The Station: Rivian rolls towards an IPO and Quantumscape makes a big battery hire

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.

For my American readers, you might be traveling — perhaps for the first time in more than a year — because of the Memorial Day holiday. While Memorial Day is meant to honor members of the U.S. military who died while serving, the three-day weekend has become the unofficial kick off to summer. This year, those traveling by car, truck or SUV will be met by the most expensive Memorial Day weekend gas prices since 2014, according to AAA. The organization also estimates that 37 million Americans will travel by plane and automobile over the holiday — a 60% increase over the same period last year.

Be safe out on these busy roads, frens.

One story to highlight: Mark Harris dug into the contracts for the Las Vegas Loop System. He found that restrictions put in place by Nevada regulators are making it difficult for The Boring Company to meet contractual targets for its LVCC Loop, Elon Musk’s first underground transportation system. Shortly after publication, Steve Hill, president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), tweeted that a Loop test this week, with a few hundred participants, had demonstrated its planned 4,400 passenger per hour capacity, which could release $13 million in construction funds currently being held back. While this bodes well for TBC, the story lays out a number of other issues that could pose a challenge for the company. We will continue to dig into this story of tunnels and transport.


Now a request, dear reader. We’re a bit more than a week 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, including Mate Rimac of Rimac Automobili, Pam Fletcher of vp of global innovation at GM, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, and investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital.

I’d love for you to join, and you can do that by clicking here and buying a ticket, which will also give you a months-free subscription to Extra Crunch and access to all the videos of the conference. But, if you can’t come, please reach out anyway and let me know if you have any questions or topics that you want addressed. I will be interviewing many of the folks coming to our virtual stage.

We just announced three more participants from automakers Hyundai, Ford and Toyota who will talk about their respective companies’ increasing interest and investment in robotics. Our three guests are: Max Bajracharya, formerly from Alphabet’s X and now vp of robotics at Toyota Research Institute, Ernestine Fu, director at Hyundai Motor Group who heads development at the new  New Horizons Studio and Mario Santillo, a technical expert at Ford who has been charged with helping lead the company’s efforts at a recently announced $75 million research facility at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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’

Micromobility rivals Bird and Lime have come out with news this week that they’re both marketing as sustainability initiatives. Let’s start with Bird.

Bird has unveiled its next-generation scooter, the Bird Three, that it will unveil in New York and Berlin this summer. It’s got a longer-range battery with 1kWh capacity and an improved diagnostic monitoring system to keep the battery lasting as long as possible. Bird says its better, smarter battery means it’s ultimately a more sustainable scooter because it has a longer life and needs to be charged a lot less.

Ideally, a better battery and better software will also help produce a longer-lasting vehicle so that Bird can cut down on depreciation and maintenance costs, which have really not helped the company in its push for profitability. Last week, Bird announced a SPAC merger with Switchback II. The regulatory filings that accompanied the announcement demonstrate just how difficult it is to turn a profit given the unit economics of shared scooters.

Lime is similarly positioning its updated subscription service, Lime Prime, as a sustainable initiative. With each new Prime member sign up, Lime promises to plant a tree through One Tree Planted. But more importantly, the subscription service helps the regular Lime rider perhaps save a bit of money. Members have access to waived unlock fees on any vehicle, and in markets with no start fees, the benefit will be 25% off the ride price. Additionally, riders can get free 30 minute reservations on any vehicle.

Two-wheel swag news

Zaiser Motors announced the launch of its Wefunder campaign to raise funds for development and production of its Electrocycle. It’s a good-lookin’ vehicle, charcoal-black with a design that breaks away from a super traditional gasoline-era style and looks more like something a small Batman might ride. All of the components are designed to be recyclable within the first 10 years of production, the company says. The Electrocycle has 300 miles of range, swappable batteries and is less than $25,000.

Meanwhile in scooter world, the Scotsman, a Silicon Valley-based electric scooter brand, has unveiled a scooter that’s 3D printed entirely in carbon fiber composite. And I don’t just mean some parts are composite. The whole frame, the handlebars, the stem and the baseboard are all made of this strong, sustainable, lightweight material. It also means the scooters are highly customizable, each frame printed depending on the owner’s height, weight, arm and leg lengths and riding position. At a starting price of $2,999, it’s not cheap, but that might be a signal from the industry that scooters are increasingly become viable transport options and not just toys. You can pre-order here.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

The march of IPOs appears to picking up pace. For instance, Full Truck Alliance, the Chinese digital freight platform known as Manbang Group, filed for an IPO. The filing didn’t specify the exact amount it was aiming to raise. Reuters, citing unnamed sources, reported that the company wants to raise up to $1.5 billion, which would give it a valuation of $20 billion.

Full Truck Alliance’s S-1 provides a number of interesting details, including the how much money can be captured by effectively connecting truckers with shippers. The company reported that about 20% of all China’s heavy-duty and medium-duty truckers fulfilled shipping orders on our platform in 2020. (More than 2.8 million truckers fulfilled shipping orders on its platform last year.) Full Truck Alliance said last year it facilitated 71.7 million fulfilled orders with a gross transaction value of RMB173.8 billion (US$26.6 billion).  The first quarter number show it is growing. In the first quarter, the company had  22.1 million fulfilled orders, a 170.2% increase from the same period.

Full Truck Alliance raised $3.6 billion in private funding, most recently last fall at an $11.7 billion valuation, from firms like SoftBank Vision Fund (22.2% pre-IPO stake), Sequoia Capital China (7.2%), Permira, Tencent, Hillhouse Capital, GGV Capital, Lightspeed China Partners and Baillie Gifford.

The IPO about six months since the company raised $1.7 billion in a funding round that included backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, Sequoia Capital China, Permira, Fidelity, Hillhouse Capital, GGV Capital, Lightspeed China Partners, Tencent and Jack Ma’s YF Capital. A look at the S-1 shows that the principal shareholders are Softbank with a 22.2% stake, followed by 8.9% held by Full Load Logistics, a limited liability company owned by Full Truck Alliance CEO Hui Zhang. Sequoia has a 7.2% stake and Master Quality Group Limited, another organization controlled by Zhang, hold 6.6% of shares.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

E2open Parent Holdings Inc. said it will acquire logistics execution platform BluJay Solution, Freightwaves reported. The deal could be valued at $1.7 billion, consisting of $760 million in cash and 72.4 million shares.

First Move Capital, the Boulder-based venture firm that has invested in used car marketplaces Frontier Auto Group and Vroom as well as mobility-as-a-service startup Via, has closed a new $150 million fund that will focus on the automotive and transportation sectors. Proceeds from the round will be exclusively allocated to new investments; seven have already been made, including into autonomous vehicle startup Gatik, cloud-based automotive retail platform Tekion and e-commerce startup Revolution Parts.

Hydra Energy received CAD$15 million ($12 million) from Just Business to expand beyond pilots and deliver hydrogen-powered trucking, the company announced. This funding is to support the further development of Hydra’s initial waste hydrogen capture plant in British Columbia, its fueling infrastructure and conversion kits. The Canadian company has raised CAD $22 million (USD $17.2 million) to date. One other update worth sharing, Hydra’s flagship hydrogen-as-a-service project, is scheduled to break ground later this year.

Miles, the German car-sharing service has received investment from Delivery Hero CFO Emmanuel Thomassin, HelloFresh CFO Christian Gärtner, Chargepoint CFO Rex Jackson as well as Norwegian top manager Stine Rolstad Brenna. Thomassin has joined the company’s advisory board. The company disclosed to TechCrunch that it generated 20 million euros ($24.39 million) of revenue in 2020, quadruple the amount from the previous year. The results helped the company achieve profitability in October 2020. Miles is now focused on expansion. In the first four months in 2021, the company launched electric vehicles and expanded its car fleet to Munich. Miles intends to grow beyond Germany and is currently examining the best markets to launch in.

MotoRefi raised another $45 million in a round led by Goldman Sachs just five months after investors poured $10 million into the fintech startup to help turbocharge its auto refinancing business. While the company didn’t give me specifics on its revenue — CEO Kevin Bennett cited a 7x growth year-over-year but didn’t provide the baseline — it did disclose it’s on track to issue $1 billion in loans by the end of the year. That’s a fivefold increase from the same period last year.

