GM invests in radar software startup Oculii as demand for automated driving features rise

Oculii, a software startup that aims to improve the spatial resolution of radar sensors by up to 100-fold, has scored a new investment from General Motors. The new funding, which the two companies say is in the millions, comes just months after Oculii closed a $55 million Series B.

Oculii and GM have already been working together “for some time now,” CEO Steven Hong told TechCrunch in a recent interview. While he declined to specify exactly how GM plans to use Oculii’s software, it could be used to bolster the capabilities of the automaker’s hands-free advanced driver assistance system known as Super Cruise. Hong added that the company is also working with a few other OEMs, including one on the cap table.

“When a company like GM says, this is great technology and this is something that we potentially want to use down the line, it makes the entire supply chain take notice and effectively work more closely with you to adopt the solution, the technology, into what they’re selling to the OEMs,” he said.

The startup has no intention of building hardware. Instead, Oculii wants to license software to radar companies. The startup claims it can take low-cost, commercially available radar sensors – sensors that weren’t designed for autonomous driving, but rather for limited scenarios like emergency breaking or parking assist – and use its AI software to enable more autonomous maneuvering, Hong said.

“We really believe that the way to deliver something that’s scalable is through software, because software fundamentally improves with data,” he said. “Software fundamentally improves with better hardware in each generation that’s released. Software fundamentally over time gets cheaper and cheaper and cheaper, much faster than hardware, for example.”

The news is certainly bullish for radar, a sensor that is generally used for assistive capabilities because of its imaging limitations. But if Oculii can actually improve the performance of radar, which tend to be much cheaper than lidar, it could mean massive cost savings for automakers.

Tesla, the largest electric vehicle maker by sales volume in the world, recently nixed radar sensors from its advanced driver assistance system, in favor of a “pure vision” approach that uses cameras and a supercomputer-powered neural network. Hong said that the radar Tesla eliminated was very low resolution, and “wasn’t really adding anything to their existing pipeline.”

But he doesn’t think the company would always necessarily count out radar, should the technology improve. “Fundamentally, each of these sensors improves [the] safety case and gets you closer and closer to 99.99999% reliability. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing, is getting as many nines of reliability as you can.”

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #general-motors, #hardware, #lidar, #oculii, #radar, #recent-funding, #self-driving-cars, #startups, #transportation

Volkswagen and Argo AI reveal first ID Buzz test vehicle for autonomous driving

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, a standalone VW brand responsible for the development and sales of light commercial vehicles, and Argo AI, an autonomous driving technology company, unveiled the first version of the ID Buzz AD (Autonomous Driving) on Sunday.

The two companies shared plans to test and commercially scale the jointly developed, fully-electric self-driving van over the next four years at the VW night event ahead of the 2021 IAA Mobility Event in Munich. Testing of the prototype, one of the first five planned test vehicles, has already begun and will continue at Argo’s development center in Neufahrn, near Munich, as well as at Argo’s nine hectare closed course near the Munich airport, which tests for a variety of traffic situations unique to European driving conditions, and Argo’s test track in the United States.

“Building on our five years of development and learnings from our operations in large, complex U.S. cities, we are excited to soon begin testing on the streets of Munich in preparation for the launch of the self-driving commercial ridepooling service with MOIA,” said Bryan Salesky, founder and CEO of Argo AI, in a statement. 

In 2025, MOIA, a subsidiary of the VW Group that works with cities and local public transport providers on mobility solutions, will be commercially launching the ID Buzz in Hamburg as part of a self-driving ride-pool system. The ride-pool service is designed to leverage the power of autonomous systems to relieve inner-city congestion.

At the event, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, which has developed a separate businesses unit devoted to autonomous driving and acquired a stake in Argo AI, demonstrated how ride-pooling via a self-driving system can help with managing traffic flows.

“An environment recognition system from six lidar, eleven radar and fourteen cameras, distributed over the entire vehicle, can capture much more than any human driver can from his seat,” said Christian Senger, head of autonomous driving at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said at the event.

VW first revealed the ID Buzz as a concept vehicle back in 2017, a futuristic take on the classic microbus that invokes nostalgia as a family camper van. The final product looks a bit different than the iconic campers, now containing all of the bells and whistles of autonomy, such as Argo’s proprietary sensor Argo Lidar, which sits on top of the Buzz’s roof. According to Argo AI, its lidar can detect objects from a distance of more than 1,300 feet, or 400 meters. Four years ago, Argo acquired lidar company Princeton Lightwave, which has allowed the company to produce this new, highly accurate sensor with patented Geiger-mode technology that can detect a single photon, the smallest of light particles, so that it can capture, detect and precisely represent objects with low reflectivity like black vehicles.

Argo AI’s entire system consists of sensors and software that give the computer a 360 degree awareness of the vehicle’s environment, allowing it to “predict the actions of pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles, and direct the engine, braking and steering systems so that the vehicle moves safely and naturally, like an experienced driver,” according to a statement from VW.

This isn’t the first time Argo’s tech will be used to transport humans where they need to go. In July, Argo and Ford announced plans to launch at least 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network over the next five years in cities like Miami and Austin. In the same month, the California Public Utilities Commission issued Argo a Drivered AV pilot permit so it could start testing on public California roads. Argo AI recently also received a $7.5 billion valuation, nearly two years after the VW Group finalized its $2.6 billion investment in the company.

#argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-driving, #moia, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #transportation

Nvidia-ARM takeover raises serious antitrust concerns, finds UK’s CMA

The UK’s competition watchdog has raised serious concerns about Nvidia’s proposed takeover of chip designer, ARM.

Its assessment was published today by the government which will now need to decide whether to ask the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to carry out an in-depth probe into the proposed acquisition.

In the executive summary of the CMA’s report for the government the watchdog sets out concerns that if the deal were to go ahead the merged business would have the ability and incentive to harm the competitiveness of Nvidia’s rivals by restricting access to ARM’s IP which is used by companies that produce semiconductor chips and related products, in competition with Nvidia.

The CMA is worried that the loss of competition could stifle innovation across a number of markets — including data centres, gaming, the ‘internet of things’, and self-driving cars, with the resulting risk of more expensive or lower quality products for businesses and consumers.

A behavioral remedy offered by Nvidia was rejected by the CMA — which has recommended moving to an in-depth ‘Phase 2’ investigation of the proposed merger on competition grounds. 

Commenting in a statement, CEO Andrea Coscelli said: “We’re concerned that Nvidia controlling Arm could create real problems for NVIDIA’s rivals by limiting their access to key technologies, and ultimately stifling innovation across a number of important and growing markets. This could end up with consumers missing out on new products, or prices going up.

“The chip technology industry is worth billions and is vital to products that businesses and consumers rely on every day. This includes the critical data processing and datacentre technology that supports digital businesses across the economy, and the future development of artificial intelligence technologies that will be important to growth industries like robotics and self-driving cars.”

Nvidia has been contacted for comment.

