounds mean for startups.

“Understanding why investors are so willing to buy minute stakes in dozens of private companies worth billions of dollars is key to grokking the crush of investment we see among younger technology startups.”

#alex-wilhelm, #chime, #ec-roundup, #extra-crunch-roundup, #finance, #nuro, #ron-miller, #ryan-lawler, #salesforce, #security, #self-driving-cars, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #venture-capital, #yl-ventures, #yoav-leitersdorf

The Nuro EC-1

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

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

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

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

Those quiet days might be coming to an end soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Google’s self-driving car project accidentally spawned its robotic delivery rival

Nuro doesn’t have a typical Silicon Valley origin story. It didn’t emerge after a long, slow slog from a suburban garage or through a flash of insight in a university laboratory. Nor was it founded at the behest of an eccentric billionaire with money to burn.

Nuro was born — and ramped up quickly — thanks to a cash windfall from what is now one of its biggest rivals.

Nuro was born — and ramped up quickly — thanks to a cash windfall from what is now one of its biggest rivals.

In the spring of 2016, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu were teammates on Google’s self-driving car effort. Ferguson was directing the project’s computer vision, machine learning and behavior prediction teams, while Zhu (widely JZ) was in charge of the car’s perception technologies and cutting-edge simulators.

“We both were leading pretty large teams and were responsible for a pretty large portion of the Google car’s software system,” Zhu recalls.

As Google prepared to spin out its autonomous car tech into the company that would become Waymo, it first needed to settle a bonus program devised in the earliest days of its so-called Chauffeur project. Under the scheme, early team members could choose staggered payouts over a period of eight years — or leave Google and get a lump sum all at once.

Ferguson and Zhu would not confirm the amount they received, but court filings released as part of Waymo’s trade secrets case against Uber suggest they each received payouts in the neighborhood of $40 million by choosing to leave.

“What we were fortunate enough to receive as part of the self-driving car project enabled us to take riskier opportunities, to go and try to build something that had a significant chance of not working out at all,” Ferguson says.

Within weeks of their departure, the two had incorporated Nuro Inc, a company with the non-ironic mission to “better everyday life through robotics.” Its first product aimed to take a unique approach to self-driving cars: Road vehicles with all of the technical sophistication and software smarts of Google’s robotaxis, but none of the passengers.

In the five years since, Nuro’s home delivery robots have proven themselves smart, safe and nimble, outpacing Google’s vehicles to secure the first commercial deployment permit for autonomous vehicles in California, as well as groundbreaking concessions from the U.S. government.

While robotaxi companies struggle with technical hitches and regulatory red tape, Nuro has already made thousands of robotic pizza and grocery deliveries across the U.S., and Ferguson (as president) and Zhu (as CEO) are now heading a company that as of its last funding round in November 2020 valued it at $5 billion with more than 1,000 employees.

But how did they get there so fast, and where are they headed next?

Turning money into robots

“Neither JZ nor I think of ourselves as classic entrepreneurs or that starting a company is something we had to do in our lives,” Ferguson says. “It was much more the result of soul searching and trying to figure out what is the biggest possible impact that we could have.”

#artificial-intelligence, #automation, #autonomous-vehicles, #dave-ferguson, #dominos-pizza, #ec-1, #electric-vehicles, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #fidelity-management-research-company, #google, #greylock-capital, #machine-learning, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #series-a, #softbank, #startups, #transportation, #waymo, #woven-planet

Why regulators love Nuro’s self-driving delivery vehicles

Nuro’s delivery autonomous vehicles (AVs) don’t have a human driver on board. The company’s founders Dave Ferguson (president) and Jiajun Zhu’s (CEO) vision of a driverless delivery vehicle sought to do away with a lot of the stuff that is essential for a normal car to have, like doors and airbags and even a steering wheel. They built an AV that spared no room in the narrow chassis for a driver’s seat, and had no need for an accelerator, windshield or brake pedals.