Smart Eye, the publicly traded Swedish company that supplies driver monitoring systems for a dozen automakers, acquired emotion-detection software startup Affectiva for $73.5 million in a cash-and-stock deal. The startup, which says it developed software that can detect and understand human emotion, spun out of MIT Media Lab in 2009. Since then, it has landed a number of development and proof of concept deals as well as raised capital, but it never quite reached the mass-scale production contracts.

That’s where Smart Eye comes in. Smart Eye, which has won 84 production contracts with 13 OEMs, including BMW and GM, is keen to combine with its own AI-based eye-tracking technology. The companies’ founders see an opportunity to expand beyond driver monitoring systems — tech that is often used in conjunction with advanced driver assistance systems to track and measure awareness — and into the rest of the vehicle. Together, the technology could help them break into the emerging “interior sensing” market, which can be used to monitor the entire cabin of a vehicle and deliver services in response to the occupant’s emotional state.

Tritium, a Brisbane-based developer and producer of direct current fast EV chargers, announced a merger agreement with a special purpose acquisition company Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corp. II. The deal is expected to value the company at $1.2 billion. The transaction is expected to generate gross proceeds of up to $403 million. Tritium will be listed under the ticker “DCFC.”

This particular SPAC deal is unusual in that it does not include private investment in public equity, or PIPE — a fundraising round that typically occurs at the time of the merger and injects more capital into the company. Tritium CEO Jane Hunter told us that the company didn’t need a PIPE because DCRN is a more than $400 million SPAC and its shareholder group agreed to a minimum cash closing of just $200 million, which significantly reduces redemption risk. “Also, our revenue has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 56% since 2016 as we expand our presence in major markets where we have a significant market share, such as the U.S. and Europe,” Hunter said. “This revenue growth helps to reduce our reliance upon new funds to implement our growth strategy.”

Wejo, the connected vehicle data startup backed by GM and Palantir, plans to go public through a merger with special purpose acquisition company Virtuoso Acquisition Corp. The agreement, announced in a regulator filing, will give the combined company an enterprise valuation of $800 million, which includes debt. There were earlier reports that the SPAC deal was imminent. The filing confirms the news and provides more detail.

The deal raises $330 million in proceeds for Wejo, including a $230 million cash contribution from Virtuoso and a $100 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE. Previous strategic investors Palantir and GM anchored the transaction, according to Wejo. The company did not disclose the amounts of those investments. Current shareholders will retain 64% ownership of the company, according to its investor deck.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Senate Republicans released their response to Joe Biden’s sweeping $2 trillion investment plan, which would earmark $174 billion for electric vehicle investments. Their proposal would shrink it down to $928 billion. And that $174B for EVs? That would be reduced to just $4 billion, under the GOP plan.

It seems that the main point of contention between the President and his GOP colleagues is the definition of the word ‘infrastructure.’ Republicans are sticking to a more traditional definition, so their counterproposal still contains plenty of money for things like roads, the water system, bridges and broadband.

Biden’s plan aimed to provide consumer tax incentives and incentives for EV chargers, incentives to boost domestic manufacturing and enough funds to install at least 500,000 public charging stations across the country by 2030. A memo obtained by The Hill suggests Biden intends to hold firm to his proposal, so expect further negotiations in the coming weeks.

The Senate Finance Committee on May 26 marked up the Clean Energy for America Act, an important step before it hits the Senate floor for a vote. Among other things, the bill would remove 200,000 unit cap on tax credits for consumers buying EVs — that means the tax credit could be used toward buying a Tesla, a manufacturer that hasn’t been eligible for the credit because they’ve sold over 200,000 cars in the United States.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) added an amendment to the bill that would create an additional $2,500 consumer credit for vehicles assembled in the U.S. and another $2,500 for vehicles assembled in a unionized facility. If it passes, the additions would bring the maximum consumer tax credit for EVs to $12,500 — no small sum! The credits would expire in 2025. “Electric vehicles are part of our transportation future,” Sen. Stabenow said. “The question is not when they will be built, it’s where they will be built: in Asia or America?”

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm sold her holdings in electric bus manufacturer Proterra after Republicans criticized her for a potential conflict of interest. The GOP’s complaint arose after Biden made a virtual visit to a Proterra factory in April. The sale provided Granholm with a net gain of $1.6 million, DOE told reporters.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

I hear and see things, but we’re not selfish. Let me share.

This week, “a little bird” is all about big employment moves and departures and how one hire is connected to a potentially massive IPO.

Let’s kick things off with Celina Mikolajczak, the now former vice president of battery technology at Panasonic Energy of North America. You might recall that Mikolajczak recently took a board seat at solid state battery company QuantumScape. Welp, she is now taking a job at the company as vice president of manufacturing engineering, beginning in July. She has resigned from the board in connection with accepting the offer. In her new role, Ms. Mikolajczak will lead the transition of the Company’s tools and manufacturing processes from research and development to production, QuantumScape said in a regularly filing.

Mikolajczak has a long history researching and developing better lithium-ion batteries. Her technical consulting practice at Exponent focused on lithium-ion cell and battery safety and quality. She then took a senior management position at Tesla that was focused on cell quality and materials engineering. During her time at Tesla, Mikolajczak developed the battery cells and packs for Tesla’s Model S, Model X, Model 3 and Roadster Refresh.

After leaving Tesla, Mikolajczak went on to serve as director of engineering focused on battery development for rideshare vehicles at Uber Technologies. And in 2019, she joined Panasonic Energy of North America, where she is vice president of battery technology. While at Panasonic, Mikolajczak led a team of more than 200 engineers and other technical staff to improve lithium-ion cell manufacturing and to bring the latest cell technologies to mass production for Tesla at the Gigafactory facility in Sparks, Nevada.

Speaking of Tesla … it looks like Scott Sims, director of engineering, left the company this month. His title doesn’t quite capture his role. Sims was the person leading the design and engineering for vehicle user interfaces, streaming, video games and mobile applications. Importantly, he was responsible for cloud computing as it related to the Tesla mobile app, a critical tool for any owner.

Finally, the big news on Friday (via Bloomberg) is that Rivian has selected underwriters for an initial public offering. The company could seek an eye-popping value of $70 billion. I have confirmed some (but not all) of Bloomberg’s reporting. Obviously big news that I’ll be watching and digging into. I had heard rumbling about a potential Rivian IPO, but Bloomberg put together the critical deets.

To me, the biggest indication that Rivian was getting ready to make a move was Ger Dwyer taking the vp of business finance position at the company, which he posted about on LinkedIn. You might recall, that I scooped the news a couple of weeks ago that Dwyer was leaving his post as CFO at Waymo. I noted at the time that Dwyer’s departure comes at a time when the demand for CFOs has rocketed alongside the continuous string of public offerings, including those done via mergers with special purpose acquisition companies.

Got tips? Send them my way by email or DM me over at Twitter.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Loads and loads of news. Let’s get to it.

Autonomous vehicles

Aurora published a blog post that gives a few new details on its testing and self-driving trucks strategy in Texas. The autonomous vehicle company said its first commercial pilots will move goods on several “middle-mile” routes in Texas. A safety driver will be behind the wheel of these self-driving trucks, which will drive autonomously between hubs. The terminal or hub system is one that other AV companies have adopted — at least for now. The idea is that loads can be consolidated, which would theoretically make operations more efficient. Aurora did add, that “for shippers and carriers with existing hubs and large volumes of freight, we expect to ultimately drive the complete route with no need for an intermediate consolidation point.”

One other item that jumped out to me: the company is expanding into a second office in Texas, suggesting that they’re scaling up, at least in terms of people.

Germany’s lower house of parliament adopted legislation that will allow driverless vehicles on public roads by 2022, laying out a path for companies to deploy robotaxis and delivery services in the country at scale. While autonomous testing is currently permitted in Germany, this would allow operations of driverless vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel. The bill still needs to pass through the upper chamber of parliament, or the Bundesrat. Included in the bill are possible initial applications for self-driving cars on German roads, such as public passenger transport, business and supply trips, logistics, company shuttles that handle employee traffic and trips between medical centers and retirement homes.

PAVE, which stands for Partners for Autonomous Vehicle Education, piloted a workshop with local governments earlier this month throughout Ohio. The educational workshop, which was done in partnership with Drive Ohio, wasn’t open to the public. But my Autonocast podcast co-host Ed Niedermeyer, who also happens to be director of communications for PAVE, gave me the inside scoop on what went down.