In a statement on its website, the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport said the UK’s digital secretary is now “considering the relevant information contained in the full report” and will make a decision on whether to ask the CMA to conduct a ‘Phase Two’ investigation “in due course”.

“There is no set period in which this decision must be made, but it must take into account the need to make a decision as soon as reasonably practicable to reduce uncertainty,” it added. 

The proposed merger has faced considerable domestic opposition with opponents including one of the co-founders of ARM calling for it to be blocked.

#arm, #artificial-intelligence, #competition, #competition-and-markets-authority, #europe, #nvidia, #self-driving-cars, #united-kingdom

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Why fintechs are buying up legacy financial services companies

Image of a bank vault.

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

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

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

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

Growth tactics that will jump-start your customer base

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: ppengcreative / Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early-stage benchmarks for young cybersecurity companies

3D illustration of a conceptual maze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nuro EC-1

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

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

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

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

Those quiet days might be coming to an end soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning money into robots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuro-validation test

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

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

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

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

Mapping the territory

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

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

Kodiak Robotics’ founder says tight focus on autonomous trucks is working

Kodiak Robotics is one of the last private autonomous vehicles companies focused on trucking that is still standing. Nearly all the rest have been wooed by the public marketplace and the capital it can provide. But co-founder and CEO Don Burnette says the three-year-old company’s strategy of staying focused and small(er) is paying off.

It will be able to deploy a commercial-scale operation for about $500 million in funding, he says in the interview below. To put those go-to-market costs in perspective, that’s 10% of what Waymo has raised in external fundraising and less than 25% of newly publicly traded company TuSimple’s total fundraise.

Kodiak’s strategy is to take a specialized, hyperfocused approach to autonomous trucking that outsources a lot of tech, like data labeling, lidar, radar and mapping, to existing companies. Burnette, who was one of four founders of the self-driving truck startup Otto that Uber acquired, thinks this is a faster, cheaper and more efficient path to commercialization versus building out your own systems and teams.

The company is moving freight for commercial customers, dipping its toes in the market by working with technology partners within the existing ecosystem. Burnette says Kodiak’s Driver technology has achieved a level of maturity where it can handle anything the highway throws at it. In December, the startup achieved “disengagement-free deliveries” between Dallas and Houston, meaning the autonomous system didn’t have to be switched off for safety reasons.

The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity. 

You previously told me that Kodiak would need about $500 million in total funding to get to commercial driverless. You also said you’ve had some undisclosed funding rounds, but publicly, you’ve only raised $40 million. Can you still execute on your vision this far off?

Absolutely. We are always, as startups are, in fundraising mode. We’re always talking to investors. And there’s a lot of great things happening behind the scenes currently that we haven’t yet announced. We are growing, we’re hiring, if you can look to that as an indicator of the health of a company.

Our tech and our plan is really sound, and we are building up our commercialization efforts in a way that I think is going to be very exciting to the overall industry and to the market. We will need to raise more money, as you pointed out, that’s certainly no secret, but I think that we have multiple options to do that.

“Kodiak is one of the only remaining serious AV trucking companies still in the private sector, and so I think that gives us some advantages in a lot of ways.”

How do you intend to close that gap? Are you looking at venture capital, or maybe going for an IPO or SPAC?

We’re considering all of the above. It’s a constant conversation internally on what is the best path for Kodiak, what is the appetite of the various forms of investors and strategic relationships. Nothing is excluded.

The stock market is obviously very attractive and exciting. I think TuSimple has demonstrated that an IPO with the right set of metrics and the right set of momentum and partners is possible and can be successful. I think there’s also lots of opportunity within the VCs and the private markets. Kodiak is one of the only remaining serious AV trucking companies still in the private sector, and so I think that gives us some advantages in a lot of ways.

What’s your sense of the venture funding environment right now in autonomous? Is it harder now than it was, say, four years ago?

The appetite has changed. In particular, investors are more skeptical of timelines and promises. There is not this sense of Wild West excitement like there was four or five years ago, and that was the Golden Age of raising capital, certainly for earlier stage companies.

Kodiak was at the tail end of that age, and now the goalposts have changed, and the target investors have changed. It’s no longer the early-stage VCs that companies like Kodiak and others are talking to. It’s more of the growth-stage funds, and growth-stage funds look for different types of metrics. They look for commercial traction, product-market fit, users, efficiencies, etc.

#adas, #artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #av, #don-burnette, #electric-vehicles, #kodiak-robotics, #logistics, #self-driving-cars, #self-driving-truck, #tc, #transportation, #uber, #waymo

The rise of robotaxis in China

AutoX, Momenta and WeRide took the stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to discuss the state of robotaxi startups in China and their relationships with local governments in the country.

They also talked about overseas expansion — a common trajectory for China’s top autonomous vehicle startups — and shed light on the challenges and opportunities for foreign AV companies eyeing the massive Chinese market.


Enterprising governments

Worldwide, regulations play a great role in the development of autonomous vehicles. In China, policymaking for autonomous driving is driven from the bottom up rather than a top-down effort by the central government, observed executives from the three Chinese robotaxi startups.

Huan Sun, Europe general manager at Momenta, which is backed by the government of Suzhou, a city near Shanghai, said her company had a “very good experience” working with the municipal governments across multiple cities.

In China, each local government is incentivized to really act like entrepreneurs like us. They are very progressive in developing the local economy… What we feel is that autonomous driving technology can greatly improve and upgrade the [local governments’] economic structure. (Time stamp: 02:56)

Shenzhen, a special economic zone with considerable lawmaking autonomy, is just as progressive in propelling autonomous driving forward, said Jewel Li, chief operation officer at AutoX, which is based in the southern city.

#adas, #aptiv, #artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #av, #china, #early-stage-2021, #ec-mobility-hardware, #ec-techcrunch-mobility, #ev, #robotaxi, #saic, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #techcrunch-mobility-event-2021, #transportation, #waymo

ISEE brings autonomy to shipping yards with self-driving container trucks

Robotaxis may still be a few years out, but there are other industries that can be transformed by autonomous vehicles as they are today. MIT spin-off ISEE has identified one in the common shipping yard, where containers are sorted and stored — today by a dwindling supply of human drivers, but tomorrow perhaps by the company’s purpose-built robotic yard truck. With new funding and partnerships with major shippers, the company may be about to go big.

Shipping yards are the buffer zone of the logistics industry. When a container is unloaded from a ship full of them, it can’t exactly just sit there on the wharf where the crane dropped it. Maybe it’s time sensitive and has to trucked out right away; maybe it needs to go through customs and inspections and must stay in the facility for a week; maybe it’s refrigerated and needs power and air hookups.

Each of these situations will be handled by a professional driver, hooking the container up to a short-haul truck and driving it the hundred or thousand meters to its proper place, an empty slot with a power hookup, long term storage, ready access for inspection, etc. But like many jobs in logistics, this one is increasingly facing a labor shortage as fewer people sign up for it every year. The work, after all, is fairly repetitive, not particularly easy, and of course heavy equipment can be dangerous.