So when the company petitioned the U.S. government in 2018 for a minor exemption from rules requiring a rearview mirror, backup camera and a windshield, Nuro might have assumed the process wouldn’t be very arduous.

They were wrong.

If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founders desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.

In a 2019 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) “[wondered] about the description of pedestrian ‘crumple zones,’ and whether this may impact the vehicle’s crash-worthiness in the event of a vehicle-to-vehicle crash. Even in the absence of passengers, AAMVA has concerns about cargo ejection from the vehicle and how Nuro envisions protections from loose loads affecting the driving public.”

The National Society of Professional Engineers similarly complained that Nuro’s request lacked information about the detection of moving objects. “How would the R2X function if a small child darts onto the road from the passenger side of the vehicle as a school bus is approaching from the driver’s side?” it asked. It also recommended the petition be denied until Nuro could provide a more detailed cybersecurity plan against its bots being hacked or hijacked. (R2X is now referred to as R2)

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (now the Alliance Automotive Innovation), which represents most U.S. carmakers, wrote that the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) should not use Nuro’s kind of petition to “introduce new safety requirements for [AVs] that have not gone through the rigorous rule-making process.”

“What you can see is that many comments came from entrenched interests,” said David Estrada, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer. “And that’s understandable. There are multibillion dollar industries that can be disrupted if autonomous vehicles become successful.”

To be fair, critical comments also came from nonprofit organizations genuinely concerned about unleashing robots on city streets. The Center for Auto Safety, an independent consumer group, thought that Nuro did not provide enough information on its development and testing, nor any meaningful comparison with the safety of similar, human-driven vehicles. “Indeed, the planned reliance on ‘early on-road tests … with human-manned professional safety drivers’ suggests that Nuro has limited confidence in R2X’s safe operation,” it wrote.

Nuro-R2-specs-infographic

Nuro’s R2 delivery autonomous vehicle. Image Credits: Nuro

Despite such concerns, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) granted Nuro the exemptions it sought in February last year. Up to 5,000 R2 vehicles could be produced for a limited period of two years and subject to Nuro reporting any incidents, without a windshield, rearview mirror or backup camera. Although only a small concession, it was the first — and so far, only — time the U.S. government had relaxed vehicle safety requirements for an AV.

Now Estrada and Nuro hope to use that momentum to chip away at a mountain of regulations that never envisaged vehicles controlled by on-board robots or distant humans, extending from the foothills of local and state government to the peaks of federal and international safety rules.

If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founders desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.

Regulate for success

“I don’t think any of the credible, big AV players want this to be a free-for-all,” said Dave Ferguson, Nuro’s co-founder and president. “We need the confidence of a clear regulatory framework to invest the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars necessary to manufacture vehicles at scale. Otherwise, it’s really going to limit our ability to deploy.”

#alliance-of-automobile-manufacturers, #auto-safety, #automation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #av, #california, #dave-ferguson, #department-of-defense, #ec-1, #extra-crunch, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #google, #government, #lyft, #national-highway-traffic-safety-administration, #national-science-foundation, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #startups, #transport, #transportation, #u-s-department-of-transportation, #united-states

How Nuro became the robotic face of Domino’s

Pandemic pizza was definitely a thing.

U.S. consumers forked out a record-breaking $14 billion to have pizza delivered to their doors in 2020, and nearly half of that total was spent with just one brand: Domino’s.

“Domino’s is the home of pizza delivery,” said Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief innovation officer. “Delivery is at the core of who we are, so it’s very important for us to lead when it comes to the consumer experience of delivery.”

U.S. consumers forked out a record-breaking $14 billion to have pizza delivered to their doors in 2020, and nearly half of that total was spent with just one brand: Domino’s.

In its latest TV ad, an order of Domino’s pizza speeds to its destination inside a Nuro R2X delivery autonomous vehicle (AV). The R2X (now known as R2) deftly avoids potholes, falling trees and traffic jams caused by The Noid — a character created by Domino’s in the 1980s to symbolize the difficulties of delivering a pizza in 30 minutes or less.