PAVE says it doesn’t do any kind of policy advocacy; instead the aim is to arm public policymakers with the facts they need to make good policy. This pilot helped PAVE lay a foundation for a curriculum that can be used elsewhere; that might seem trivial, but the complexity of issues around AVs makes these workshops with elected officials potentially powerful tool.

Ed told me that one of the main challenges was educating on potentially controversial topics, like policy and regulation, “where we have to get facts across without imparting biases.” He noted that the organization’s public sector and academic advisory councils were both helpful as neutral authorities. Finally, he said that one of the most practical education PAVE did was around the best practices that its members and advisors have developed in early AV deployments.

Kodiak Robotics, the U.S.-based self-driving truck startup, is partnering with South Korean conglomerate SK Inc. to explore the possibility of deploying its autonomous vehicle technology in Asia. While Kodiak co-founder and CEO Don Burnette couched the initial agreement as a first step toward a commercial enterprise in Asia, the reach of SK shouldn’t be discounted. SK Inc., a holding company of SK Group, has more than 120 operating companies, including ones connected to the logistics industry.

The ultimate aim of the partnership is to sell and distribute Kodiak’s self-driving technology in the region. Kodiak will examine how it can use SK’s products, components and technology for its autonomous system, including artificial intelligence microprocessors and advanced emergency braking systems. Both companies have also agreed to work together to provide fleet management services for customers in Asia.

Electric vehicles

Ford Motor, fresh off its splashy F-150 Lightning electric truck reveal, announced it is pushing its investment in EVs up to $30 billion by 2025, up from a previous spend of $22 billion by 2023. The company announced the fresh cashflow into its EV and battery development strategy, dubbed Ford+, during its investor day.

The company said it expects 40% of its global vehicle volume to be fully electric by 2030. Ford sold 6,614 Mustang Mach-Es in the U.S. in Q1, and since it unveiled its F-150 Lightning last week, the company says it has already amassed 70,000 customer reservations.

Hyundai held the North American reveal of the upcoming all-electric Ioniq 5 crossover. One new detail that I found interesting: Hyundai developed an in-car payment system that will debut in the Ioniq 5. The feature will offer drivers the ability to find and pay for EV charging, food and parking. When the vehicle comes to North America in fall 2021, the payments system will launch with Dominoes, ParkWhiz and Chargehub.

Lordstown Motors’ cash-rich SPAC dreams have turned out to be nothin’ more than wishes, as Alex Wilhelm and Aria Alamalhodaei reported. The upshot: a disappointing first-quarter earnings that was a pile-up of red-ink-stained negativity. The lowlights include higher-than-expected forecasted expenses, a need to raise more capital and lower-than-anticipated production of its Endurance vehicle this year — from around 2,200 vehicles to just 1,000. In short, the company is set to consume more cash than the street expected and is further from mass production of its first vehicle than promised.

Lucid Motors revealed the in-cabin tech of its upcoming electric luxury Air sedan. I spoke to Derek Jenkins, who heads up design at Lucid, and he provided a detailed tour of all the tech in the vehicle. It goes far beyond the curved 34-inch display and second touchscreen, which received much of the attention. The user experience, particularly the underlying software, matters in all cars. But it can be the death of an electric vehicle model if not done properly.

It appears Lucid is on the right track. I won’t really know until I’m able to test the Air. Let’s hope that is soon.

Rivian has delayed deliveries of the R1T Launch Edition, the limited edition release of its first series of “electric adventure vehicles,” by a month. Customers who preordered can now expect to start receiving their pickup trucks in July instead of June, with Launch Edition deliveries to be completed by spring 2022. The one-month delay was due to a combination of small issues, including delays on shipping containers, the ongoing chip shortage as well as ensuring the servicing piece is properly set up. It’s worth noting that Rivian told me that it has been largely unaffected by the chip shortage compared to the rest of the industry because its products don’t require as many as other vehicles on the market today.

Tesla had a number of news items this week, so I’ll just point to the most notable ones. Tesla has established a data center in China to carry out the “localization of data storage,” with plans to add more data facilities in the future, the company announced through its account on microblogging platform Weibo. All data generated by Tesla vehicles sold in mainland China will be kept domestically. The move was in response to new requirements drafted by the Chinese government to regulate how cameras- and sensors-enabled carmakers collect and utilize data. One of the requirements states that “personal or important data should be stored within the [Chinese] territory.”

Finally, two safety-related pieces of Tesla news that seem in opposition to each other.

First, Tesla started delivering Model 3 and Model Y vehicles without radar, fulfilling a vision of CEO Elon Musk to only use cameras combined with machine learning to support its advanced driver assistance system and other active safety features. The decision has prompted blowback though from the National Traffic Highway and Safety Administration, Consumer Reports and IIHS over safety concerns.

Meanwhile, Tesla finally — and after loud and frequent urging from industry and safety advocates, activated the in-cabin camera in new Model Y and Model 3 vehicles. The camera will be used as a driver monitoring system. Tesla has been criticized for not activating the driver monitoring system within its vehicles even as evidence mounted that owners were misusing the system. Owners have posted dozens of videos on YouTube and TikTok abusing its advanced driver assistance system known as Autopilot — some of whom have filmed themselves sitting in the backseat as the vehicle drives along the highway.

Other nugs (no not that kind)

Apex.AI hired Paul Balciunas as its CFO. Balciunas was the former CFO of Canoo. He also was an executive at Deutsche Bank, where he acted as a lead underwriter of the initial public offering for Tesla in 2010, and has since focused on auto tech and new mobility players.

Blyncsy, a Utah-based startup movement and data intelligence company launched an AI-powered technology called Payver, that will use crowdsourced video data to give transport agencies up-to-date information on which roads require maintenance and improvements. Blyncsy is offering this service to governments at a reduced cost and with no long-term commitment. Utah’s DOT will be the first to pilot the program beginning June 1, deploying Payver in the Salt Lake County region, which covers more than 350 road miles. Blyncsy will be announcing other pilots in different states over the next few weeks.

Scale AI hired Mark Valentine to head up its federal-focused division. Valentine comes with experience and connections. He was  a commander in the U.S. Air Force, senior military advisor to FEMA and most recently, GM of national security for Microsoft. He will lead Scale’s government partnership efforts.

Scale has also hired Michael Kratsios, the former CTO of the White House, as managing director and head of strategy. The company said he is focused on accelerating the development of AI across industries. Michael joined at the end of Q1.

#aurora, #automotive, #bird, #chris-urmson, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #gm, #hyundai, #joby-aviation, #karl-iagnemma, #lime, #lucid-motors, #mate-rimac, #micromobility, #panasonic, #quantumscape, #reid-hoffman, #rimac, #rivian, #scooters, #tesla, #transportation, #volkswagen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 is coming, save the date!

Buckle up, startup and tech fans. Save the date and get ready to rub virtual elbows with mobility’s best and brightest minds — the movers, shakers and policy makers that are shaping the future of transportation.

TC Sessions: Mobility returns for its third year on June 9, 2021. Can you say mobility three-peat? Yes, you can!

We’re excited to host another day dedicated to the people — and the technology they’re developing — that’s changing transportation. TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 goes beyond hunting for the next unicorn or showcasing the gee-whiz distraction of the moment. We’ll explore the latest trends, discuss regulatory, technical and ethical challenges and look at the costs and long-term effects on towns and cities.

Pro tip: Early bird pricing is now in play on all pass levels and June will be here before you know it. Keep your hard-earned money in your pocket. Buy your passes now and save 35% before the prices increase.

We’re building out the day’s agenda, and we’ll pack it with presentations, interviews and Q&As with founders, investors and inventors. Enjoy breakout sessions, dozens of exhibiting startups and plenty of time to network and recruit — with attendees from around the world.

Take a look at some of the mobility mavens and transportation titans who joined us on the virtual stage at last year’s event to get a sense of the quality programming you should expect on June 9.