ISEE’s co-founders Yibiao Zhao and Debbie Yu said they identified the logistics industry as one that needs more automation, and these container yards especially. “Working with customers, it’s surprising how dated their yard operation is — it’s basically just people yelling,” said Zhao.  “There’s a big opportunity to bring this to the next level.”

Two ISEE trucks without containers on the back.

Image Credits: ISEE

The ISEE trucks are not fully custom vehicles but yard trucks of a familiar type, retrofitted with lidar, cameras, and other sensors to give them 360-degree awareness. Their job is to transport containers (unmodified, it is important to note) to and from locations in the yards, backing the 50-foot trailer into a parking spot with as little as a foot of space on either side.

“A customer adopts our solution just as if they’re hiring another driver,” Zhao said. No safe zone is required, no extra considerations need to be made at the yard. The ISEE trucks navigate the yard intelligently, driving around obstacles, slowing for passing workers, and making room for other trucks, whether autonomous or human. Unlike many industrial machines and vehicles, these bring the current state of autonomous driving to bear in order to stay safe and drive as safely as possible among mixed and unpredictable traffic.

The advantage of an automated system over a human driver is especially pronounced in this environment. One rather unusual limitation of yard truck drivers is that, because the driver’s seat is on the left side of the cabin, they can only park the trucks on the left as well since that’s the only side they can see well enough. ISEE trucks have no such limitation, of course, and can park easily in either direction, something that has apparently blown the human drivers’ minds.

Overhead view of autonomous and ordinary trucks moving around a shipping yard.

Image Credits: ISEE

Efficiency is also improved through the infallible machine mind. “There are hundreds, even thousands of containers in the yard. Humans spend a lot of time just going around the yard searching for assets, because they can’t remember what is where,” explained Zhao. But of course a computer never forgets, and so no gas is wasted circling the yard looking for either a container or a spot to put one.

Once it parks, another ISEE tech can make the necessary connections for electricity or air as well, a step that can be hazardous for human drivers in bad conditions.

The robotic platform also offers consistency. Human drivers aren’t so good when they’re trainees, taking a few years to get seasoned, noted Yu. “We’ve learned a lot about efficiency,” she said. “That’s basically what customers care about the most; the supply chain depends on throughput.”

To that end she said that moderating speed has been an interesting challenge — it’s easy for the vehicle to go faster, but it needs the awareness to be able to slow down when necessary, not just when there’s an obstacle, but when there are things like blind corners that must be navigated with care.

It is in fact a perfect training ground for developing autonomy, and that’s kind of the idea.

“Today’s robots work with very predefined rules in very constrained environments, but in the future autonomous cars will drive in open environments. We see this tech gap, how to enable robots or autonomous vehicles do deal with uncertainty,” said Zhao.

ISEE co-founders Yibiao Zhao (top), Debbie Yu (left), and Chris Baker.

ISEE Founders

“We needed a relatively unconstrained environment with complex human behaviors, and we found it’s actually a perfect marriage, the flexible autonomy we’re offering and the yard,” he continued. “It’s a private lot, there’s no regulation, all the vehicles stay in it, there are no kids or random people, no long tail like a public highway or busy street. But it’s not simple, it’s complex like most industrial environments — it’s congested, busy, there are pedestrians and trucks coming in and out.”

Although it’s an MIT spinout with a strong basis in papers and computer vision research, it’s not a theoretical business. ISEE is already working with two major shippers, Lazer Spot and Maersk, which account for hundreds of yards and some 10,000 trucks, many or most of which could potentially be automated by ISEE.

So far the company has progressed past the pilot stage and is working with Maersk to bring several vehicles into active service at a yard. The Maersk Growth Fund has also invested an undisclosed amount in ISEE, and one detects the possibility of an acquisition looming in the near future. But the plan for now is to simply expand and refine the technology and services and widen the lead between ISEE and any would-be competitors.

#artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #autonomous-trucks, #autonomous-vehicles, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hardware, #isee, #logistics, #recent-funding, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #self-driving-trucks, #shipping, #startups, #tc, #transportation

AI pioneer Raquel Urtasun launches self-driving technology startup with backing from Khosla, Uber and Aurora

One of the lingering mysteries from Uber’s sale of its Uber ATG self-driving unit to Aurora has been solved.

Raquel Urtasun, the AI pioneer who was the chief scientist at Uber ATG, has launched a new startup called Waabi that is taking what she describes as an “AI-first approach” to speed up the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles, starting with long-haul trucks. Urtasun, who is the sole founder and CEO, already has a long list of high-profile backers, including separate investments from Uber and Aurora. Waabi has raised $83.5 million in a Series A round led by Khosla Ventures with additional participation from Uber, 8VC, Radical Ventures, OMERS Ventures, BDC, Aurora Innovation as well as leading AI researchers Geoffrey Hinton, Fei-Fei Li, Pieter Abbeel, Sanja Fidler and others.

Urtasun described Waabi, which currently employs 40 people and operates in Toronto and California, as the culmination of her life’s work to bring commercially viable self-driving technology to society. The name of the company —  Waabi means “she has vision” in Ojibwe and “simple” in Japanese —  hints at her approach and ambitions.

Autonomous vehicle startups that exist today use a combination of artificial intelligence algorithms and sensors to handle the tasks of driving that humans do such as detecting and understanding objects and making decisions based on that information to safely navigate a lonely road or a crowded highway. Beyond those basics are a variety of approaches, including within AI.

Most self-driving vehicle developers use a traditional form of AI. However, the traditional approach limits the power of AI, Urtasun said, adding that developers must manually tune the software stack, a complex and time-consuming task. The upshot, Urtasun says: Autonomous vehicle development has slowed and the limited commercial deployments that do exist operate in small and simple operational domains because scaling is so costly and technically challenging.

“Working in this field for so many years and, in particular, the industry for the past four years, it became more and more clear along the way that there is a need for a new approach that is different from the traditional approach that most companies are taking today,” said Urtasun, who is also a professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto and a co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI.

Some developers do use deep neural nets, a sophisticated form of artificial intelligence algorithms that allows a computer to learn by using a series of connected networks to identify patterns in data. However, developers typically wall off the deep nets to handle a specific problem and use a machine learning and rules-based algorithms to tie into the broader system.

Deep nets have their own set of problems. A long-standing argument is that they can’t be used with any reliability in autonomous vehicles in part because of the “black box” effect, in which the how and the why the AI solved a particular task is not clear. That is a problem for any self-driving startup that wants to be able verify and validate its system. It is also difficult to incorporate any prior knowledge about the task that the developer is trying to solve, like, oh, driving for instance. Finally, deep nets require an immense amount of data to learn.

Urtasun says she solved these lingering problems around deep nets by combining them with probabilistic inference and complex optimization, which she describes as a family of algorithms. When combined, the developer can trace back the decision process of the AI system and incorporate prior knowledge so they don’t have to teach the AI system everything from scratch. The final piece is a closed loop simulator that will allow the Waabi team to test at scale common driving scenarios and safety-critical edge cases.