The reality is much more sedate. Domino’s currently has just one R2X that operates from a single Domino’s store on the generally calm streets of Woodland Heights in Houston, Texas. And since the AV’s introduction in April, The Noid has yet to put in an appearance.

“The R2X adds a bunch of efficiencies while not taking away from any existing capabilities,” Maloney said. “As we start getting the bot into regular operation, we’ll see if it plays out the way we expect it to. So far, all the indications are good.”

Nuro-Domino

Nuro and Domnio’s launched the autonomous pizza delivery service in Huston in April this year. Image Credits: Nuro

Partnerships are key for Nuro. The company’s business model is to sign contracts with established brands that either have their own branded vehicles or use traditional delivery companies like UPS or the U.S. Postal Service.

Nuro is carrying out trials and pilot deliveries with a number of companies, including fast casual restaurant chain Chipotle, Kroger grocery stores, CVS pharmacies, bricks-and-mortar retail behemoth Walmart, and, most recently, global parcel courier FedEx. While it is a dizzyingly impressive list for a company less than five years old, their interest was driven as much by global trends as by Nuro’s technology, admits Cosimo Leipold, head of partnerships at Nuro.

“Everybody today wants what they want and they want it faster than ever, but frankly they’re not willing to pay for it,” Leipold said. “We’ve reached a point where almost every company is going to have to offer delivery services, and now it’s just the question of how they’ll do it in the best possible way and with the most possible control.”

Nuro’s delivery AVs — aka bots — offer the tantalizing promise of safe, reliable and efficient delivery without sacrificing revenue and customer data to third-party platforms like Grubhub, DoorDash or Instacart. Alongside Nuro’s stated aim of driving the cost of delivery down to zero, it is little surprise that Nuro now finds itself in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose the partners it wants — and the less enviable position of having to choose which partner to prioritize.

Here’s the story of how one of Nuro’s biggest partnerships came to be, and the lessons and companies that will drive its future growth.

Deliveries with extra cheese

Domino’s has a long history of innovating in delivery, usually accompanied by a strong marketing campaign. In the 1980s, the company bought 10 customized Tritan Aerocar 2s, a Jetsons-styled three-wheeler, for use as delivery vehicles. In 2015, the company unveiled the DXP, a Chevrolet Spark modified with a single seat and a built-in warming oven, designed specifically for transporting pizza.

#autonomous-vehicles, #av, #dominos-pizza, #ec-1, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #ford-motors, #greylock-capital, #john-lilly, #kroger, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #refraction-ai, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #startups, #transportation, #united-states, #walmart

Here’s what the inevitable friendly neighborhood robot invasion looks like

In early 2021, a Nuro autonomous delivery vehicle pulled to a halt at a four-way stop in its hometown of Mountain View, California to let a user cross. This seemingly humdrum moment quickly looked like a decidedly science fiction storyline — the user was a small sidewalk robot from another startup on its own mission.

“Obviously, we yielded to it, but it was, wow, we have entered a different world,” said Amy Jones Satrom, head of Operations at Nuro.

Mountain View is home to competitor Waymo and other autonomous vehicle testing activity. But for those who want to take part in that science fiction scene, Houston provides the full experience.

Nuro’s operations team has to delicately balance speed, safety, convenience and congestion, even as the company embarks on a growth spurt that will see robots spreading to other cities, states and partners in the months ahead.

Waymo is testing self-driving trucks in Houston, and a fully driverless shuttle service is due to start public service there early next year. Nuro’s Texas effort started in April, when an R2 robot began its commercial pizza delivery service in partnership with Domino’s. Some customers ordering pizzas from the Domino’s Woodland Heights store will see the option to have their pies delivered by robot.

Customers can trace the progress of the self-driving vehicle on the Domino’s app and, when it pulls up outside their home, tap in a unique PIN on its touchscreen to access their order. Nuro is also operating in Houston with Kroger supermarkets and FedEx.

