Cruise is buying solar energy from California farmers to power its electric, self-driving fleet

Cruise, the self-driving car company under General Motors, has launched a new initiative called Farm to Fleet that will allow the company to source solar power from farms in California’s Central Valley. The San Francisco Chronicle was the first to report the news that 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.

Cruise recently secured a permit to shuttle passengers in its test vehicles in San Francisco without a human safety operator behind the wheel. The company is also ramping up its march to commercialization with a recent $5 billion line of credit from GM Financial to pay for hundreds of electric and autonomous Origin vehicles. While this partnership with California farmers is undoubtedly a boon to the state’s work in progressing renewable energies while also providing jobs and financial opportunities to local businesses, Cruise isn’t running a charity here.

The California Independent System Operator has been soliciting power producers across western United States to sell more megawatts to the state this summer in anticipation of heat waves that will boost electricity demand and potentially cause blackouts. Power supplies are lower than expected already due to droughts, outages and delays in bringing new energy generation sources to the grid, causing reduced hydroelectric generation. To ensure California’s grid can handle the massive increase in fleet size Cruise is planning, it seems that the company has no choice but to find creative ways to bolster the grid. Cruise, however, is holding firm that it’s got loftier goals than securing the energy from whatever sources available.

“This is entirely about us doing the right thing for our cities and communities and fundamentally transforming transportation for the better,” Ray Wert, a Cruise spokesperson, told TechCrunch.

With droughts continuing to plague California farmers, converting farmland to solar farms is a potential way to help the state meet its climate change targets, according to a report from environmental nonprofit Nature Conservancy. Which is why Cruise saw the logic in approaching Central Valley farmers now.

“Farm to Fleet is a vehicle to rapidly reduce urban transportation emissions while generating new revenue for California’s farmers leading in renewable energy,” said Rob Grant, Cruise’s vice president of social affairs and global impact, in a blog post.

Cruise is paying negotiated contract rates with the farms through its clean energy partner, BTR Energy. The company isn’t disclosing costs, but says it’s paying no more or less than what it would pay for using other forms of renewable energy credits (RECs). RECs are produced when a renewable energy source generates one megawatt-hour of electricity and passes it on to the grid. According to Cruise, Sundale has installed 2 megawatts of solar capacity to power their 200,000 square footage of cold storage, and Moonlight has installed a combined 3.9 MW of solar arrays and two battery storage system for its sorting and storage facilities. So when Cruise buys credits from these farms, it’s able to say that a specific amount of its electricity use came from a renewable source. RECs are unique and tracked, so it’s clear where they came from, what kind of energy they used and where they went. Cruise did not share how many RECs it plans to purchase from the farms, but says it will be enough to power its San Francisco fleet.

“While the solar power still flows through the same grid, Cruise purchases and then ultimately ‘retires’ the renewable energy credits generated by the solar panels at the farms,” said Wert. “Through data that we submit to the California Air Resources Board quarterly, we retire a number of RECs equivalent to the amount of electricity we used to charge our vehicles.”

Wert says using fully renewable power is actually profitable for Cruise in California due to the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which is designed to decrease the carbon intensity of transportation fuels in the state and provide more low-carbon alternatives. Cruise owns and operates all of its own EV charging ports, so it’s able to generate credits based on the carbon intensity score of the electricity and amount of energy delivered. Cruise can then sell its credits to other companies seeking to reduce their footprints and comply with regulations. 

Aside from practicalities, Cruise is aiming to set a standard for the industry and create demand for renewable energy, thus incentivizing more people and businesses to create it. 

“Transportation is responsible for over 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is why we announced our Clean Mile Challenge in February, where we challenged the rest of the AV industry to report how many miles they’re driving on renewable energy every year,” said Wert. “We’re hoping that others follow our lead.”

#automotive, #autonomous-driving, #cruise, #general-motors, #self-driving, #solar-energy, #tc, #transportation

Self-driving Waymo trucks to haul loads between Houston and Fort Worth

Will Waymo's autonomous truck honk its horn for little kids on the freeway?

Enlarge / Will Waymo’s autonomous truck honk its horn for little kids on the freeway? (credit: Waymo)

On Thursday morning, Waymo announced that it is working with trucking company JB Hunt to autonomously haul cargo loads in Texas. Class 8 JB Hunt trucks equipped with the autonomous driving software and hardware system called Waymo Driver will operate on I-45 in Texas, taking cargo between Houston and Fort Worth.