Waabi will still have a physical fleet of vehicles to test on public roads. However, the simulator will allow the company to rely less on this form of testing. “We can even prepare for new geographies before we drive there,” Urtasun said. “That’s a huge benefit in terms of the scaling curve.”

Urtasun’s vision and intent isn’t to take this approach and disrupt the ecosystem of OEMs, hardware and compute suppliers, but to be a player within it. That might explain the backing of Aurora, a startup that is developing its own self-driving stack that it hopes to first deploy in logistics such as long-haul trucking.

“This was the moment to really do something different,” Urtasun said. “The field is in need of a diverse set of approaches to solve this and it became very clear that this was the way to go.”

#aurora-innovation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #khosla-ventures, #raquel-urtasun, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #transportation, #uber, #uber-atg, #venture-capital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#alexandr-wang, #amazon, #api, #articles, #aurora, #automation, #autotech-ventures, #autox, #av, #ben-schippers, #ceo, #china, #chris-urmson, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #coo, #facebook, #fitbit, #founder, #happyfuncorp, #hyundai, #jesse-levinson, #jewel-li, #joby, #joby-aviation, #joeben-bevirt, #karl-iagnemma, #linkedin, #major, #mate-rimac, #momenta, #motional, #pam-fletcher, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #rimac-automobili, #rivian, #robotaxi, #robotics, #scale-ai, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #startup-company, #tc, #technology, #tesla, #tezlab, #urban-innovation-fund, #volvo, #weride, #zoox

Aurora brings in outsiders to boost safety efforts, public trust of driverless vehicles

Aurora, the autonomous vehicle company that acquired Uber ATG last year, has assembled a team of outside experts, shared new details about its operations in a self-assessment safety report and launched a website as part of a broader effort to win over consumers wary of the technology that they may someday share the road with, or even use.

Aurora said Thursday it has tapped experts in aviation safety, insurance, medicine and automotive safety — all people from outside of the niche AV industry — to provide an outside perspective on the company’s overall approach to safety, to look for gaps in its system and advise on the best ways to share its progress and record with regulators and the public. The advisory group is designed to augment Aurora’s existing safety efforts, which includes on-road testing and development.

“I think for a while we’ve almost done the ‘Field of Dreams’ analysis where it’s like, ‘well if we build it they will come, just look at iPhones,’” Nat Beuse, Aurora’s head of safety said in a recent interview with TechCrunch. “We are always comparing it to these other consumer products, and I’m not so sure that is actually how we win over the hearts and minds of consumers in every single community in the United States.”

Beuse, who previously led the safety team at Uber ATG and once oversaw automated-vehicle developments at the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the goal is for driverless vehicles — whether that’s robotaxis shuttling people or trucks hauling freight — to be adopted broadly. That can’t happen, he said, without being able to measure and show the public that the technology is safe. He noted that public trust is one of the two biggest threats he sees to the AV industry.

“If all we worry about is a small number of people who get exposed to [AVs] we will never see the benefits of this technology and the broad scale, sweeping changes and the impact that it can have on our lives in a beneficial way,” he said. “We have to do a lot more there [gaining public trust]. Beuse added that gaining public trust should be done in concert with the government.

“I think for too long it’s been, ‘You, industry, you solve it. You’re building this stuff,’” he said. “And I really think it’s a partnership. Of course, we’re building the tech, we have a huge responsibility, but also the government has a huge, huge role to play and helping us kind of get the public on board.”

The members of the safety advisory board include Intelligent Transportation Society of America President and CEO Shailen Bhatt, Dave Carbaugh, the former chief pilot for flight-operations safety at Boeing and Victoria Chibuogu Nneji, the lead engineer and innovation strategist at Edge Case Research. Other members include Biologue President Jeff Runge, who is also a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Adrian Lund, managing member of HITCH42, LLC and former president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and GHS Aviation Group CEO George Snyder.

The committee, which has already been meeting, is comprised of people who “don’t live and breathe the tech,” Beuse said.

Most importantly, for Aurora and the rest of the industry, is addressing the looming question of ‘how safe is safe enough?’ when it comes to driverless vehicles. One metric that has been adopted, and increasingly criticized, is comparing vehicle miles traveled and vehicle miles per “disengagement,” an industry jargon term that means a human safety operator has taken over from the computer driving the vehicle.

“We’ve been pretty adamant that that’s not a real metric because you can drive around in a parking lot and generate some interactions and that’s a whole lot different than if you’re driving in a city — and oh by the way, that’s a whole lot different if you’re driving on the highway,” Beuse explained.

Aurora is part of the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium (AVSC), which includes Daimler, Ford, GM, Honda, Lyft, Motional, SAE and Toyota, that is working to come up with better safety metrics. The new Aurora safety advisory board isn’t working directly on the AVSC project, however it is providing general guidance that could help in this effort.

While there is still more work to be done to validate these new metrics, the group does have a handful that it thinks are pretty promising, Beuse said.

#aurora, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #driverless-vehicles, #mobility, #self-driving-cars, #self-driving-trucks, #tc

See what’s new from Wejo, CMC, iMerit, Plus, oVice, & Michigan at TechCrunch’s mobility event

We’re in the final run-up to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 on October 9, and the great stuff just keeps on coming. We’ve stacked the one-day agenda with plenty of programming to keep you engaged, informed and on track to build a stronger business. You’ll always find amazing speakers — some of the most innovative minds out there — on the main stage and in breakout sessions.

Dramatic pause for a pro tip: Don’t have a pass yet? Buy one here now for $125, before prices go up at the door.

“I enjoyed the big marquee speakers from companies like Uber, but it was the individual presentations where you really started to get into the meat of the conversation and see how these mobile partnerships come to life.” — Karin Maake, senior director of communications at FlashParking.

We have another exciting bit of news. We’re hosting pitch session for early-stage startup founders who exhibit in the expo at TC Sessions: Mobility. Each startup gets five minutes to pitch to attendees in a breakout session. Remember, this conference has a global reach — talk about visibility! Want to pitch? Buy an Early Stage Startup Exhibitor Package as we only have 2 packages left.

Alrighty then…let’s look at some of the breakout & main stage sessions waiting for you at TC Sessions: Mobility 20201.

Innovating Future Mobility for Global Scale

Wednesday, October 9, 10:00 am -10:50 am PDT

Learn how the CMC’s model of bringing their Clients’ new technologies to market is new and innovative, going beyond a typical demonstration or pilot program, to the point of product launch and sustaining market viability. Hear from an expert panel about how the CMC’s programming is unique, innovative, and game-changing.