Nuro-validation test

Nuro team on test track during early validation in AZ, before first ever public road deployment in Arizona. Image credit: Nuro

“One of the things we laugh about is how customers constantly talk to the bot,” Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief innovation pfficer said. “It’s almost like they think it’s ‘Knight Rider.’ It’s very common for customers to thank it or say goodbye, which is great because that indicates we’re creating an engaging experience that they’re not frustrated by.”

Creating an experience, where people want to chat with their new robot neighbors instead of chasing them down the street with pitchforks, falls to Jones Satrom’s operations team. It has to delicately balance speed, safety, convenience and congestion, even as Nuro embarks on a growth spurt that will see robots spreading to other cities, states and partners in the months ahead.

Here’s how it manages that, and what the future holds for Nuro’s ever-so-gentle robot invasion.

Mapping the territory

Few people are as well suited to overseeing Nuro’s high-stakes robot rollout as Jones Satrom, who started her career as a nuclear engineer on an aircraft carrier and previously managed the integration of Kiva Systems’ robots into Amazon’s warehouses.

#artificial-intelligence, #autonomous-vehicles, #av, #dave-ferguson, #dominos-pizza, #ec-1, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #greylock-capital, #houston, #john-lilly, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #refraction-ai, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #walmart, #waymo

Last-mile delivery in Latin America is ready to take off

In the United States, same-day and next-day Amazon Prime deliveries have become the de facto standard in e-commerce. People want convenience and instant gratification, evidenced by the fact that an astonishing ~45% of U.S. consumers are Amazon Prime members.

Most major retailers are scrambling to catch up to Amazon by partnering with last-mile delivery startups. Walmart has become a major investor in Cruise for autonomous-vehicle deliveries, and Target acquired Shipt and Deliv last-mile delivery startups to increase its delivery speed. Costco partnered with Instacart for same-day deliveries, and even Domino’s Pizza has jumped in by partnering with Nuro for last-mile delivery using autonomous vehicles.

E-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.

The holdout: Latin America

Venture capitalists have been investing heavily in last-mile delivery over the past five years on a global scale, but Latin America (LatAm) has lagged behind. Over $11 billion has been invested globally in last-mile logistics over the past decade, but Latin America only saw about $1 billion over the same period (Source: PitchBook and WIND Ventures research).

Within this, only about $300 million was in Spanish-speaking Latin America — a surprisingly small amount for a region that has 110 million more consumers than in the U.S.

Brazil-based Loggi accounts for about 60% of last-mile VC investment in Latin America, but it only operates in Brazil. That leaves major Spanish countries like Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina without a leading independent last-mile logistics company.

In these countries, about 60% of the last-mile delivery market is dominated by small, informal companies or independent drivers using their own trucks. This results in inefficiencies due to a lack of technologies such as route optimization as well as a lack of operating scale. These issues are quickly becoming more pronounced as e-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.

Retailers are missing an opportunity to give customers what they want. Customers today expect free, reliable same- or next-day delivery — on-time, all the time, and without damage or theft. All of these are challenging in LatAm. Theft, in particular, is a significant problem, because unprofessional drivers often steal products out for delivery and then sell them for a profit. Cost is a problem, too, because free same- and next-day deliveries are simply not available in many places.

Operational and technological roadblocks abound

Why does Latin America lag when it comes to the last mile? First, traditional LatAm e-commerce delivery involves multiple time-consuming steps: Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, distributed to a warehouse, delivered to a second cross-dock, and then finally delivered to the customer.

By comparison, modern delivery operations are much simpler. Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, and then delivered directly to the customer. There’s no need for warehousing and an extra pre-warehouse cross-dock.

And those are just the operational challenges. Lack of technology also plays a significant role. Most delivery coordination and routing in LatAm are still done via a spreadsheet or pen and paper.

Dispatchers have to manually pick up a phone to call drivers and dispatch them. In the U.S., computerized optimization algorithms dramatically cut both delivery cost and time by automatically finding the most efficient route (e.g., packing the most deliveries possible on a truck along the route) and automatically dispatching the driver that can most efficiently complete the route based on current location, capacity and experience with the route. These algorithms are almost unheard of in the Latin America retail logistics sector.