However, the trucks will still carry humans—a trained truck driver and Waymo technicians—to supervise and take over if necessary.

Although Waymo is better known for the autonomous taxi service it operates in a suburb of Phoenix, the company started experimenting with adding its autonomous technology to freight haulers several years ago. And in 2018, it began testing those trucks in the Atlanta area. What makes today’s news more notable is the partnership with a major truck operator.

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#autonomous-driving, #cars, #class-8-truck, #freight, #jb-hunt, #self-driving, #truck-freight, #waymo

Why hasn’t Waymo expanded its driverless service? Here’s my theory

A Waymo-branded minivan prowls suburban streets.

Enlarge (credit: Sundry Photography / Getty Images)

Last October, Waymo did something remarkable: the company launched a fully driverless commercial taxi service called Waymo One. Customers in a 50-square-mile corner of suburban Phoenix can now use their smartphones to hail a Chrysler Pacifica minivan with no one in the driver’s seat.

And then… nothing. Seven months later, Waymo has neither expanded the footprint of the Phoenix service nor has it announced a timeline for launching in a second city.

It’s as if Steve Jobs had unveiled the iPhone, shipped a few thousand phones to an Apple Store in Phoenix, and then didn’t ship any more for months—and wouldn’t explain why.

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#cars, #cruise, #kyle-vogt, #self-driving, #waymo

EasyMile raises $66M for its autonomous people-and-goods shuttles

We may still be a long way off from Level 5, fully self-driving cars on the open road, but companies building autonomous vehicles and shuttles for specific uses within closed-campus deployments say they are on their way to commercial operations and are raising money to get there. In the latest development, a startup out of Toulouse, France, called EasyMile — which builds shuttles for transporting both people and goods — has closed a Series B of €55 million ($66 million).

The funding is being led by Searchlight Capital Partners — the investor that just earlier this week appointed former FCC chairman Ajit Pai as its newest partner — with McWin and NextStage AM also participating. Previous investors rail industry heavyweight Alstom, Bpifrance and auto giant Continental also participated. Searchlight is also an investor in Get Your Guide and Univision.

EasyMile claims to be the world leader in autonomous shuttles with 60% of the global market using its vehicles. It says that its vehicles have racked up 800,000 kilometers in over 300 locations in 30 countries. But as a mark of how small and nascent that market is today, EasyMile also says that it has just 180 vehicles deployed worldwide. (One big competitor, Navya, also happens to be based out of France, interestingly.)

EasyMile said it will use the funds to scale its business, by securing and building out commercial deployments in closed-campus environments. It will also continue to invest in its longer term strategy, to deploy its vehicles and technology in public transportation networks, although the company said believes its focus on more immediate use cases is what has helped it grow and attract new investment.

“We have stayed focused on what we can deliver in a reasonable timeframe and partnered with leaders in niche markets that are addressable now,” said EasyMile Founder and CEO Gilbert Gagnaire in a statement. “The participation of all of EasyMile’s earlier investors in the round is a strong vote of confidence in our expansion plan, and we are very happy to welcome Searchlight, McWin and NextStage and look forward to accelerating our growth thanks to their expertise.”

EasyMile is not disclosing its valuation, nor how much it has raised to date in what it described as an oversubscribed round. We are asking the company and will update this post as we learn more.

EasyMile’s vehicles include the EZ10 people shuttles and TractEasy, an autonomous “tractor” trailer system for moving goods, and its over the years inked deals with companies like TLD (which runs ground transport and support in air cargo) and is currently working with the Peugeot, Chrysler and Fiat group Stellantis to build an autonomous vehicle using EasyMile technology.

The company has also had some setbacks. Last year, the NHTSA barred EasyMile from running any services with passengers on board after the company had an accident. (It can still operate vehicles without passengers.) We have asked the company to update us on the latest developments on this front.

On that front, it will be interesting to see how and if its new investor will have an impact in terms of helping with regulatory issues.

“We are excited to be investing in EasyMile at this critical juncture in the firm’s trajectory,” said Ralf Ackermann, a partner at Searchlight Capital, in a statement. “Having observed its robust, quality-driven approach and industry-leading technology, we are confident that it is well positioned to scale commercially and are delighted to be part of the journey.”