  • JB Straubel, co-founder, CEO of Redwood Materials, co-founder and former Tesla CTO
  • Tekedra Mawakana, COO, Waymo
  • Matthew Johnson-Roberson, co-founder, Refraction AI
  • Nancy Sun, co-founder and chief engineer, Ike
  • Shin-pei Tsay, director of policy, cities and transportation, Uber
  • Peter Rawlinson, CTO and CEO, Lucid Motors
  • Margaret Stewart Nagle, head of policy and government affairs, Wing
  • Paul Ajegba, director, Michigan Department of Transportation
  • Celina Mikolajczak, vice president, battery technology, Panasonic Energy of North America, Panasonic
  • Reilly Brennan, founding general partner, Trucks Venture Capital

Will you benefit from attending TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Take it from Rachael Wilcox, creative producer at Volvo Cars, who completed a TechCrunch hat trick in 2020 by attending Disrupt, TC Sessions: Robotics/AI and TC Sessions: Mobility.

Going to TechCrunch events, whether it’s Disrupt or TC Sessions, helps me stay ahead of emerging trends, technologies and startups that affect the future of mobility.”

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place on June 9, 2021. Learn from and engage with the industry’s mightiest minds, makers, innovators and investors. Buy your early bird pass, connect with your world-wide community and help build a new age of transportation.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #battery-technology, #celina-mikolajczak, #co-founder, #companies, #coo, #director, #general-motors, #mobility, #nancy-sun, #panasonic, #reilly-brennan, #self-driving-cars, #startups, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #techcrunch, #technology, #tekedra-mawakana, #uber, #volvo-cars, #waymo

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Will moving, ‘spacial video’ start to eat into square-box Zoom calls? SpatialChat thinks so

With most of us locked into a square video box on platforms like Zoom, the desire to break away and perhaps wander around a virtual space is strong. These new ways of presenting people – as small circles of videos placed in a virtual space where they can move around – has appeared in various forms, like ‘virtual bars’ for the last few months during global pandemic lockdowns. Hey, I even went to a few virtual bars myself! Although the drinks from my fridge could have been better…

The advantage of this spatial approach is it gives a lot more ‘agency’ to the user. You feel, at least, a bit more in control, as you can make a ‘physical’ choice as to where you go, even if it is only still a virtual experience.

Now SpatialChat, one of the first startups with that approach which launched on ProductHunt in April last year, is upping the game with a new design and the feature of persistent chats. The product debuted on ProductHunt on April 20, 2020, and rose to No. 3 app of the day. The web-based platform has been bootstrapped the founders with their own resources.

SpatialChat now adding a special tier and features for teams running town hall meetings and virtual offices, and says it now has more than 3,000 organizations as paying customers, with more than 200,000 total monthly active users.

The startup is part of a virtual networking space being populating by products such as
Teamflow, Gather, and Remo. Although it began as a online networking events service, its now trying to re-position as a forum for multi-group discussions, all the way up from simple stand-up meetings to online conferences.

SpatialChat uses a mix of ‘proximity’ video chats, screen sharing, and rooms for up to 50 people. It’s now putting in pricing plans for regular, weekly, and one-time use cases. It says it’s seen employees at Sony, Panasonic, Sega, LinkedIn, Salesforce, and McKinsey, as well as educators and staff at 108 American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and MIT, use the platform.

Almas Abulkhairov, CEO and Co-founder of SpatialChat says: “Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams represent a virtual office for many teams but most of our customers say these apps aren’t a good fit for that. They don’t provide the same serendipity of thought you get working shoulder to shoulder and “Zoom fatigue” became a term for a reason. We want to bring the best from offline work.”

Konstantin Krasov, CPO at DataSouls, who used the platform, said: “We had 2500 people in attendance during a 2-day event that we hosted for our community of 50,000 Data Scientists. SpatialChat enabled us to make a cool networking event, Q/A and AMA with thought leaders in data science.”

#computing, #europe, #harvard, #linkedin, #mckinsey, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #mit, #panasonic, #salesforce, #software, #sony, #stanford, #tc, #web-conferencing, #workplace, #yale, #zoom

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Can solid state batteries power up for the next generation of EVs?

Lithium-ion batteries power almost every new phone, laptop and electric vehicle. But unlike processors or solar panels, which have improved exponentially, lithium-ion batteries have inched along with only incremental gains.

For the last decade, developers of solid state battery systems have promised products that are vastly safer, lighter and more powerful. Those promises largely evaporated into the ether — leaving behind a vapor stream of disappointing products, failed startups and retreating release dates.

For the last decade, developers of solid state battery systems have promised products that are vastly safer, lighter and more powerful.

A new wave of companies and technologies are finally maturing and attracting the funding necessary to feed batteries’ biggest market: transportation. Electric vehicles account for about 60% of all lithium-ion batteries made today, and IDTechEx predicts that solid state batteries will represent a $6 billion industry by 2030.

Electric vehicles have never been cooler, faster or cleaner, yet they still account for only around one in 25 cars sold around the world (and fewer still in the United States). A global survey of 10,000 drivers in 2020 by Castrol delivered the same perennial complaints that EVs are too expensive, too slow to charge and have too short a range.

Castrol identified three tipping points that EVs would need to drive a decisive shift away from their internal combustion rivals: a range of at least 300 miles, charging in just half an hour and costing no more than $36,000.

Theoretically, solid state batteries (SSB) could deliver all three.

There are many different kinds of SSB but they all lack a liquid electrolyte for moving electrons (electricity) between the battery’s positive (cathode) and negative (anode) electrodes. The liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries limit the materials the electrodes can be made from, and the shape and size of the battery. Because liquid electrolytes are usually flammable, lithium-ion batteries are also prone to runaway heating and even explosion. SSBs are much less flammable and can use metal electrodes or complex internal designs to store more energy and move it faster — giving higher power and faster charging.

The players

“If you run the calculations, you can get really amazing numbers and they’re very exciting,” Amy Prieto, founder and CTO of solid state Colorado-based startup Prieto Battery said in a recent interview. “It’s just that making it happen in practice is very difficult.”

Prieto, who founded her company in 2009 after a career as a chemistry professor, has seen SSB startups come and go. In 2015 alone, Dyson acquired Ann Arbor startup Sakti3 and Bosch bought Berkeley Lab spin-off SEEO in separate automotive development projects. Both efforts failed, and Dyson has since abandoned some of Sakti3’s patents.

Prieto Battery, whose strategic investors include Intel, Stout Street Capital and Stanley Ventures, venture arm of toolmaker Stanley Black & Decker, pioneered an SSB with a 3D internal architecture that should enable high power and good energy density. Prieto is now seeking funding to scale up production for automotive battery packs. The first customer for these is likely to be electric pickup maker Hercules, whose debut vehicle, called Alpha, is due in 2022. (Fisker also says that it is developing a 3D SSB for its debut Ocean SUV, which is expected to arrive next year.)

Another Colorado SSB company is Solid Power, which has had investments from auto OEMs including BMV, Hyundai, Samsung and Ford, following a $20 million Series A in 2018. Solid Power has no ambitions to make battery packs or even cells, according to CEO Doug Campbell, and is doing its best to use only standard lithium-ion tooling and processes.

Once the company has completed cell development in 2023 or 2024, it would hand over full-scale production to its commercialization partners.

“It simply lowers the barrier to entry if existing producers can adopt it with minimal pain,” Campbell said.

QuantumScape is perhaps the highest profile SSB maker on the scene today. Spun out from Stanford University a decade ago, the secretive QuantumScape attracted funding from Bill Gates and $300 million from Volkswagen. In November, QuantumScape went public via a special purpose acquisition company at a $3.3 billion valuation. It then soared in value over 10 times after CEO Jagdeep Singh claimed to have solved the short lifetime and slow charging problems that have plagued SSBs.

#automotive, #ec-market-map, #ec-mobility-hardware, #electric-vehicles, #gm, #lithium-ion-batteries, #panasonic, #quantumscape, #tesla, #transportation

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Recycling startup Redwood Materials is now accepting your old smartphones

Redwood Materials, the recycling startup founded by former Tesla CTO JB Straubel, has quietly opened up its enterprise to everyday consumers and all of the old electronics sitting in their junk drawers.

The move expands upon the Carson City, Nevada-based company’s existing and primary strategy to recycle scrap from battery cell production and consumer electronics for corporate customers like Panasonic and Amazon.

The startup has posted a “recycle with us” tab on its website, which states “Have lithium ion batteries or e-waste? We’ll recycle your phones, tablets, power tools and any other device with a lithium-ion battery.” There isn’t anymore information on the website beyond an address, where consumers can send their e-waste, and a “contact us” button.