Major retail brands are the last-mile catalyst

#amazon, #amazon-prime, #argentina, #brazil, #chile, #colombia, #column, #costco, #doordash, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-latin-america-and-caribbean, #ec-manufacturing-and-supply-chain, #ecommerce, #food-delivery, #instacart, #latin-america, #logistics, #lyft, #mercado-libre, #mexico, #nuro, #startups, #transportation, #uber, #walmart

Toyota’s Woven Planet acquires HD mapping startup Carmera

Woven Planet Holdings — an entity created by Toyota to invest in, develop and eventually bring future of transportation technologies like automated driving to market — has acquired HD mapping startup Carmera for an undisclosed amount. The announcement comes less than two months since Woven Planet Holdings acquired Lyft’s autonomous vehicle unit known as Level 5 for $550 million.

It also follows another HD mapping acquisition — Nvidia’s purchase of DeepMap — that was announced in June.

Under terms of the deal, Carmera will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Woven Planet. The startup’s 50-person team will maintain its offices in New York and Seattle and will eventually be integrated into Woven Planet’s 1,000-person-and-growing enterprise, according to Woven Planet CEO James Kuffner.

Carmera will essentially become the U.S. outpost of Woven Planet’s automated mapping platform (AMP) team, which is headquartered in Tokyo. Ro Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Carmera, will report up to Mandali Khalesi who heads up AMP.

Carmera launched in 2015 with a barter type business model that uses data collected from a service it provides for free to commercial fleet operators to maintain and expand its primary mapping product. Carmera’s main and initial product is a high-definition map developed for autonomous vehicle customers like automakers, suppliers and robotaxis. Autonomous vehicle startup Voyage, which was acquired this year by Cruise, was an early Carmera customer. Baidu also used Carmera’s technology to support the open source Apollo mapping project.

The company uses data crowdsourced from its fleet-monitoring service product to keep those AV maps fresh. The fleet product is a telematics and video monitoring service used by professional fleets that want to manage risk and improve safety with their vehicles and drivers. These fleets of camera-equipped human-driven vehicles deliver new information to the autonomous map as they go about their daily business in cities.

Carmera has evolved its product lineup over time. It added a real-time events and change-management engine to its autonomous map and created a spatial data and street analytics product for cities and urban planners. Last year, Carmera launched it’s so-called Change-as-a-Service platform, a suite of products that detects changes and can be integrated into other third-party maps.

“The problem I’ve always had with some of the HD map companies is it’s nice that you have this capability, but until you can figure out how to scale it, host it and keep it updated, you’re stuck in the ‘I-have-a-neat-piece-of-software-that-someone-is-going-to-buy-from-me role,’” Mike Ramsey, VP analyst at Gartner said. “This deal solves Carmera’s scale problem.”

Carmera Toyota

Image Credits: Carmera

While Carmera is tiny in size and capital compared to Woven Planet, those following the industry might have predicted this union.

Carmera has been working with Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development, which was the impetus of Woven Planet, for three years. The startup first participated in a proof of concept project in Japan to develop camera-based automation of HD maps for urban and surface roads. The partnership expanded in 2020 to include mapping of roadways in Detroit and other roads in Michigan as well as in Japan.

“It was really easy to invest a lot into the relationship,” Gupta said reflecting on Carmera’s first partnership with Toyota in 2018. “The vision was just so similar; it’s almost eerie looking at our seed deck from five years ago and comparing it to what Woven Planet’s overall vision is and their vision for this automated mapping platform.”

Woven Planet (and by extension Toyota) already has satellite-based mapping and the massive amounts of data gleaned from its millions of vehicles on the road today. Carmera brings the dynamic mapping piece as well as its experience in the commercial fleets and safety business to Woven Planet’s portfolio.