The fundraising is interesting in that it is coming at a time when we’re seeing some reshuffling and in some cases retrenchment in the autonomous driving space. Just this week Lyft sold off its Level 5 division to Toyota’s Woven Planet for $550 million. EasyMile believes that its continuing focus on specific markets around shuttles in closed-loops has helped it stay the course and build more traction and profile in what is still an early market and bound to go through more changes, and hiccups.

“This injection of capital validates EasyMile’s strategy and will allow us to finalize our technical development and finance our scaleup strategy. We’ll bring the technology up to a level that can be industrialized and deliver a real commercial service,” said GM Benoit Perrin, in a statement.

#automotive, #autonomous-shuttles, #autononomous, #easymile, #europe, #france, #funding, #self-driving, #shuttle, #tc, #transportation

Oxbotica raises $13.8M from Ocado to build autonomous vehicle tech for the online grocer’s logistics network

Ocado, the UK online grocer that has been making strides reselling its technology to other grocery companies to help them build and run their own online ordering-and-delivery operations, is making an investment today into what it believes will be the next stage of development of that business: the company is taking a £10 million ($13.8 million) stake in Oxbotica, a UK startup that develops autonomous driving systems.

Ocado is treating this as a strategic investment to develop autonomous systems that will work across its operations, from vehicles within and around its packing warehouses through to the last-mile vehicles that deliver grocery orders to people’s homes. It says it expects the first products to come out of this deal — likely in closed environments like warehouses rather than open streets — to be online in two years.

“We are excited about the opportunity to work with Oxbotica to develop a wide range of autonomous solutions that truly have the potential to transform both our and our partners’ CFC [customer fulfillment centers] and service delivery operations, while also giving all end customers the widest range of options and flexibility,” said Alex Harvey, chief of advanced technology at Ocado, in a statement.

The investment is coming as an extension to Oxbotica’s Series B that it announced in January, bringing the total size of the round — which was led by bp ventures, the investing arm of oil and gas giant bp, and also included BGF, safety equipment maker Halma, pension fund HostPlus, IP Group, Tencent, Venture Science and funds advised by Doxa Partners — to over $60 million.

The timing of the news is very interesting. It comes just one day (less than 24 hours in fact) after Walmart in the US took a stake in Cruise, another autonomous tech company, as part of recent $2.75B monster round. Walmart owns one of Ocado’s big competitors in the UK, ASDA; and Ocado recently made its first forays into the US, by way of its deal to power Kroger’s delivery. So it seems that competition between these two is heating up on the food front.

More generally, there has been a huge surge in the world of online grocery order and delivery services in the last year, with earlier movers like online-only Ocado, Tesco in the U.K. (which owns both physical stores and online networks), and Instacart in the U.S. seeing record demand, but also a lot of competition from well-capitalized newer entrants bringing different approaches (next-hour delivery, smaller baskets, specific products).

In Ocado’s home patch of Europe, they include Oda (formerly Kolonial), Rohlik out of the Czech Republic (which in March bagged $230 million in funding); Everli out of Italy (formerly called Supermercato24, it raised $100 million); Picnic out of the Netherlands (which has yet to announce any recent funding but it feels like it’s only a matter of time given it too has publicly laid out international ambitions). Even Ocado has raised huge amounts of money to pursue its own international ambitions. And that’s before you consider the nearly dozens of next-hour, smaller bag grocery delivery plays.

A lot of these players will have had a big year last year, not least because of the pandemic. Now, the big question will be how that market will look in the future as peoples go back to “normal” life.

That may well tighten the competitive landscape, and could be one reason why companies like Ocado are putting more money into working on what might be the next generation of services, one more efficient and run purely (or at least mostly) on technology.

Logistics account for some 10% of the total cost of a grocery delivery operation. But that figure goes up when there is peak demand or anything that disrupts regularly scheduled services.

My guess is also that with all of the subsidised services that are flying about right now where you see free deliveries or discounts on groceries to encourage new business — a result of the market getting so competitive — those logistics have bled into being an even bigger cost. So it’s no surprise to see the biggest players in this space looking at ways that it might leverage advances in technology to cut those costs and speed up how those operations work.

In addition to this collaboration with Oxbotica, Ocado continues to seek further investments and/or partnerships as it grows and develops its autonomous vehicle capabilities.