Straubel told TechCrunch in October that its business model could someday evolve to include consumers because they had received so many inquiries from people. It seems that Redwood has decided to take the leap.

Redwood Materials isn’t setting strict parameters on what consumers can send, a spokesperson said, who confirmed the company is even taking cables. Redwood told TechCrunch it wants to hear from consumers and will determine over time how it might expand the program. For instance, the company said it might formalize the consumer program and add shipping boxes and labels to make the process easier.

For now, Redwood is going to open it up and see what happens.

The majority of lithium-ion batteries used in smartphones and other consumer electronics are not recycled and instead either sit forgotten in the owner’s junk drawer or enter the waste stream and end up in a landfill.

Redwood Material is aiming to change that by creating a circular supply chain. Redwood collects scrap from Panasonic’s battery cell production and as well as consumer electronics such as cell phone batteries, laptop computers and power tools from other corporations. The company then processes the discarded goods, extracting materials like cobalt, nickel and lithium that are typically mined, and supplies those back to Panasonic and other customers.

Eventually, Straubel wants Redwood to be part of the end-of-life solution for electric vehicle batteries as well. The CEO has aspirations to set up facilities in strategic regional locations around the world to meet this need. For now, most of the items recycled and processed at Redwood’s two facilities in Carson City are for Panasonic and other unnamed consumer electronics-related companies.

#automotive, #panasonic, #redwood-materials, #tesla, #transportation

0

Holographic startup Envisics partners with Panasonic to fast-track in-car AR tech

Envisics founder and CEO Dr. Jamieson Christmas launched the startup three years ago to “revolutionize” the in-car experience with its holographic technology. Now, it has a partner that could help it achieve that mission.

The U.K.-based holographic technology startup said Friday it reached an agreement with Panasonic Automotive Systems to jointly develop and commercialize a new generation of head-up displays for cars, trucks and SUVs. Panasonic Automotive Systems is a Tier 1 automotive supplier and a division of Panasonic Corporation of North America. The head-up displays are units integrated in the dash of a vehicle that project images onto the windshield to aid drivers with navigation and provide other alerts. The Panasonic HUDs, as they’re often called, will use Envisics holographic technology.

The deal, announced ahead of the virtual 2021 CES tech trade show, follows Envisics’ $50 million Series B funding round and news that its tech will be integrated in the upcoming Cadillac Lyriq electric vehicle. The funding round, which brought Envisics a valuation of more than $250 million, included investments from Hyundai Mobis, GM Ventures, SAIC Ventures and Van Tuyl Companies.

Envisics’ technology, the foundation of which came out of Christmas’ PhD studies at Cambridge University more than 15 years ago, electronically manipulates the speed of light. This process enables images to appear three-dimensional, Christmas explained in a recent interview. The company has secured more than 250 patents and has another 160 pending certification.

The company is solely focused upon the automotive application of holography, Christmas said, adding that its first generation is already integrated in more than 150,000 Jaguar Land Rover vehicles.

Christmas said this new agreement aims to combine Panasonic’s expertise in optical design and its global reach as a Tier 1 supplier with Envisics’ technology to bring holography into the mainstream. Mass production of vehicles using its technology is slated for 2023, according to the companies.

“This is very much about part of our business plan, you know the Series B funding round we undertook was about scaling the business and enabling us to move forward as we enter the market,” Christmas said. “Part of that was a commitment to engage in partnerships with Tier ones that we can then work with to deliver these products to market.

“This is the first of those agreements,” he added, suggesting that Envisics has a much larger aim.

What that means, Christmas said, will be head-up displays with high resolution, wide color gamut and large images that can be overlaid upon reality. The technology can also project information at multiple distances simultaneously.

“That really unlocks very interesting applications,” he said. “In the short term, it will be kind of relatively simple augmented reality applications like navigation, highlighting the lane you’re supposed to be in and some safety applications. But as you look forward into things like autonomous driving it unlocks a whole realm of other opportunities like entertainment and video conferencing.”

He added that it could even be used for night vision applications such as overlaying enhanced information upon a dark road to make it clear where the road is going and what obstacles might be out there.

#augmented-reality, #automotive, #cadillac, #ces, #ces-2021, #envisics, #head-up-display, #panasonic, #panasonic-automotive-systems, #startups, #tc

0

Announcing the final agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

TC Sessions: Mobility is back and we’re excited to give the final look of what and who is coming to the main stage.

Before we get into who is coming, let’s tackle one important change from our 2019 inaugural event: this year, TC Sessions: Mobility will be virtual. Never fear, the virtual version of TC Sessions: Mobility will bring all of what you’d expect from our in-person events, from the informative panels and provocative one-on-one interviews to the networking and this year, even a pitch-off session.

While virtual isn’t the same as our events in the past, it has provided one massive benefit: democratizing access. If you’re a startup or investor based in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America or another region in the U.S., you can listen in, network and connect with other participants here in Silicon Valley. Plus, you’ll be able to meet all of the attendees through our matchmaking platform, CrunchMatch.

This year, we’re also holding a pitch-off competition for early-stage mobility companies, but you’ll need to make sure you have your ticket to join us at the event online. Prices start at just $25 for an Expo Ticket and only $195 for a General Admission Ticket to experience the whole event. We also offer a $50 tickets for students.

TechCrunch reporters and editors will interview some of the top leaders in transportation to tackle topics such as scaling up an electric vehicle company, the future of automated vehicle technology, micromobility, building an AV startup and investing in the industry. Our guests include Argo AI co-founder and CEO Bryan Salesky, Waymo COO Tekedra Mawakana, Lucid Motors CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson, Ike Robotics co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun, Formula E race car driver Lucas di Grassi, Cruise’s director of global government affairs Prashanthi Raman, Hemi Ventures managing partner Amy Gu, Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath as well as TuSimple co-founder and CTO Xiaodi Hou and Boris Sofman, former Anki Robotics founder and CEO who now leads Waymo’s trucking unit.

Don’t forget that General Admission tickets (including $50 savings) are currently available for a limited time; grab your tickets here before prices increase.

AGENDA

Tuesday, October 6

Taking AVs to the Next Level Tekedra Mawakana (Waymo)

Waymo Chief Operating Officer Tekedra Mawakana is at the center of Waymo’s future, from scaling the autonomous vehicle company’s commercial deployment and directing fleet operations to developing the company’s business path. Tekedra will speak about what lies ahead as Waymo drives forward with its plan to become a grownup business.

The Changing Face of Delivery with Matthew Johnson-Roberson (Refraction AI), Ali Kashani (Postmates), and speaker to be confirmed.

Small startups and logistics giants alike are working on how to use automated vehicle technology and robotics for delivery. Matthew Johnson-Roberson, co-founder of Refraction AI and Ali Kashani, the VP of special projects at Postmates will talk about the challenges and opportunities of using robots for delivery.

Investing in Mobility with Reilly Brennan (Trucks VC), Amy Gu (Hemi Ventures), and Olaf Sakkers (Maniv Mobility)

Reilly Brennan, Amy Gu and Olaf Sakkers will come together to debate the uncertain future of mobility tech and whether VC dollars are enough to push the industry forward.

Networking Break

With our virtual platform, attendees can network via video chat, giving folks the chance to make meaningful connections. CrunchMatch, our algorithmic matching product, will be available to ensure you’re meeting the right people at the show, as well as random matching for attendees who are feeling more adventurous.

Setting the Record Straight with Bryan Salesky (Argo AI)

Argo AI has gone from unknown startup to a company providing the autonomous vehicle technology to Ford and VW — not to mention billions in investment from the two global automakers. Co-founder and CEO Bryan Salesky will talk about the company’s journey, what’s next and what it really takes to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology.

The Next Opportunities in Micromobility with Danielle Harris (Elemental Excelerator), Dmitry Shevelenko (Tortoise), Avra van der Zee (Superpedestrian)

Worldwide, numerous companies are operating shared micromobility services — so many that the industry is well into a consolidation phase. Despite the over-saturation of the market, there are still opportunities for new players. Danielle Harris, director of mobility innovation at Elemental Excelerator, Dmitry Shevelenko, founder at Tortoise will discuss, and VP of Strategy and Policy at Superpedestrian.