“For me, there’s immediate near-term applications that we’ve already worked on as proofs-of-concept with Carmera, and that we haven’t yet announced, but are in the area of safety and automated driving,” Kuffner said, noting that the automaker’s new Lexus LS and Toyota Mirai models will offer an advanced driving assistance technology called Teammate that uses HP maps. “I’m really excited about that generation of products, but for fleets, absolutely. HD maps. There are a lot of applications in fleets.”

What Woven Planet is weaving

woven city prototype

Image Credits: Woven Planet/Toyota

The Lyft and now Carmera acquisitions represent a sliver of Woven Planet’s myriad of activities since its formation in January 2021 as the automaker seeks a competitive edge against established rivals and upstarts, particularly on the software front. The entity, which is based in Tokyo and a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp, includes two operating companies, a VC fund called Woven Capital and Woven City, a testing ground for new technologies set in an interconnected smart city prototype. Toyota broke ground in February 2021 at future site of Woven City, the Higashi-Fuji site in Susono City, Japan, at the base of Mount Fuji.

The two operating companies are Woven Alpha and Woven Core, formerly Toyota Research Institute — Advanced Development Inc. Woven Core includes the mapping unit and is focused on automated driving while Woven Alpha is charged with developing new concepts and projects including the prototype city.

Meanwhile, Woven Capital invests in those next-generation mobility innovations. The VC arm kicked off its new $800 million strategic fund in March 2021 by announcing an investment into autonomous delivery vehicle company Nuro. Last month, Woven Capital invested an undisclosed amount into Ridecell, a transportation software startup that has developed a platform designed to help car-sharing, ride-sharing and autonomous technology companies manage their vehicles.

 

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #carmera, #electric-vehicles, #lyft, #mapping, #nuro, #tc, #toyota, #transportation, #woven-planet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deal of the week

money the station

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

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

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

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

Other deals that my attention …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hints at Argo’s future

the station autonomous vehicles1

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

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

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

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

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

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

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


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

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

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

the station electric vehicles1

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

Autonomous vehicles

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

EVs and hydrogen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In-car tech

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

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

Other transportation stuff

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

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

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

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

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

Last-mile, landscaping and leaping robots

I spoke to Refraction AI co-founder/CTO Matthew Johnson-Roberson on the occasion of the Michigan startup’s $4.2 million seed raise. This week we posted a Q&A where he answers a wider range of topics about the delivery robotics company, and this bit jumped out at me:

It still boggles my mind that nobody has tried to copy what we’re doing. There were 10 or 12 sidewalk robot companies in early 2015, 2016 and 2017. Many of them, with a few exceptions, went out of business.

Refraction autonomous delivery robot

Image Credits: Refraction

The first part of the quote points to seemingly obvious truths that are still worth reiterating here. First: If you spot a need in the market you believe you can address, go for it. Second: There are likely even more opportunities for robotics and automation than we’ve considered. The second sentence seemingly negates the second point to some degree, but more than anything, I think it’s an indictment of how merciless this industry can be.

High risk/high reward, and all that, but even with a great idea, smart people and a healthy raise, bad timing can still land you flat on your face. For now, it seems, the timing is right. Delivery robotics are very much an industry that has been accelerated by the pandemic, in terms of interest, innovation and, of course, funding.

FedEx-Nuro

Image Credits: Nuro

As I noted last week, I spoke to Gatik co-founder and chief engineer Apeksha Kumavat, Nuro head of operations Amy Jones Satrom and Starship Technologies co-founder and CTO Ahti Heinla at last week’s TC Sessions: Mobility event. Here’s what Kumavat had to say about that acceleration:

Even before the pandemic hit, this whole e-commerce trend was already on the rise. No one wants their deliveries to be done after a week or two weeks. Everyone is expecting them to be done on the same day, as well as curbside pickup options. There was already a rise in the expectations of e-commerce and on-demand deliveries even before the pandemic hit. Post-March 2020, what we have seen is a huge increase in that trajectory.