Notably, Oxbotica and Ocado are not strangers. They started to work together on a delivery pilot back in 2017. You can see a video of how that delivery service looks here:

 

“This is an excellent opportunity for Oxbotica and Ocado to strengthen our partnership, sharing our vision for the future of autonomy,” said Paul Newman, co-founder and CTO of Oxbotica, in a statement. “By combining both companies’ cutting-edge knowledge and resources, we hope to bring our Universal Autonomy vision to life and continue to solve some of the world’s most complex autonomy challenges.”

But as with all self-driving technology — incredibly complex and full of regulatory and safety hurdles — we are still fairly far from full commercial systems that actually remove people from the equation completely.

“For both regulatory and complexity reasons, Ocado expects that the development of vehicles that operate in low-speed urban areas or in restricted access areas, such as inside its CFC buildings or within its CFC yards, may become a reality sooner than fully-autonomous deliveries to consumers’ homes,” Ocado notes in its statement on the deal. “However, all aspects of autonomous vehicle development will be within the scope of this collaboration. Ocado expects to see the first prototypes of some early use cases for autonomous vehicles within two years.”

More to come.

#artificial-intelligence, #ecommerce, #europe, #food, #grocery, #grocery-delivery, #ocado, #oxbotica, #self-driving, #tc, #transportation

Fender bender in Arizona illustrates Waymo’s commercialization challenge

A Waymo self-driving car in Silicon Valley in 2019.

Enlarge / A Waymo self-driving car in Silicon Valley in 2019. (credit: Sundry Photography / Getty)

A police report obtained by the Phoenix New Times this week reveals a minor Waymo-related crash that occurred last October but hadn’t been publicly reported until now. Here’s how the New Times describes the incident:

A white Waymo minivan was traveling westbound in the middle of three westbound lanes on Chandler Boulevard, in autonomous mode, when it unexpectedly braked for no reason. A Waymo backup driver behind the wheel at the time told Chandler police that “all of a sudden the vehicle began to stop and gave a code to the effect of ‘stop recommended’ and came to a sudden stop without warning.”

A red Chevrolet Silverado pickup behind the vehicle swerved to the right but clipped its back panel, causing minor damage. Nobody was hurt.

Overall, Waymo has a strong safety record. Waymo has racked up more than 20 million testing miles in Arizona, California, and other states. This is far more than any human being will drive in a lifetime. Waymo’s vehicles have been involved in a relatively small number of crashes. These crashes have been overwhelmingly minor with no fatalities and few if any serious injuries. Waymo says that a large majority of those crashes have been the fault of the other driver. So it’s very possible that Waymo’s self-driving software is significantly safer than a human driver.

At the same time, Waymo isn’t acting like a company with a multi-year head start on potentially world-changing technology. Three years ago, Waymo announced plans to buy “up to” 20,000 electric Jaguars and 62,000 Pacifica minivans for its self-driving fleet. The company hasn’t recently released numbers on its fleet size, but it’s safe to say that the company is nowhere near hitting those numbers. The service territory for the Waymo One taxi service in suburban Phoenix hasn’t expanded much since it launched two years ago.

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#cars, #self-driving, #waymo

TuSimple’s IPO filing reveals roadblocks for self-driving startups with Chinese ties

While the governments of the United States and China are pushing policies for technological decoupling, private tech firms continue to tap resources from both sides. In the field of autonomous vehicles, it’s common to see Chinese startups — or startups with a strong Chinese link — keep operations and seek investments in both countries.

But as these companies mature and expand globally, their ties to China also come under increasing scrutiny.

When TuSimple, a self-driving truck company headquartered in San Diego, filed for an initial public offering on Nasdaq this week, its prospectus flagged a regulatory risk due to its Chinese funding source.

On March 1, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) requested a written notice from TuSimple regarding an investment by Sun Dream, an affiliate of Sina Corporation, which runs China’s biggest microblogging platform Sina Weibo. Sun Dream is TuSimple’s largest shareholder with 20% Class A shares. Charles Chao and Bonnie Yi Zhang, respectively the CEO and CFO of Weibo, are both members of TuSimple’s board.

If the U.S. government concludes that Sun Dream’s investment poses a threat to the national security of the country, the investor may be told to divest from TuSimple, the filing notes.

Several China-based autonomous driving upstarts, including WeRide.ai, Pony.ai and AutoX, keep research labs in California and have secured regulatory permits to test in the U.S., but most don’t seem to have apparent commercial plans in the country.

TuSimple, on the other hand, is focused on the U.S. for now, with 50 of its Level 4 semi-trucks hauling in the U.S. and 20 operating in China.