Building an AV Startup with Nancy Sun (Ike)

Ike co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun will share her experiences in the world of automation and robotics, a ride that has taken her from Apple to Otto and Uber before she set off to start a self-driving truck company. Sun will discuss what the future holds for trucking and the challenges and the secrets behind building a successful mobility startup.

Uber’s City Footprint with Shin-pei Tsay (Uber)

Uber’s operations touch upon many aspects of the transportation ecosystem. Whether its autonomous vehicles, food delivery, trucking or traditional ride-hailing, these products and services all require Uber to interact with cities and ensure the company is on the good side of cities. That’s where Shin-pei Tsay comes in. Hear from Tsay about how she thinks through Uber’s place in cities and how she navigates various regulatory frameworks.

The Road to the All-Electric Air with Peter Rawlinson (Lucid Motors)

Just weeks after Lucid Motors unveils its long-anticipated all-electric luxury Air sedan, we’ll sit down with Peter Rawlinson to discuss the challenges of building a car company and assembling that first production vehicle as well as plans for the future.

Wednesday, October 7

The Future of Racing with Lucas Di Grassi (Audi Sport)

Formula E driver Lucas Di Grassi is part of a new racing series, in which riders on high-speed electric scooters compete against each other on temporary circuits in cities. Think Formula E, but with electric scooters. The former CEO of Roborace and sustainability ambassador of the EsC, Electric Scooter Championship, will join us to talk about electrification, micromobility and a new kind of motorsport.

The Future of Trucking with Xiaodi Hou (TuSimple) and Boris Sofman (Waymo)

TuSimple co-founder and CTO Xiaodi Hou and Boris Sofman, former Anki Robotics founder and CEO who now leads Waymo’s trucking unit, will discuss the business and the technical challenges of autonomous trucking.

The Electrification of Porsche with Detlev von Platen (Porsche AG)

Porsche has undergone a major transformation in the past several years, investing billions into an electric vehicle program and launching the Taycan, its first all-electric vehicle. Now, Porsche is ramping up for more. Porsche AG’s Detlev von Platen, who is a member of the company’s executive board, will talk about Porsche’s path, competition and where it’s headed next.

Navigating Self-Driving Car Regulations with David Estrada (Nuro), Melissa Froelich (Aurora) and Jody Kelman (Lyft), Prashanthi Raman (Cruise)

Autonomous vehicle developers face a patchwork of local, state and federal regulations. Government policy experts, from Nuro, Aurora, Lyft and Cruise, discuss the progress that’s been made, the challenges that remain and how startups can navigate the jumble of regulations and deploy their autonomous vehicle technology at scale.

Future of Cities: Delivery Takes Flight with Margaret Nagle (Wing)

Margaret Nagle, head of policy and public affairs at Wing, will talk about how drones used for delivery could reshape cities and improve accessibility.

Delivering and Building EVs with Thomas Ingenlath (Polestar)

Polestar is less than four years old and already has two vehicles on the market and more on the way. In this fireside chat with CEO Thomas Ingenlath, we’ll discuss the company’s focus, strategy and sleek design.

Scooting Through the World’s Regulatory Frameworks Tony Adesina (Gura Ride), Fredrik Hjelm (VOI Technology), and Euwyn Poon (Spin)

Although dockless scooters first hit the streets of the U.S., there’s plenty of scooter activity going on abroad. And thanks to different regulatory landscapes and players, the state of scooters looks different depending on where you are. Scooters have taken off in Europe, with a number of players operating across the continent, as well as in South America. Now, shared scooters and ebikes are popping up in Africa. Hear from Spin CEO Euwyn Poon about bringing his U.S.-centric company abroad, Voi co-founder Fredrik Hjelm about the state of scooters in Europe and Tony Adesina, the founder and CEO of micromobility startup Gura Ride about opportunities and challenges in Africa.

Startup Pitch-Off

Select, early-stage companies, hand-picked by TechCrunch editors, will take the stage and have five minutes to present their companies.

Life after Tesla JB Straubel (Redwood Materials)<br />
JB Straubel might be best known as Tesla’s co-founder and former CTO who was responsible for some of the company’s most important technology, notably around batteries. But Straubel is hardly finished. He launched his own recycling startup called Redwood Materials that is focused on creating a circular supply chain and recently named Amazon and Panasonic as customers. We’ll sit down with Straubel to talk about his latest venture, time at Tesla and of course, battery technology and the state of the electric vehicles.

Building better battery tech  Celina Mikolajczak (Panasonic) JB Straubel (Redwood Materials)

Celina Mikolajczak, vice president of battery technology for Panasonic Energy of North America, and JB Straubel, co-founder and CEO of Redwood Materials, will dig into the state of battery tech, what it will take to meet growing demand while minimizing the environmental impact, and how their respective companies are working together.

 

#argo-ai, #aurora-innovation, #cruise, #lucid-motors, #lyft, #panasonic, #polestar, #redwood-materials, #startups, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2020, #tesla

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Battery tech superstars JB Straubel of Redwood Materials, Celina Mikolajczak of Panasonic coming to TC Mobility 2020

It was a trickle at first that has evolved into a slow and steady stream. Now, a wave of new electric vehicles is building, promising to deliver an unprecedented number of models to North America, Europe and China over the next two to three years.

There might not be a better time to dig into EVs and we have two superstars coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2020. JB Straubel, co-founder and CEO of Redwood Materials who pioneered the battery powertrain design for Tesla as its longtime CTO, and Celina Mikolajczak, the vice president of battery technology for Panasonic Energy of North America, will join us on our virtual stage to talk about all things electric vehicles.

This virtual event takes place October 6-7, and we’re excited to hear from these two technology leaders working at the forefront of the industry.

Straubel’s role at Tesla cannot be understated. The co-founder and executive was responsible for some of the company’s most important technology during his 15 years there, including leading the cell design, supply chain and the first Gigafactory concept through the production ramp of the Model 3.

But Straubel’s story isn’t just tied to Tesla. The former Tesla executive went on to found another startup in 2017 called Redwood Materials . The battery recycling startup is focused on circular supply chains, essentially turning waste into profit and solving the environmental impacts of new products before they happen. Its first named customer is Panasonic; and just this week announced Amazon has joined that list.

Mikolajczak has a long history researching and developing better lithium-ion batteries. Her technical consulting practice at Exponent focused on lithium-ion cell and battery safety and quality. She then took a senior management position at Tesla that was focused on cell quality and materials engineering. During her time at Tesla, Mikolajczak developed the battery cells and packs for Tesla’s Model S, Model X, Model 3 and Roadster Refresh.

After leaving Tesla, Mikolajczak went on to serve as director of engineering focused on battery development for rideshare vehicles at Uber Technologies. Last year, she joined Panasonic Energy of North America, where she is vice president of battery technology. Mikolajczak leads a team of more than 200 engineers and other technical staff to improve lithium-ion cell manufacturing and to bring the latest cell technologies to mass production for Tesla at the Gigafactory facility in Sparks, Nevada.

In short: these two know a lot about battery technology from how it has developed in the past decade to where it’s headed and the implications it will have on automakers, consumers and the economy.

Mikolajczak and Straubel are just two in a long list of all-star speakers, including Bryan Salesky, co-founder and CEO of Argo AI, Tekedra Mawakana, chief operating officer at Waymo, Ike co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun as well as folks from Nuro, Aurora, Cruise, Lyft and Uber. There are startups as well including Refraction AI, which came out of stealth on our stage at last year’s mobility event.

We hope you can join in October 6-7, 2020 at the event. As you might have heard, TC Sessions: Mobility is a virtual event. Don’t worry, we know many of you want to network. We’ve built out features into our platform to give attendees unparalleled access to speakers, investors and fellow founders. Get your tickets before prices increase in a few short weeks! There are discounts for groups and students and exclusive opportunities for exhibiting for early-stage founders.

#automotive, #events, #jb-straubel, #panasonic, #redwood-materials, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2020, #tesla, #transportation

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Panasonic to expand battery capacity at Tesla Gigafactory

Panasonic is adding another production line to the massive factory it operates with Tesla in Nevada, an expansion that will increase battery cell capacity by 10%.