  • Neal Best, Director of Client Services, California Mobility Center (CMC)
  • Bill Brandt, Business Development Advisor, Zeus Electric Chassis
  • Mark Rawson, Chief Operating Officer, California Mobility Center (CMC)
  • Scott Ungerer, Founder and Managing Director, EnerTech Capital

Public-Private Partnerships: Advancing the Future of Mobility and Electrification

Wednesday, October 9, 10:45 am -11:05 am PDT

The future of mobility starts with the next generation of transportation solutions. Attendees will hear from some of the most innovative names on opportunities that await when public and private entities team up to revolutionize the way we think about technology. Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer, will be joined by Nina Grooms Lee, Chief Product Officer of May Mobility.

  • Nina Grooms Lee, Chief Product Officer, May Mobility
  • Trevor Pawl, Chief Mobility Officer, State of Michigan

How Edge Cases and Data Will Enable Autonomous Transportation in Cities Across the U.S.

Delivering Supervised Autonomous Trucks Globally

Wednesday, October 9, 12:40pm – 1:00pm PDT

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

  • Shawn Kerrigan, COO and Co-Founder, Plus

How Edge Cases and Data Will Enable Autonomous Transportation in Cities Across the U.S.

Wednesday, October 9, 11:00 am – 11:50am

Data will play a vital role in solving the critical edge cases required to gain city approval and deploy autonomous transportation at scale. Pilot projects are underway across the U.S. and cities such as Las Vegas are leading the way for progressive policies, testing and adoption. But, how do these projects involving a limited number of vehicles gain city approval, expand to larger geographic areas, include more use cases and service more people? Join our expert panel discussion as we examine the progress, challenges and road ahead in harnessing data to enable multiple modes of autonomous transportation in major cities across the U.S.

  • Chris Barker, Founder & CEO, CBC
  • Radha Basu, Founder & CEO, iMerit
  • Michael Sherwood, CIO, City of Las Vegas

Making Mobility Data Accessible to Governmental Agencies to Meet New Transportation Demands

Wednesday, October 9, 1:45pm – 2:05pm

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

  • Brett Scott, VP of Partnerships

Will Remote Work Push Japan’s Rural Mobility Forward?

Wednesday, October 9, 1:45pm – 2:05pm

With remote work becoming the new normal and the mass movement from the city to the Japanese countryside, the trend of private car ownership is growing day by day. During this session, we’ll be hearing from Sae Hyung Jung, serial entrepreneur, founder and CEO of oVice. oVice is an agile communication tool that facilitates hybrid remote and virtual meetups. Most notably, a hope that can trigger a sudden expansion in the Japanese mobility and vehicle infrastructure.

  • Sae Hyung Jung, Founder & CEO, oVice

#automation, #california, #car-ownership, #ceo, #chief, #chief-operating-officer, #driver, #flashparking, #may-mobility, #michigan, #mobility, #nina-grooms-lee, #officer, #plus, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #self-driving-truck, #tc, #technology, #transport, #uber, #vp

JD.com, Meituan and Neolix to test autonomous deliveries on Beijing public roads

People in a Beijing suburb will begin to see autonomous delivery mini-vans across their neighborhood, moving cautiously alongside human delivery riders belting down the streets.

Beijing has greenlighted JD.com, Meituan, and Neolix to trial self-driving delivery vehicles on designated public roads in the Yizhuang Development Area, an economic and technological growth pilot initiated by the municipal government of the capital city, according to an announcement made by local authorities at a mobility conference on Tuesday. Yizhuang has aggressively rolled out 5G coverage in part to prepare the infrastructure for autonomous driving ventures.

All three companies are using dainty box-on-wheels vehicles similar to those of Nuro to shuffle goods around. Three-year-old Neolix, backed by Chinese electric vehicle startup Li Auto, focuses on making self-driving vehicles for retail, surveillance and other city services, while both JD.com and Meituan are tech heavyweights that find unmanned delivery increasingly important to their existing core business.

Meituan’s self-driving delivery vehicle / Photo: Meituan via WeChat

Online retailer JD.com hires its own in-house delivery staff while Meituan relies on a national network of riders to bring restaurant takeout to customers. Both have been working on autonomous driving technologies internally in recent years and are also testing small fleets of delivery drones in China.

Neolix will place 150 delivery robots on Beijing roads by June. JD.com declined to disclose its deployment number. Meituan can’t be immediately reached for comment.

At the Tuesday event, authorities from the Beijing pilot zone also laid out rules for operating zero-occupant delivery vehicles in the area. The robots are categorized as “non-motor vehicles,” which suggests they will be moving next to bicycles and electric scooters instead of faster-moving cars. Road conditions in Chinese cities are often much more complicated than in the United States, even on sidewalks and bike lanes thanks to unpredictable pedestrians, unleashed pets, and reckless scooter riders.

Importantly, the rules also stipulate that the robots need to have safety drivers “on the spot and remotely.”

Neolix’s delivery robot / Photo: Neolix via WeChat

JD.com says its technology allows every remote safety driver to monitor up to 50 operating delivery robots simultaneously. Its vehicles will carry packages from logistics centers and supermarkets to nearby office buildings, residential complexes and school campuses. Customers will then fetch their order directly from the van using a pick-up code sent to them through a text message ahead of time.

Neolix’s vehicles in the pilot area, in comparison, act more like mobile vending machines peddling snacks and lunchboxes to workers around office complexes. Users can place their order on a little screen attached to the robot, pay by a QR code and get their warm bento or ice cream instantaneously.

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automation, #beijing, #china, #electric-vehicles, #jd-com, #li-auto, #meituan, #nuro, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #take-out, #tc, #transportation

Stripe acquires Bouncer, will integrate its card authentication into the Radar fraud detection tool

On the heels of a $600 million fundraise earlier this year, payments giant Stripe has been on an acquisition march to continue building out its business. In the latest development, the company has acquired Bouncer, a startup based in Oakland that has built a platform to automatically run card authentications and detect fraud in card-based online transactions. Its technology is tailored for mobile transactions and includes a flow to help users authenticate themselves if they are mistakenly flagged, to come back into an app legitimately (hence the name).

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but Stripe is acquiring both Bouncer’s technology and the team, which will be integrated into Stripe Radar. Started in 2018, Radar is Stripe’s AI-based anti-fraud technology toolset, and most of the tech — which is focused around preventing fraudulent transactions on the Stripe platform — has been built in-house up to now. Stripe says that Radar already prevents “hundreds of millions of dollars of fraud for businesses” each year.

“Bouncer is a great tool for modern internet businesses. It allows them to quickly identify stolen cards, while also ensuring legitimate customers can transact without being blocked,” said Simon Arscott, business lead for Stripe Radar, in a statement. “We’re thrilled to welcome the Bouncer team, and their years of experience building payment authentication software for businesses, to Stripe and to enable their technology for Radar users. With the addition of advanced card scanning capabilities, Stripe Radar will be able block more fraud and further increase revenue for millions of businesses around the world who rely on Stripe.”

The deal comes a couple of weeks after Stripe announced the acquisition of TaxJar to bring cloud-based sales tax calculating tools into its payments platform.