“Their strong Chinese background could hobble their U.S.-focused strategy,” an executive from a Chinese autonomous vehicle startup told TechCrunch, asking not to be named.

TuSimple cannot comment because it’s in the pre-IPO quiet period.

This kind of roadblock is hardly new to China-related tech firms coveting the U.S. market (or its allies). In a more famous instance, CFIUS opened a national security probe into ByteDance’s $1 billion acquisition of Musical.ly, which was folded into TikTok. As of last December, the agency was “engaging with ByteDance” to complete a divestment, Reuters reported.

While self-driving ventures can divest to shed their Chinese association, it may be more complicated to achieve short-term supply chain independence in an industry with tight global ties, as an executive from Momenta pointed out.

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #autonomous-driving, #china, #self-driving, #tc, #transportation, #tusimple

Months after buying Uber self-driving project, Aurora signs Toyota deal

Months after buying Uber self-driving project, Aurora signs Toyota deal

Enlarge (credit: Aurora)

Autonomous driving startup Aurora announced on Tuesday that it has scored a partnership with Toyota to build self-driving taxis based on the Toyota Sienna minivan. Aurora says it’s aiming to have a fleet of Sienna prototypes ready for testing on public roads by the end of the year. Denso, a major Japanese auto parts manufacturer, will also contribute to the project.

It’s a significant win for Aurora, which has struggled to figure out its business model in a fast-changing industry. A couple of years ago, Aurora’s plan was to supply self-driving software and sensors to auto-making incumbents. The company had a partnership with Volkswagen that was supposed to lead to Aurora’s technology being incorporated into Volkswagen’s vehicles, with plans to launch a self-driving taxi service. But the two companies parted ways in 2019, calling Aurora’s strategy into question. Aurora did sign an investment deal with Hyundai around the same time, but they’ve said little about that relationship since then.

Later in 2019, Aurora pivoted to long-haul trucking as the first application for its self-driving technology. Some consider trucking to be an attractive market for a self-driving startup because freeways are a relatively simple environment for software to understand. Last month, Aurora announced a partnership with truck maker PACCAR to build self-driving semi trucks.

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#aurora, #cars, #self-driving, #toyota

Uber abandons dreams of self-driving domination, sells self-driving unit

A casually dressed man stands in front of a large automobile.

Enlarge / Aurora CEO Chris Urmson in front of an Aurora semi truck. (credit: Aurora)

Aurora, one of the nation’s leading self-driving startups, will become the new owner of Uber’s self-driving division, Aurora announced on Monday. In addition to turning over Uber’s self-driving division, known as the Uber Advanced Technology Group (ATG), Uber will also pump $400 million into Aurora.

In exchange, Uber will get a minority stake in Aurora and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will get a seat on Aurora’s board.

The deal allows Uber to unload a self-driving division that has struggled to regain its footing ever since an Uber ATG vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in March 2018. Uber shut down its on-road testing for several months after that incident, and the program has faced lingering public skepticism ever since. It’s not clear if the deal will lead to layoffs at Uber ATG.

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#aurora, #cars, #chris-urmson, #self-driving, #uber, #uber-atg

Ford outs 4th-gen self-driving platform with better sensors, cleaning tech, and improved batteries

Ford and Argo AI today released details about its fourth-generation self-driving test vehicle. Built on the 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid, the vehicle has everything needed to standup a self-driving service, the Detroit automaker said. It’s equipped with an improved battery system, new sensors, and sensor cleaning technology.

The previous three generations of test vehicles used the Ford Fusion sedan.

For this latest platform, Ford upgraded the LiDAR sensor suite with an all-new system that sports a higher resolution 128-beam array to provide a 360-degree view. Ford says this helps the test vehicle better detect fix and moving objects closer to the vehicle. Near-field cameras and short-range LiDAR look ahead and to the vehicle’s side while rear-facing sensors help with objects behind the SUV.

The Escape Hybrid’s platform better serves the self-driving technology with improved battery cooling. Ford says that modified high voltage batteries help supply the self-driving system while also reducing the gasoline consumed by the vehicle.

Ford is rolling out this new testbed to its testing cities of Austin, Detroit, Miami, Palo Alto, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C. And in each of these regions, the improved sensor cleaning technology should help the vehicle in its self-driving efforts.