More big news from Nuro (try saying that five times, fast), the delivery company just signed a deal with FedEx, marking a big step into package delivery.

Image Credits: Scythe Robotics

This week, I also spoke to another pair of robotics startups that have emerged from the pandemic with sizable rounds. Boulder-based Scythe emerged from stealth with a $13.8 million Series A, bringing its total funding to $18.6 million. The company specializes in landscaping robotics, starting with a mower. Given the potential market size, I’m honestly surprised there aren’t more companies doing this.

Interestingly, the company is offering a RaaS (robotics as a service) model, which is becoming increasingly popular in the space. Here it’s charging customers based on the number of acres mowed.

Image Credits: Dusty Robotics

Bay Area-based Dusty Robotics, meanwhile, raised a $16.5 million Series A, bringing its total raised to $23.7 million. Construction is a huge potential market with a lot of interest and players. Dusty’s offering is interesting and fairly unique, effectively printing plans on the floor of a construction site. The company likens it to “Ikea Instructions.” Here’s co-founder and CEO, Tessa Lau:

We just released our third-generation hardware platform, which was designed from the ground up by our team in Mountain View to be purpose-built for producing accurate and speedy layout on construction sites. We’ve been working on this product since fall of 2018 and have incorporated lessons learned from completing over 1 million square feet of production layout into this third-generation design.

And for good measure, here’s a fun one from Tencent Robotics.

IEEE Spectrum spotted the robot, which was actually announced a few weeks ago. According to the paper where Ollie appeared, the wheeled robot is more experimental than practical, but it’s capable of some pretty impressive feats none the less:

Experimental results demonstrate that the linear output regulation can maintain the standing of the robot, and that nonlinear controller can balance the robot under an initial starting angle far away from the equilibrium point, or under a changing robot height.

There isn’t a ton of info about Ollie available yet, but it sure is fun to watch.

 

#delivery, #dusty-robotics, #gatik, #nuro, #refraction-ai, #robotics, #robotics-roundup, #scythe-robotics, #starship-technologies

Scale AI CEO Alex Wang weighs in on software bugs and what will make AV tech good enough

Scale co-founder and CEO Alex Wang joined us at TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility 2021 this week to discuss his company’s role in the autonomous driving industry and how it’s changed in the five years since its founding. Scale helps large and small AV players establish reliable “ground truth” through data annotation and management, and along the way, the standards for what that means have shifted as the industry matures.

Good data is the “good bones” of autonomous driving systems

Even if two algorithms in autonomous driving might be created more or less equal, their real-world performance could vary dramatically based on what they’re consuming in terms of input data. That’s where Scale’s value prop to the industry starts, and Wang explains why:

If you think about a traditional software system, the thing that will separate a good software system from a bad software system is the code, the quality of the code. For an AI system, which all of these self-driving vehicles or autonomous vehicles are, it’s the data that really separates an amazing algorithm from a bad algorithm. And so one thing we saw was that being one of the stewards and shepherds of high-quality data was going to be incredibly important for the industry, and that’s what’s played out. We work with many of the great companies in the space, from Aurora to Nuro to Toyota to General Motors, and our work with all of them is ensuring that they have really a solid data foundation, so they can build the rest of their stacks on top of it. (Time stamp: 06:24)

#adas, #alex-wang, #alexandr-wang, #artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #av, #cybernetics, #ec-techcrunch-tc-mobility, #electric-vehicles, #mobility-2021, #nuro, #robotics, #scale-ai, #self-driving-car, #tc, #transportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Autonomous delivery startup Nuro moves into logistics with FedEx

Nuro, the autonomous delivery startup founded in 2016 by former Google engineers Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, is expanding into parcel logistics through a partnership with FedEx.

The multi-year, multi-phased strategic partnership announced Tuesday aims to test and ultimately deploy Nuro’s second-generation R2 autonomous delivery vehicle within FedEx operations. Unlike others in the autonomous vehicle industry, Nuro has always focused its efforts on designing a low-speed electric self-driving vehicle that transports packages, not people. But those “packages” have been more centered on the delivery of groceries, food and even medical supplies. Nuro has partnered with CVS, Dominoes and Krogers, for instance.