Like Stripe itself, Bouncer was incubated at Y Combinator, in its case as part of its Summer 2019 cohort. In addition to YC, it had raised funding from Commerce Ventures and the Pioneer Fund, but had never disclosed how much it had raised in total.

Not to be confused with the Polish marketing technology startup Bouncer, which provides bulk email verification, Oakland Bouncer was co-founded by Will Megson (CEO) and Sam King (chief scientist), who between them have an interesting pedigree when it comes to identity verification, from academia to working at fast-scaling companies in categories that have been some of the biggest adopters of verification technology.

Both previously worked for years at on-demand transportation service Lyft in fraud, identity and payment management. Before that, Megson was at Groupon; and King, in addition to holding a position as an associate professor of computer science at UC Davis, worked at Twitter on account security, founding the fake accounts team.

Groupon is among the customers that Bouncer currently works with, alongside OfferUp, ibotta and Dealerware. Bouncer will keep its current service and customers up post-deal.

Radar is currently sold in a number of tiers ranging from free to 6p per screened transaction, depending on how it is being used (there is a more basic machine learning tier, and an enhanced tier for fraud teams, and the price varies also depending on whether customers are using Stripe’s standard pricing fees or something else). Stripe also offers a chargeback protection service priced at 0.4% per transaction, as well as analytics tools for Radar customers to get an overview of what is going on.

Stripe says that Radar has blocked more than $1 billion in fraudulent transactions since it was launched.

Bouncer is also currently priced at different tiers, ranging from free to $.15/scan for its basic solution, or a custom price for its more tailored services.

Integrating Bouncer’s card scanning and risk technology into the Radar stack will both sweeten the deal for people to buy those services from Stripe, but also make the tools more effective.

As Stripe describes it, when Radar flags a transaction, Bouncer’s card screening and verification technology will kick in as a “dynamic intervention” to confirm whether or not a customer had a legitimate card at the time of the transaction. This is done to help reduce false positives, which are more frequent in high risk transactions (such as those for big-ticket items, or if a person has been making several transactions in quick succession, or other payment activity that just comes up as unusual in systems).

We’ve been in a wave of new authentication technology that includes things like biometrics and other innovations, but Bouncer takes an approach that is less high-tech at the point of ingestion — needing only a phone’s camera and the card that the customer is using. When a transaction is flagged up and sent to Bouncer for verification, Bouncer works by requesting a picture of the payment card (which can be based on any payment card type and can be a low-light picture).

It then runs that through its PCI- and GDPR-compliant system to see if it’s stolen or real. If it’s real, the transaction continues; stolen and the transaction is cancelled. The whole process can take less than a second (not including the time it takes you to take a picture, of course).

For Bouncer, the idea is that Stripe’s machine learning engine will in turn help Bouncer become more effective.

“I’m excited that we’ll be able to scale our advanced card-verification technology across the Stripe network to help businesses grow their revenue while further reducing fraud behind the scenes,” said Will Megson, CEO of Bouncer, in a statement. “The same signals that Radar learns from will make Bouncer more effective, and Bouncer will, in turn, make Radar more effective. We couldn’t be more excited to join the Radar team.”

Stripe has made a number of acquisitions over the years to bring in key pieces of technology, and in one case — when it acquired PayStack in Lagos (another YC alum) — to help Stripe enter and serve merchants in Africa and more emerging markets overall.

At least two of these have been made in aid of bringing on technologists and technology to build out its compliance and authentication tools. In 2016 Stripe quietly acquired Teapot, a Silicon Valley startup that had been working on APIs for identity verification, trust, credit and other tools needed in financial transactions. Its co-founders spent some years at the company before moving on to other things.

In 2019, Stripe acquired a startup out of Ireland called Touchtech to bring in technology to prepare for Strong Customer Authentication regulations in Europe.

The need for better, more sophisticated tools to ensure online transactions are legit is not going anywhere fast. Malicious hacking — and the consequences that has for obtaining personal data that can be used in consumer fraud — continues to be a persistent threat. And in the meantime, e-commerce continues to become an ever-more mainstream activity, widening the pool of consumers and the chances of things going wrong.

#bouncer, #ecommerce, #fraud, #fundings-exits, #ma, #payments, #security, #self-driving-cars, #stripe

China’s autonomous vehicle startups AutoX, Momenta and WeRide are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

As the autonomous vehicle industry in the United States marches towards consolidation, a funding spree continues to exhilarate China’s robotaxi industry. Momenta, Pony.ai, WeRide, and Didi’s autonomous vehicle arm have all raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the past year. 21-year-old search engine giant Baidu competes alongside the startups with a $1.5 billion fund launched in 2017 to help cars go driverless.

Their strategies are similar in some regards and diverge elsewhere. The biggest players have deployed small fleets of robotaxis, manned with safety drivers, onto certain urban roads and are diligently testing driverless vehicles inside pilot zones. Some companies embrace lidars to detect the cars’ surroundings while others agree with Elon Musk on a vision-only future.

The industry is still years from being truly driverless and operational at scale, so some contestants are seeking easier cases to tackle and monetize first, putting self-driving software inside buses, trucks and tractors that roam inside industrial parks.

Will investors continue to back the lofty dreams and skyrocketing valuations of China’s robotaxi leaders? And how is China’s autonomous driving race playing out differently from that in the U.S.?

We hope to find out at the upcoming TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, where we speak to three female leaders from Chinese autonomous vehicle startups that have an overseas footprint: Jewel Li from AutoX, which is backed by Chinese state-owned automakers Dongfeng Motor and SAIC Motor; Huan Sun from Momenta, which attracted Bosch, Daimler and Toyota in its $500 million round closed in March; and Jennifer Li from WeRide, of which valuation jumped to $3 billion after a financing round in May.

We can’t wait to hear from this panel! Among the growing list of speakers at this year’s event are GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Stay tuned for more announcements in these final weeks. Book your general admission pass for $125 today and join this year’s deep dive into the world of all things transportation at TC Sessions: Mobility.

#alexandr-wang, #articles, #automation, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #baidu, #bosch, #ceo, #china, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #daimler, #dongfeng-motor, #driverless, #frank-reig, #jesse-levinson, #joby, #joby-aviation, #joeben-bevirt, #linkedin, #momenta, #musk, #pam-fletcher, #pony, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #robotaxi, #robotics, #saic-motor, #scale-ai, #science-and-technology, #search-engine, #self-driving-cars, #starship-technologies, #tamika-l-butler, #tc, #technology, #tiffany-chu, #toyota, #united-states, #urban-innovation-fund, #zoox

China’s WeRide secures more funding, pushing valuation to $3.3 billion

Only four months after securing Series B fundraising of $310 million, Chinese autonomous driving company WeRide says it has achieved its Series C funding round that brings its post-money valuation to $3 billion.

This is first time the company has disclosed its value. The company did not share how much it has raised this round, only noting that it’s in the “hundreds of millions,” according to a statement released by the company. WeRide intends to use this funding round to invest in R&D and commercialization as it works towards the next-generation of Level 4 driving, a term that means a vehicle can drive without human intervention in some environments and conditions. The company is also using the funds to prepare to commercialize its technology.