Ford says it reworked the systems tasked with ensuring the sensors are free of dust, rain, snow, and ice. More spray nozzles shoot out liquid cleaning solutions at a higher pressure than previous models. The LiDAR sensors have a newly-developed hidden, forced-air cleaning system, too.

Ford said in 2018 it intended to spend $4 billion on autonomous vehicles by 2023, and recent developments make it clear Ford is pushing forward in this effort. In 2018 the automaker purchased the defunct Michigan Central Station and surrounding buildings in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. Since then, it has been making additional investments in the area as it retrofits the massive train station. Two months ago, it teamed with Bosch and Bedrock to announce an automated valet parking garage.

Despite’s today’s news, the company’s self-driving service is still a few years out. In April 2020, Ford said it was postponing its autonomous vehicle service until 2022, as the COVID-19 crisis caused a rethink of the strategy.

#ford, #self-driving, #tc

Ex-Google engineer Levandowski asks judge not to send him to prison

Anthony Levandowski exits federal court in San Jose, California, on August 27, 2019.

Enlarge / Anthony Levandowski exits federal court in San Jose, California, on August 27, 2019. (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The federal government on Tuesday asked a federal judge to sentence Anthony Levandowski to 27 months in prison for theft of trade secrets. In March, Levandowski pled guilty to stealing a single confidential document related to Google’s self-driving technology on his way out the door to his new startup. That startup was quickly acquired by Uber, triggering a titanic legal battle between the companies that was settled in 2018.

The government initially charged Levandowski with 33 counts of trade secret theft, with each count related to different confidential documents taken by Levandowski. Levandowski agreed to plead guilty to stealing one of the documents if the government dropped the other charges. It’s up to Judge William Alsup to decide the appropriate punishment for Levandowski’s single admitted act of trade secret theft.

While the government wants to put Levandowski behind bars for more than two years, Levandowski’s lawyers are asking the judge not to send Levandowski to jail at all. They argue that a year of home confinement, along with a fine, restitution, and community service, is an adequate punishment. They note that Levandowski has suffered two bouts of pneumonia in recent years, putting him at high risk if he were to catch COVID-19 while in prison.

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#anthony-levandowski, #google, #policy, #self-driving, #uber, #waymo

Amazon to acquire autonomous driving startup Zoox

Amazon has announced that it will acquire Zoox, a self-driving startup founded in 2014, which has raised nearly $1 billion in funding and which aims to develop autonomous driving technology, including vehicles, for the purposes of providing a full-stack solution for ride-hailing.

Zoox will continue to exist as a standalone business according to Amazon’s announcement, with current CEO Aicha Evans continuing in her role, as well as CTO and co-founder Jesse Levinson. Their overall company mission will also remain the same, the release notes. The Financial Time reports that the deal is worth $1.2 billion.

The Wall Street Journal had reported at the end of May that Amazon was looking at Zoox as a potential acquisition target, and that the deal had reached the advanced stages.

Zoox has chosen one of the most expensive possible paths in the autonomous driving industry, seeking to build a fit-for-purpose self-driving passenger vehicle from the ground up, along with the software and AI ended to provide its autonomous driving capabilities. Zoox has done some notable cost cutting in the past year, and it brought in CEO Evans in early 2019 from Intel, likely with an eye towards leveraging her experience to help the company move towards commercialization.

With a deep-pocketed parent like Amazon, Zoox should gain the runway it needs to keep up with its primary rival – Waymo, which originated as Google’s self-driving car project, and which counts Google owner Alphabet as its corporate owner.

Amazon has been working on its own autonomous vehicle technology projects, including its last-mile delivery robots, which are six-wheeled sidewalk-treading bots designed to carry small packages to customer homes. The company has also invested in autonomous driving startup Aurora, and it has tested self-driving trucks powered by self-driving freight startup Embark.

The Zoox acquisition is specifically aimed at helping the startup “bring their vision of autonomous ride-hailing to reality,” according to Amazon, so this doesn’t look to be immediately focused on Amazon’s logistics operations for package delivery. But Zoox’s ground-up technology, which includes developing zero-emission vehicles built specifically for autonomous use, could easily translate to that side of Amazon’s operations.

Meanwhile, if Zoox really does remain on course for passenger ride-hailing, that could open up a whole new market for Amazon – one which would put it head-to-head with Uber and Lyft once the autonomous driving technology matures.