The Sparks facility, dubbed Gigafactory 1, is the centerpiece of Tesla’s plan to expand global battery capacity and reduce the cost of electric vehicles. Panasonic has been its most important partner in that project, which based on a recent agreement should last until at least 2023.

Tesla and Panasonic initially planned for the Gigafactory to have the capacity to produce 35 gigawatt hours of batteries each year. That goal was achieved with 13 production lines. This latest expansion, which was first reported by the Reno Gazette Journal and confirmed by TechCrunch, will add a fourteenth line.

Panasonic said the additional line with create the need to add 100 more jobs at the Gigafactory.

Construction has already started on the project, Panasonic told TechCrunch. As Panasonic adds this new line it will also continue to install new technology for the “2170” lithium-ion cells it produces and supplies to Tesla, a change that will improve energy density by 5% from the current cell and reduces costly cobalt content. Panasonic is upgrading its all 13 battery cell lines with production. The new technology will allow for continued improvement with energy density expected to improve by 20% over five years.

The increase in energy density in the cells means that Tesla will theoretically see the same gains in its packs, which in turn should improve the battery range in its Model 3 and Model Y.  The 2170 cells are used in the Model 3 and its newest vehicle, the Model Y. The reduction in cobalt content, a rare chemical element that is expensive and has social and environmental costs, could also help reduce the price of the cells.

#automotive, #panasonic, #tc, #tesla

0

With technology to perfect product pitches in digital marketplaces Pattern raises $52 million

Pattern, a Lehi, Utah-based reseller that offers large and small brands a way to optimize their sales on marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Walmart and Google Shopping, has raised $52 million in growth funding, the company said.

The money, from Ainge Advisory and KSV Global, will be used to expand the company’s business worldwide.

Founded in 2013, the e-commerce reseller uses analytics to lock down market specific keywords in advertising and has managed to reach a run-rate that should see it hit $500 million in annual revenue by the end of 2020, according to Pattern co-founder and chief investment officer, Melanie Alder.

Brands like Nestle, Pandora, Panasonic, Zebra and Skechers sell their goods to Pattern in an effort to juice sales on digital marketplaces.

“Pattern represents our brands in the US, across Europe, and in select markets in Asia, selling for us on global marketplaces such as Amazon, Walmart, Tmall, and JD as well as building and managing three of our direct-to-consumer sites,” said Kyle Bliffert, CEO and president of Atrium Innovations, a Nestle Health Science company, in a statement. “The global e-commerce growth we have experienced by leveraging Pattern’s expertise is extraordinary.”

Pattern places bets on where a product is likely to receive the most attention using specific keywords, according to the company’s chief executive, Dave Wright. The company buys products from its brand partners and then sells them widely across marketplaces in the US, Europe and Asia. These markets represent $2.7 trillion in total sales and Wright expects it to reach $7 trillion by 2024.

As Wright noted, a majority of searchers for sales begin on Amazon . The company just opened its eighteenth location in Germany. Pattern has grown sales for brands from $3 million to $26 million and the company makes money off of the margin on the sales of products. With the new funding, the company intends to expand into other geographies like Japan and India.

Wright says his company addresses one of the fundamental problems with advertising technology — the proliferation of tools hasn’t meant better optimization for most brands, because they’re teams aren’t equipped to specialize.

While there may be hundreds of different advertising and marketing folks working at a company, each company may have hundreds of brands that it sells and the dedicated teams to specific brands may only have one or two  people on staff.

“Data makes all the difference,” said co-founder and CEO Dave Wright. “I’ve spent the bulk of my career in data science and data management, and our ability to detect and act on ‘patterns’ on ecommerce platforms has allowed the brands we represent to be incredibly successful.”

#amazon, #asia, #brand, #data-management, #e-commerce, #ebay, #europe, #germany, #google, #india, #japan, #nestle, #panasonic, #retailers, #tc, #tmall, #united-states, #utah, #walmart, #zebra

0

Panasonic boosts energy density, trims cobalt in new 2170 battery cell for Tesla

Panasonic has developed new battery technology for the ‘2170’ lithium-ion cells it produces and supplies to Tesla, a change that improves energy density by 5% and reduces costly cobalt content.

The new, higher-energy dense 2170 cells will be produced by Panasonic at Tesla’s factory in Sparks, Nevada, the company said Thursday. Panasonic is upgrading its battery cell lines with production slated to begin in September. The company operates 13 lines at the factory with a capacity to produce 35 gigawatt hours of batteries each year. All 13 lines will eventually run the new technology, Panasonic Energy North America President Allan Swan said without providing a timeline of when the entire system would be upgraded.

“We’re about to take another leap forward,” Swan said in a recent interview. “It’s kind of exciting from the Panasonic perspective; we’re driving towards cobalt free and we’re driving towards higher energy dense batteries, which gives our customers a choice of how they want utilize that.”

The facility where these new battery cells will be produced is known as Gigafactory 1, a critical component of Tesla’s plan to expand global battery capacity and reduce the cost of electric vehicles. Panasonic has been its most important partner in that project, which based on a recent agreement should last until at least 2023. Panasonic makes the 2170 cells at Gigafactory 1, which Tesla then uses to make battery packs for the Model 3. The 2170 cells are also used in Tesla’s newest vehicle, the Model Y.

Here’s a quick primer. A battery contains two electrodes. There’s an anode (negative) on one side and a cathode (positive) on the other. An electrolyte sits in the middle and acts as the courier that moves ions between the electrodes when charging and discharging.

A cell with greater energy density means that engineers figured out a way to pack more energy in that space. The 5% improvement in energy density in the cells should result in the same gains in Tesla’s battery packs. The upshot: Tesla’s Model 3 and Model Y could see improvements in range. The reduction in cobalt content, a rare chemical element that is expensive and has social and environmental costs, could also help reduce the price of the cells.

Panasonic’s factories in Japan produce the cylindrical lithium-ion “18650” cells, which are used to power Tesla’s Model S and Model X vehicles. Panasonic has already improved 18650 cells, resulting in a reduction in cobalt and improvement in energy density.

Panasonic uses a NCA, or nickel-cobalt-aluminium, cathode chemistry in its battery cells. Panasonic wouldn’t disclose the amount of cobalt used today or get into the details of its technology. However, Celina Mikolajczak, vice president of battery technology at Panasonic Energy of North America, did say that the total amount of cobalt used in Panasonic cylindrical automotive batteries is less than 2% of global demand.

Mikolajczak said that NCA uses less cobalt than NCM, or nickel manganese cobalt oxide. The NCA cathode chemistry has been further developed to reduce cobalt, she added

The company is aiming for zero cobalt in its battery cells, Mikolajczak said. Panasonic has already managed that feat in its R&D lab. The plan is to commercialize cobalt-free batteries in a few years.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #panasonic, #tc, #tesla

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How to get your nice camera set up as a high quality webcam

Everyone needs a webcam these days, whether for business meetings or the distant socializing accomplished via video calling — but if you’re like most, you’re using the built-in camera on your laptop or some piece of junk from years ago. But if you happen to have a nice big-brand camera, it’s easy to set it up as a standalone webcam and produce imagery that will be the envy your friends and colleagues.

Our guide to setting up a professional-looking home webcam solution with lighting, audio, and all the other fixins is here, but unless you’re using a capture card (that’s a whole other how-to) getting your DSLR or mirrorless camera hooked up to your computer isn’t as simple as it ought to be.

Surprisingly, you can’t just take a camera released in the last couple years and plug it into your computer and expect it to work. So far only Canon, Fujifilm, and Panasonic provide free webcam functionality to at least one desktop OS. For Nikon, Sony and Olympus, you may have to pay or put up with a watermark.

Here are the easiest ways to put each brand of camera to work. (Spoiler warning: For Macs, it’s mostly Cascable. I’ll mention that a few more times because people are probably just scrolling past this to their brand.)

Canon: EOS Webcam Utility

Canon released this software just a couple weeks ago and it’s still in beta, so there may be a few hiccups — but it supports both Windows and Apple machines and a good variety of camera bodies. There’s even some extra documentation and tutorials for the app at its microsite.

Compatibility is pretty good, working with any of their camera bodies from the last 3-4 years: the Rebel T6-T7i, T100, SL2, SL3, 5D Mk IV, 5DS, 5DS R, 6D Mk II, 7D Mk II, 77D, 80D, 90D, 1D X Mark II and Mark III, M6 Mk II, M50, M200, R, RP, PowerShot G5X Mk II, G7X Mk III, and SX70 HS. Download the software here.