The deal with FedEx marks its first foray into parcels logistics. The pilot program has already started in Houston. This multi-year commitment will allow Nuro to bring its technology to more people in new ways, and eventually reach large-scale deployment, according to Cosimo Leipold, Nuro’s head of partnerships.

FedEx has been working on internally on its own autonomous vehicle technology, notably a sidewalk delivery bot. The SameDay Bot, which was named Roxo, was developed in collaboration with DEKA Development & Research Corp. and its founder Dean Kamen who invented the Segway and iBot wheelchair. FedEx first unveiled its SameDay Bot in February 2019. The FedEx bot is equipped with sensing technology such as LiDAR and multiple cameras, which when combined with machine learning algorithms should allow the device to detect and avoid obstacles and plot a safe path, all while following the rules of the road (or sidewalk).

The company said at the time it planned to work with AutoZone, Lowe’s, Pizza Hut, Target, Walgreens and Walmart to figure out how autonomous robots might fit into its delivery business. The idea was for FedEx to provide a way for retailers to accept orders from nearby customers and deliver them by bot directly to customers’ homes or businesses the same day. The company has tested the bots in Memphis, Tennessee as well as Plano and Frisco, Texas and Manchester, New Hampshire, according to a spokesperson.

The partnership with Nuro moves away from the sidewalk and onto the road. Nuro’s R2 is bigger and designed to operate on public roads, allowing it to travel farther distances and carry heavier loads.

FedEx said it has made a long-term commitment to use Nuro’s autonomous bots for last-mile delivery at large scale.

“FedEx was built on innovation, and it continues to be an integral part of our culture and business strategy,” said Rebecca Yeung, vice president, advanced technology and innovation, FedEx Corporation.

#automotive, #autonomous-delivery, #electric-vehicles, #fedex, #logistics, #nuro, #transportation

How autonomous delivery startups are navigating policy, partnerships and post-pandemic operations

We kicked off this year’s TC Sessions: Mobility with a talk featuring three leading players in the field of autonomous delivery. Gatik co-founder and chief engineer Apeksha Kumavat, Nuro head of operations Amy Jones Satrom, and Starship Technologies co-founder and CTO Ahti Heinla joined us to discuss their companies’ unique approaches to the category.

The trio discussed government regulation on autonomous driving, partnerships with big corporations like Walmart and Domino’s, and the ongoing impact the pandemic has had on interest in the space.

The pandemic effect

Delivery is one of the countless categories that have been profoundly impacted by COVID-19. Interest in autonomous delivery has compounded, but will this be a permanent sea change? Or will things regress some when life returns to normal?

Kumavat : Even before the pandemic hit, this whole e-commerce trend was already on the rise. No one wants their deliveries to be done after a week or two weeks. Everyone is expecting them to be done on the same day, as well as curbside pickup options. There was already a rise in the expectations of e-commerce and on-demand deliveries even before the pandemic hit. Post-March 2020, what we have seen is a huge increase in that trajectory. (Timestamp: 1:55)

Jones Satrom: When you think about the number of trips the consumer used to take just for shopping, that’s roughly 40% of the trips they would take. They now have habits around that kind of stuff. It’s a timesaver for the consumer. We do see those trends continuing and we do see folks sustaining the online ordering piece and wanting to be able to get things when they want them. (Timestamp: 8:39)

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #event-recap, #gatik, #mobility-2021, #nuro, #starship-technologies, #tc, #transportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Micromobbin’

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

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

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

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

Tier gets some more money

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

Let’s talk about bikes

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

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

Best cities for biking

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

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

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

 — Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

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

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

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

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

Other deals that got my attention …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waymo: by the numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waymo one app data

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Policy corner

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Hi folks, welcome back to Policy Corner.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

— Aria Alamalhodaei

A few more notes

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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