#amazon, #artificial-intelligence, #autonomous-driving, #self-driving, #tc, #transportation, #zoox

People who know more about self-driving technology trust it more

People who know more about self-driving technology trust it more

Enlarge (credit: Natalya Burova/Getty Images)

Robotaxis have a real public image problem, according to new survey data collected by an industry group. Partners for Automated Vehicle Education surveyed 1,200 Americans earlier this year and found that 48 percent of Americans say they would “never get in a taxi or ride-share vehicle that was being driven autonomously.” And slightly more Americans—20 percent versus 18 percent—think autonomous vehicles will never be safe compared to those who say they’d put their names down on a waiting list to get a ride in an autonomous vehicle.

PAVE says its data doesn’t reflect skepticism or fear based on the killing of a pedestrian by one of Uber’s autonomous vehicles, nor the series of drivers killed while using Tesla’s Autopilot. In fact, those events don’t even register with much of the population. Fifty-one percent said they knew nothing at all about the death of Elaine Herzberg in Arizona, and a further 37 percent only knew a little about the Uber death. Similar numbers said they knew nothing at all (49 percent) or very little (38 percent) about Tesla Autopilot deaths. But those who reported knowing a lot about the deaths were more likely to tell the survey they thought autonomous vehicles were safe now.

According to the survey data, getting a ride in a robotaxi might change some of those minds. Three in five said that they’d have more trust in autonomous vehicles if they had a better understanding of how those vehicles worked, and 58 percent said that firsthand experience—i.e. going for a ride in a self-driving car—would make them trust the technology more.

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#adas, #autonomous-vehicles, #cars, #driver-assist, #pave, #self-driving

Delivery robots move medical supplies to help with COVID-19 response

Delivery robots move medical supplies to help with COVID-19 response

Enlarge (credit: Nuro)

Nuro, one of the nation’s best-funded self-driving vehicle startups, has begun using its robots to ferry food and medical supplies around a California stadium that has been converted into a coronavirus treatment facility, CEO Dave Ferguson announced on Wednesday.

“We realized that we could potentially use our R2 unmanned vehicles to provide truly contactless delivery of goods, where we remove any possible interaction between a driver dropping off goods and a person picking them up,” Ferguson wrote. Contactless delivery could reduce the spread of COVID-19.

In a Tuesday phone interview, Nuro policy chief David Estrada told Ars that the robots are ferrying food, supplies, and medical equipment from the parking lot of Sleep Train Arena, home of the Sacramento Kings, into the stadium itself. Human workers at designated locations load the vehicles at one end of a trip and unload them at the other. The vehicles open and close their cargo doors automatically based on hand signals from the workers so they don’t have to touch the vehicle.

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#coronavirus, #nuro, #policy, #self-driving

Five, the self-driving startup, raises $41M and pivots into B2B, away from building its own fleet

We are still years away from a time when fully-autonomous cars will be able to drive us from A to B, and the complexity of getting to that point is likely going to need hundreds of billions of dollars of investment before it becomes a reality.

That hard truth is leading to some shifts in the self-driving startup landscape. In the latest move, England’s Five (formerly known as FiveAI), one of the more ambitious companies in the space in Europe, is moving away from its original plan, of designing its own fully self-driving cars, and then running fleets of them in its own transportation service. Instead, it now plans to license its technology — starting with software to help test and measure the accuracy of a vehicle’s driving systems — that it has created to others building autonomous cars as well as the wider service ecosystem that will exist around that. As part of that pivot, today it’s also announcing a fresh $41 million in funding.

“A year and a bit ago we thought we would probably build the entire thing and take it to market as a whole system,” said co-founder and CEO Stan Boland in an interview. “But we gradually realised just how deep and complex that would be. It was probably through 2019 that we realised that the right thing to do is to focus in on the key pieces.”

The funding, a Series B, includes backing from Trustbridge Partners, insurance giant Direct Line Group and Sistema VC, as well as previous investors Lakestar, Amadeus Capital Partners, Kindred Capital and Notion Capital. The company has now raised $77 million and while it’s not disclosing its valuation, Boland said that it was definitely up on its last round. (Its Series A, in 2017, was for $35 million, and it didn’t disclose valuation then, either.)

Five’s change in course is a significant development. The high-profile startup, founded by a team that had previously built and sold several chip companies to the likes of Broadcom, Nvidia and Huawei, had been the leading partner for a big government-backed pilot project, StreetWise, to test and work on autonomous driving systems across boroughs in London. The most recent phase of that project, running driver-assisted rides along a 19-km route across south London, got off the ground only last October after initially getting announced in 2018.