If you’re having trouble, check out the third party apps listed for other brands below and see if you have more luck.

Fujifilm: X Webcam

Fujifilm’s solution is easy, but a bit limited. The popular X100 series is not supported, and Macs are left out in the cold as well. But if you have one of the company’s more recent interchangeable-lens bodies and a Windows 10 machine, you’re golden. Just install and plug in your camera with a normal USB cable.

Compatibility includes the X-T2, X-T3, X-T4, X-Pro2, X-Pro3, X-H1, GFX100, GFX 50R, and GFX 50S. Get that medium format setup going right and your eyes will be in focus but not your ears. Download the software here.

This guy really did Mac users a favor.

For Macs, Cascable is a useful bit of Mac software that acts as a bridge to your camera for a variety of purposes, and the author just added webcam capability. It has wide compatibility for both wired and wireless connections, and provides broader functionality than Fuji’s own software, but it isn’t free. But the current $30 price is probably less than you’d pay if you opted for a nice webcam instead.

If you’re confident fiddling around in command lines, this tutorial tells you how to get a Fuji camera working on Macs with a bit of fiddling around and some other third party software.

Panasonic: Lumix Tether

That’s it. That’s the image they provided.

Panasonic just made the webcam-capable version of their Lumix Tether Windows app available, and you can tell from the paucity of the documentation that it’s a pretty barebones solution. The price is right, though. It works with the GH5, G9, GH5S, S1, S1R, and S1H. The company also posted a helpful start-to-finish tutorial on how to get going with streaming software like OBS here:

Cascable works well with a variety of Panasonic cameras, far more than the official app, even some superzooms that could be really fun to play with in this context.

Sony

There’s no official software to turn your Sony cameras into webcams, so we have to jump straight into third party options. For Windows users, Ecamm Live is probably your best bet, but it has limited Sony compatibility, only supporting the latest bodies. It’s $12 per month, but there’s a free trial if you want to give it a go first.

Cascable on Mac is again your best bet there, with support reaching back several generations to cameras like the NEX series and RX100 III.

Olympus

It’s the same story for Olympus. On Windows, Ecamm Live has compatibility with the latest bodies — the E-M1 II, III, and X, and the E-M5 original and Mk II. No go on the PEN series, unfortunately.

On Mac, Cascable has wired support for many more Oly bodies, including Stylus cameras and the retro-style PEN F, which will probably resent being used for such a modern purpose.

Nikon

Surprisingly, while Nikon recently put up a rather helpful page on streaming using its cameras, it doesn’t produce any of the software itself, referring the reader to a variety of third-party programs.

As before, Cascable seems like the easiest way to get your Nikon working with a Mac, and Ecamm Live for Windows — though for Nikons, SparkoCam is also a frequently recommendation.

Warnings to the webcam-curious

These methods may be easy, but they’re not completely without issues.

One potential problem is heat. These cameras were designed primarily for capturing stills and short video clips. Running full time for extended periods can result in the camera getting too hot to function and shutting down. A camera shouldn’t damage itself seriously, but it’s something to be aware of. The best way to avoid this is using a dummy battery with a power adapter — these are pretty easy to find, and will mitigate overheating.

Audio also may not be as nice as the image. For people doing serious video work, an external mic is almost always used, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t do the same. Considering a solid mic can be had for under $50 and should provide a substantial upgrade to your device’s built-in one, there’s no reason not to take the plunge.

You may also want to check a few forums for the best settings to use for the camera, from making sure it doesn’t turn off after a few minutes to exposure choices. For instance, since you’re not doing stills, you don’t need to worry about sharpness, so you can shoot wide open. But then you’ll need to make sure autofocus is working quickly and accurately, or you’ll end up lost in the bokeh. Check around, try a few different setups, and go with what works best in your situation.

And when you’re ready to take the next step, consult our more thorough guide to setting the scene.

#apps, #cameras, #canon, #dslr, #dslrs, #fujifilm, #gadgets, #hardware, #media, #mirrorless, #nikon, #olympus, #panasonic, #photography, #sony, #streaming, #tc, #webcams

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Tesla partner Panasonic is shutting down its operations at Nevada gigafactory

Panasonic is pulling its 3,500 employees from the massive Nevada factory it operates with partner Tesla over concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

The company said Friday it will ramp down operations early next week and then close for 14 days. The move only affects Panasonic employees. Tesla also employs thousands of workers at the so-called Gigafactory 1 in Sparks, Nevada.

Tesla could not be reached for comment.

Gigafactory 1, which broke ground in June 2014, is a critical ingredient in Tesla’s goal to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy by expanding global battery capacity and reducing the cost of electric vehicles. And Panasonic has been its most important partner as a supplier and partner in that project.

The factory produces Model 3 electric motors and battery packs, in addition to Tesla’s energy storage products, Powerwall and Powerpack. Panasonic makes the cells, which Tesla then uses to make battery packs for its electric vehicles.

Here is the statement from Panasonic spokesperson Alberto Canal

Panasonic is committed to safeguarding the health and well-being of every employee. The Panasonic factory in Sparks, Nevada will begin ramping down operations early next week and will then close for 14 days. Employees impacted by the closure will receive full pay and benefits for the 14-day period. In the meantime, Panasonic has enacted several measures to enhance the cleanliness of the facility, encourage social distancing, and enable simple, safe and effective behaviors. During the 14-day period, the facility will undergo intensive cleaning.

Without Panasonic, Tesla could face a bottleneck in the supply chain. Tesla has agreed to suspend production beginning March 23 at its Fremont, Calif., factory, where it assembles the Model X, Model S, Model 3 and now the Model Y.

#automotive, #companies, #gigafactory, #home-appliances, #industries, #nevada, #panasonic, #spokesperson, #tc, #tesla

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Tesla is eyeing Nashville for Cybertruck gigafactory

Tesla is in talks with Nashville officials to locate a factory there that will produce its all-electric Cybertruck and Model Y crossover, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Tuesday evening that the company is “scouting” locations to build a new U.S. gigafactory that will produce the Cybertruck and Model Y crossover.

“Scouting locations for Cybertruck Gigafactory. Will be central USA,” Musk tweeted Tuesday. He added that the factory would be used to produce Model Y crossovers for the East Coast market. The first Model Y vehicles are being produced at its plant in Fremont, Calif.

Musk didn’t provide further information in the tweets. However, a source with knowledge of the talks said Nashville is on a short list of contenders.

Tennessee is already shaping up to be a hub of electric vehicle production. Volkswagen is spending $800 million to expand its U.S. factory in Chattanooga, Tenn. and turn it into the company’s North American base for manufacturing electric vehicles. Electric vehicle production at the Tennessee site will begin in 2022, VW said at the time. Meanwhile, Nissan has been producing the Nissan Leaf in Smyrna since 2013.

Tesla assembles its Model S, Model X and Model 3 vehicles in Fremont, Calif. at a factory that was once home to GM and Toyota’s New United Motor Manufacturing Inc (NUMMI) operation. Tesla acquired the factory in 2010. The first Model S was produced at the factory in June 2012.

Tesla turned its efforts to battery production and in June 2014 broke ground on its first “gigafactory” on land near Reno, Nevada. The massive structure, which has surpassed. 1.9 million square feet, is where Tesla produces battery packs and electric motors for its Model 3 vehicles. The company has a joint venture with Panasonic, which is making the lithium-ion cells.

Tesla also has a “gigafactory 2” in Buffalo, New York where it’s producing solar cells and modules.

In 2018, Tesla struck a deal with the Chinese government to build a factory in Shanghai, a milestone for Musk, who has long viewed China as a crucial market. The China factory started producing the Model 3 late last year. The first deliveries began in early January.

Tesla is now clearing land for another factory near Berlin. Once complete, this German factory will produce the Model 3 and Model Y for the European market.

The story has been updated to reflect new information about the possible location of the factory. 

#automotive, #berlin, #buffalo, #california, #cars, #ceo, #china, #east-coast, #elon-musk, #fremont, #germany, #gigafactory, #model-s, #nevada, #new-york, #panasonic, #reno, #shanghai, #tc, #tesla, #tesla-model-s, #united-states

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