WeRide has scored a slew of large investments over the past year, including its $200 million strategic round in December from Chinese bus maker Yutong. The speed and scale of these investments signals that the company is burning through money and hungry for more, and that investors are banking on China’s tech. Rival Momenta has also received large sums this year, exceeding its $1 billion in valuation with recent investments of $500 million and total funding of more than $700 million.

“WeRide Master Platform (WMP), our core autonomous driving technology solution has helped to accelerate the company’s development,” Tony Han, founder and CEO of WeRide, said in a statement. “This drives the successful operation of our Robotaxi service in Guangzhou since 2019 and the introduction of the WeRide driverless Mini Robobus, a completely new product category to the autonomous industry.”

WeRide’s robotaxi pilot in Guangzhou began in 2019, but it began conducting test drives in the city’s Central Business District in January. Not long after, the company’s driverless Mini Robobus began road testing in Guangzhou and Nanjing. WeRide became the first autonomous driving company in China to secure an official license for online car-hailing operations in February, and in April, the California DMV issued WeRide a permit to test its driverless vehicles on public roads in San Jose, California.

Many investors participated in this most recent round, including IDG Capital, Homeric Capital, CoStone Capital, Cypress Star, Sky9 Capital and K3 Ventures, as well as existing investors CMC Capital Partners, Qiming Venture Partners and Alpview Capital.

#autonomous-cars, #robotaxi, #self-driving-cars, #tc, #transportation, #weride

Lidar startup Innovusion closes $64M round led by Temasek

More investors are joining the wave to bet on lidar, the remote sensing method that uses laser light to measure distances and has garnered ample interest from automakers in recent times. But it’s also a technology that has long been scorned by Elon Musk partly due to its once exorbitant costs.

Innovusion, a five-year-old lidar company and a supplier to Chinese electric car upstart Nio, just landed a Series B funding round of $64 million. The new proceeds boost its total investment to over $100 million, not a small amount but the startup is in a race crowded with much bigger players that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, like Velodyne and Luminar.

Temasek, the Singaporean government’s sovereign wealth fund, led Innovusion’s latest financing round. Other investors included Bertelsmann Asia Investment Fund, Joy Capital, Nio Capital, Eight Roads Ventures, and F-Prime Capital.

Innovusion runs core development teams out of Sunnyvale, California and Suzhou, an eastern Chinese city near Shanghai that the robotaxi unicorn Momenta also calls home.

Junwei Bao, Innovusion’s co-founder and CEO, is not deterred by the industry’s existing giants. Back at Baidu where Bao oversaw sensors and onboarded computing systems for autonomous driving, he also worked on the Chinese search engine leader’s investment in Velodyne.

“They were designing things more like a college student designing in their labs,” Bao said of Velodyne.

Lidar was a niche market up until about five years ago, the founder explained, for the technology was mostly used by a small community of amateurs and areas such as military, surveying and mapping. These were relatively small markets in terms of shipping volume and Velodyne filled the demand.

“They were not thinking about industrialization, volume manufacturing, or roadmap extensibility. They were a pioneer and we [Baidu] recognized their value… but we also knew their weakness.”

In fairness, Silicon Valley-based Velodyne today is a $2.2 billion company supplying to some of the world’s largest automakers, including Toyota and Volkswagen. It also pocketed a hefty sum of cash after going public via a SPAC merger last year. Innovusion’s strategy is to make sensors for automakers that are “good enough for the next five years,” according to Bao. The startup chooses “mature components” so it can quickly ramp up production to 100,000 units a year.

Its biggest customer at the moment is Nio, a Chinese challenger to Tesla which has backed Innovusion through its corporate venture fund Nio Capital. For mass production of its auto-grade lidar, Innovusion is partnering with Joynext, a smart vehicle arm of the Chinese auto component supplier, Joyson Electronics.

For now, China is the largest market for Innovusion. The startup is scheduled to ship a few thousand units this year, mainly for smart transportation and industrial use. Next year, it has a target to deliver several tens of thousands of units to Nio’s luxury sedan, ET7, which is said to have a scanning range of up to 500 meters, an ambitious number, and a standard 120-degree field of view.

Similar alliances between carmakers and lidar suppliers have played out in China as the former race to fulfill their “autonomous driving” promises with the aid of lidar. Xpeng, a competitor to Nio, recently rolled out a sedan powered by Livox, a lidar maker affiliated with DJI that markets its consumer-grade affordability.

Price is similarly important to Innovusion, which sells lidars to automakers for about $1,000 apiece at the volume of 100,000 per year.

“Adding a $1,000 upfront cost plus another couple thousand dollars for a car that’s selling for $30,000 or $50,000 is affordable,” Bao suggested.

With the fresh capital, Innovusion plans to increase the production volume of its auto-grade lidar and put more R&D efforts into smart cities and vehicles. The company has over 100 employees and plans to expand its headcount to over 200 this year.

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automotive, #baidu, #china, #eight-roads-ventures, #f-prime-capital, #joy-capital, #laser, #lidar, #livox, #momenta, #nio, #self-driving-cars, #shanghai, #tc, #temasek, #tesla, #toyota, #transportation, #velodyne, #volkswagen, #xpeng

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oculii looks to supercharge radar for autonomy with $55M round B

Autonomous vehicles rely on many sensors to perceive the world around them, and while cameras and lidar get a lot of the attention, good old radar is an important piece of the puzzle — though it has some fundamental limitations. Oculii, which just raised a $55M round, aims to minimize those limitations and make radar more capable with a smart software layer for existing devices — and sell its own as well.

Radar’s advantages lie in its superior range, and in the fact that its radio frequency beams can pass through things like raindrops, snow, and fog — making it crucial for perceiving the environment during inclement weather. Lidar and ordinary visible light cameras can be totally flummoxed by these common events, so it’s necessary to have a backup.

But radar’s major disadvantage is that, due to the wavelengths and how the antennas work, it can’t image things in detail the way lidar can. You tend to get very precisely located blobs rather than detailed shapes. It still provides invaluable capabilities in a suite of sensors, but if anyone could add a bit of extra fidelity to its scans, it would be that much better.

That’s exactly what Oculii does — take an ordinary radar and supercharge it. The company claims a 100x improvement to spatial resolution accomplished by handing over control of the system to its software. Co-founder and CEO Steven Hong explained in an email that a standard radar might have, for a 120 degree field of view, a 10 degree spatial resolution, so it can tell where something is with a precision of a few degrees on either side, and little or no ability to tell the object’s elevation.

Some are better, some worse, but for the purposes of this example that amounts to an effectively 12×1 resolution. Not great!

Handing over control to the Oculii system, however, which intelligently adjusts the transmissions based on what it’s already perceiving, could raise that to a 0.5° horizonal x 1° vertical resolution, giving it an effective resolution of perhaps 120×10. (Again, these numbers are purely for explanatory purposes and aren’t inherent to the system.)