Five might continue to work on research projects like these, Boland said, but the primary business aim for the company will no longer be ultimately to build cars for themselves, but to work on tech that will be sold either to other carmakers, or those building services catering to the autonomous industry.

For example, Direct Line, one of Five’s new investors and also a participant in the StreetWise project, could use testing and measurement to determine risk and pricing for insurance packages for different vehicles.

Autonomous and assisted driving technology is going to play a huge role in the future of cars,” said Gus Park, MD of Motor Insurance at Direct Line Group, in a statement. “We have worked closely with Five on the StreetWise project, and we share a common interest in solving the formidable challenges that will need to be addressed in bringing safe self-driving to market. Insurers will need to build the capability to measure and underwrite new types of risk. We will be collaborating with Five’s world-class team of scientists, mathematicians and engineers to gain the insight needed to build safe, insurable solutions and bring the motoring revolution ever closer.” Park is also joining Five’s board with this round.

There were already a number of big players in the self-driving space when FiveAI launched — they included the likes of Waymo, Cruise, Uber, Argo AI and many more — and you could have argued that the writing was already on the wall then for long-term consolidation in the industry. Indeed, there have been some significant casualties in the meantime, including Drive.AI (which Apple acquired after it ran out of money), Oryx Vision and Quanergy.

Five’s argument for why a UK — and indeed, European — startup was in a good place to build and operate self-driving cars, and the tech underpinning it, was because of the complexity behind building localised systems: a big US or Asian company might be able to map the streets in Europe, but it wouldn’t have as good of a feel for how people behaved on those roads. Added to that, Five firmly believed the economics of building and operating these cars would prove to be too high for wide-scale private ownership. Hence, the strategy (one adopted by many in the autonomous space) of building the technology for fleets, where transportation businesses, not individuals, would own the cars and recoup their investments by charging private individuals for rides.

Yet while it may have been easy to see the potential, the process of getting to that point proved to be too challenging.

“What’s happened in the last couple of years is that there has been an appreciation across the industry of just how wide and deep the challenges are for bringing self driving to market,” Boland said. “Many pieces of the jigsaw have to be assembled…. The B2C model needs billions [of investment], but others are finding their niche as great providers of technology needed to deliver the systems properly.”

As a ballpark figure, Boland believes that to get to a self-driving, Level 5 reality, we’ll need to see “hundreds of billions” of dollars of investment. But so far, collectively, self-driving startups have raised a mere $15 billion, according to figures from Crunchbase — significant money, but nowhere near the amounts that will be needed, and one argument for why only a very few, backed by huge automotive giants, will ever make it.

As FiveAI (named after the “Level 5” that self-driving systems attain when they are truly autonomous), the company built (hacked) vehicles with dozens of sensors and through its tests managed to build a significant trove of vehicle technology.

“We could offer tech in a dozen different areas that are hard for autonomous driving companies,” Boland said. Its testing and measuring tools point to one of the toughest challenges among these: how to assure that the deep learning software a company is using is correctly identifying objects, people, weather, and other physical factors when it may have never seen them before.

“We have learned a lot about the types of errors that propagate from perception into planning… and now we can use that for providing absolute confidence” to those testing the systems, he said.

Self-driving cars are one of the biggest AI challenges of our time: not only is the requirement to essentially build from the ground up computer systems that behave as well as (or ideally better) than multitasking humans behind the wheel; but the consequence of doing that wrong is not just a strange string of words, or some other kind of non sequitur, but injury or death. No surprise that there appears still a very long way to go before we see anything like Level 5 systems in action, but in the meantime, investors are willing to continue placing their bets. Partly because of how advanced it got with its car project on relatively little funding, Five remains an interesting company to investors, and Boland hopes that this will help it with its next round down the road.

“We invest in category-leading companies that are delivering transformational change wherever they’re located,” said David Lin of Trustbridge Partners in a statement. “As Europe’s leading self-driving startup, Five is the furthest ahead in developing a clear understanding of the scientific challenges and novel solutions that move the needle for the whole industry. Five has successfully applied Europe’s outstanding science and engineering base to create a world-class team with the energy and ambition to deliver safe self-driving. We are delighted to join them for this next phase of growth.”

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