That’s a huge improvement and results in the ability to see that something is, for example, two objects near each other and not one large one, or that an object is smaller than another near it, or — with additional computation — that it is moving one way or the other at such and such a speed relative to the radar unit.

Here’s a video demonstration of one of their own devices, showing considerably more detail than one would expect:

Exactly how this is done is part of Oculii’s proprietary magic, and Hong did not elaborate much on how exactly the system works. “Oculii’s sensor uses AI to adaptively generate an ‘intelligent’ waveform that adapts to the environment and embed information across time that can be leveraged to improve the resolution significantly,” he said. (Integrating information over time is what gives it the “4D” moniker, by the way.)

Here’s a little sizzle reel that gives a very general idea:

Autonomous vehicle manufacturers have not yet hit on any canonical set of sensors that AVs should have, but something like Oculii could give radar a more prominent place — its limitations sometimes mean it is relegated to emergency braking detection at the front or some such situation. With more detail and more data, radar could play a larger role in AV decisionmaking systems.

The company is definitely making deals — it’s working with Tier-1s and OEMs, one of which (Hella) is an investor, which gives a sense of confidence in Oculii’s approach. It’s also working with radar makers and has some commercial contracts looking at a 2024-2025 timeline.

CG render of Oculii's two radar units.

Image Credits: Oculii

It’s also getting into making its own all-in-one radar units, doing the hardware-software synergy thing. It claims these are the world’s highest resolution radars, and I don’t see any competitors out there contradicting this — the simple fact is radars don’t compete much on “resolution,” but more on the precision of their rangefinding and speed detection.

One exception might be Echodyne, which uses a metamaterial radar surface to direct a customizable radar beam anywhere in its field of view, examining objects in detail or scanning the whole area quickly. But even then its “resolution” isn’t so easy to estimate.

At any rate the company’s new Eagle and Falcon radars might be tempting to manufacturers working on putting together cutting-edge sensing suites for their autonomous experiments or production driver-assist systems.

It’s clear that with radar tipped as a major component of autonomous vehicles, robots, aircraft and other devices, it’s worth investing seriously in the space. The $55M B round certainly demonstrates that well enough. It was, as Oculii’s press release lists it, “co-led by Catapult Ventures and Conductive Ventures, with participation from Taiwania Capital, Susquehanna Investment Group (SIG), HELLA Ventures, PHI-Zoyi Capital, R7 Partners, VectoIQ, ACVC Partners, Mesh Ventures, Schox Ventures, and Signature Bank.”

The money will allow for the expected scaling and hiring, and as Hong added, “continued investment of the technology to deliver higher resolution, longer range, more compact and cheaper sensors that will accelerate an autonomous future.”

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #hardware, #oculii, #radar, #recent-funding, #self-driving-cars, #startups, #tc, #transportation

Announcing the Agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

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

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

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

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

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

AGENDA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EV Founders in Focus with Ben Schippers (TezLab)

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

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

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

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

Can mobility be accessible, equitable and remain profitable? We have brought together community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler; Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig to discuss how (and if) shared mobility can provide equity in cities, while still remaining a viable and even profitable business. The trio will also dig into the challenges facing cities and how policy may affect startups.

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

Silicon Valley has long been viewed as a hub for autonomous vehicle development. But another country is also leading the charge. Executives from three leading Chinese robotaxi companies (that also have operations in Europe or the U.S.) will join us to provide insight into the unique challenges of developing and deploying the technology in China and how it compares to other countries.

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

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

Driving Innovation at General Motors with Pam Fletcher (GM)

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

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

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

EV Founders in Focus

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

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

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

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

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

TICKETS

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

 

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Legislation would mandate driver-monitoring tech in every car

A surprised woman gleefully lets go of her car's steering wheel.

Enlarge / A woman test drives Cadillac’s Super Cruise hands-free driver-assistance feature in 2018. Super Cruise includes a camera-based eye-tracking technology to ensure drivers are watching the road. (credit: Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for Cadillac)

Three United States senators on Monday proposed legislation that would require all new cars in the United States to have driver-monitoring systems within six years. Two of the legislation’s sponsors—Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)—recently sent a letter to federal regulators expressing concern about last week’s fatal Tesla crash in Texas.

It’s not clear how a 2019 Tesla Model S wound up crashing into a tree at high speed in a residential neighborhood outside Houston. Police reported that neither of the vehicle’s two passengers was in the driver’s seat: one was in the front passenger seat, while the other was sitting in a rear seat.

The crash has drawn more attention to the long-running debate over adding driver-monitoring technology to cars. A few carmakers have already adopted robust driver-monitoring technology. Cadillac’s Super Cruise driver-assistance technology, for example, uses a driver-facing camera to verify that the driver’s eyes are focused on the road. Drivers can take their hands off the wheel while Super Cruise is active. But if they stop looking at the road ahead, Super Cruise will warn them and eventually disengage.

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#adas, #autopilot, #congresss, #dms, #policy, #self-driving-cars

Hear about building AVs under Amazon from Zoox CTO Jessie Levinson at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Last year, autonomous driving startup Zoox was acquired by Amazon in a deal worth $1.3 billion. Since then, Zoox has continued to pursue its existing strategy of developing and deploying autonomous passenger vehicles, revealing the design of its long-anticipated robotaxi late in December. From concept to reveal, Zoox spent six years developing its built-for-purpose passenger AV, and the plan is to launch them initially with commercial deployments in Las Vegas and San Francisco following testing. At TC Sessions: Mobility this year on June 9, we’ll have the chance to speak to Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson about the company’s progress towards those goals, and what it’s like for Zoox nearly a year on as an Amazon company.

[Did you know? Early Bird Ticket Sales End Next Week! Save $100 before prices go up]

In an interview with TechCrunch from last year, Levinson told us that life under Amazon at the AV company has been essentially business as usual since the acquisition — with greatly expanded access to resources, of course, and potentially with even more autonomy than before, he said, since they’re not beholden to a host of outside investors as they pursue their goals.

Of course, the natural assumption when considering Amazon and its interest in autonomous vehicles is package delivery — which is why it’s so interesting that Zoox is, and has always, prioritized movement of people, not parcels, in its AV development roadmap. Zoox’s debut vehicle has been designed entirely with passenger transportation in mind, though the company’s CEO Aicha Evans has acknowledged in the past that it could definitely work on package delivery in partnership with its new corporate owner in the future.

We’ll hear from Levinson if there are any updates to Zoox’s plan or focus, and what Amazon’s ambitions are for autonomous vehicles in the long term. We’ll also talk about the AV industry overall, and the major shifts its undergone in the years that Zoox has been operating, and what that means for growing and attracting talent. Levinson knows the industry and the state of the art in AV technology better than most, so be sure to grab tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 ASAP and check out our chat on June 9.

Book your early-bird pass today and save $100 before prices increase next week and join today’s leading mobility-startup event.

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