Europe plans a Chips Act to boost semiconductor sovereignty

The EU will use legislation to push for greater resilience and sovereignty in regional semiconductor supply chains.

The bloc’s president trailed a forthcoming ‘European Chips Act’ in a state of the union speech today. Ursula von der Leyen suggested that gaining greater autonomy in chipmaking is now a key component of the EU’s overarching digital strategy.

She flagged the global shortage of semiconductors, which has led to slow downs in production for a range of products that rely on chips to drive data processing — from cars and trains to smartphones and other consumer electronics — as driving EU lawmakers’ concern about European capacity in this area.

“There is no digital without chips,” said von der Leyen. “While we speak, whole production lines are already working at reduced speed — despite growing demand — because of a shortage of semi-conductors.

“But while global demand has exploded, Europe’s share across the entire value chain, from design to manufacturing capacity has shrunk. We depend on state-of-the-art chips manufactured in Asia. So this is not just a matter of our competitiveness. This is also a matter of tech sovereignty. So let’s put all of our focus on it.”

The Chips Act will aim to link together the EU’s semiconductor research, design and testing capacities, she said, calling for “coordination” between EU and national investments in this area to help boost the bloc’s self-sufficiency.

“The aim is to jointly create a state-of-the-art European chip ecosystem, including production. That ensures our security of supply and will develop new markets for ground-breaking European tech,” she added.

The EU president couched the ambition for bolstering European chip capacity as a “daunting task” but likened the mission to what the bloc did with its Galileo satellite navigation system two decades ago.

“Today European satellites provide the navigation system for more than 2 billion smartphones worldwide. We are world leaders. So let’s be bold again, this time with semi-conductors.”

In follow up remarks, the EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, put a little more meat on the bones of the legislative plan — saying the Commission wants to integrate Member State efforts into a “coherent” pan-EU semiconductor strategy and also create a framework “to avoid a race to national public subsidies fragmenting the single market”.

The aim will be to “set conditions to protect European interests and place Europe firmly in the global geopolitical landscape”, he added.

Per Breton, the Chip Act will comprise three elements: Firstly, a semiconductor research strategy that will aim to build on work being done by institutions such as IMEC in Belgium, LETI/CEA in France and Fraunhofer in Germany.

“Building on the existing research partnership (the KDT Joint Undertaking), we need to up our game, and design a strategy to push the research ambitions of Europe to the next level while preserving our strategic interests,” he noted.

The second component will consist of a collective plan to boost European chipmaking capacity.

He said the planned legislation will aim to support chip supply chain monitoring and resilience across design, production, packaging, equipment and suppliers (e.g. producers of wafers).

The goal will be to support the development of European “mega fabs” that are able to produce high volumes of the most advanced (towards 2nm and below) and energy-efficient semiconductors.

However the EU isn’t planning for a future when it can make all the chips it needs itself.

The last plank of the European Chip Act will set out a framework for international co-operation and partnership.

“The idea is not to produce everything on our own here in Europe. In addition to making our local production more resilient, we need to design a strategy to diversify our supply chains in order to decrease over-dependence on a single country or region,” Breton went on. “And while the EU aims to remain the top global destination of foreign investment and we welcome foreign investment to help increase our production capacity especially in high-end technology, through the European Chips Act we will also put the right conditions in place to preserve Europe’s security of supply.”

“The US are now discussing a massive investment under the American Chips Act designed to finance the creation of an American research centre and to help open up advanced production factories. The objective is clear: to increase the resilience of US semiconductor supply chains,” he added.

“Taiwan is positioning itself to ensure its primacy on semiconductor manufacturing. China, too, is trying to close the technological gap as it is constrained by export control rules to avoid technological transfers. Europe cannot and will not lag behind.”

In additional documentation released today, the EU said the Chips Act will build on other digital initiatives already presented by the Von der Leyen Commission — such as moves to contain the power of “gatekeeper” Internet giants and increase platforms’ accountability (the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act); regulate high risk applications of AI (the Artificial Intelligence Act); tackle online disinformation (via a beefed up code of practice); and boost investment in regional digital infrastructure and skills.

#consumer-electronics, #digital-markets-act, #digital-services-act, #europe, #european-chips-act, #european-commission, #european-union, #fraunhofer, #hardware, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #supply-chain, #thierry-breton, #ursula-von-der-leyen

China roundup: Keep down internet upstarts, cultivate hard tech

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.

The tech industry in China has had quite a turbulent week. The government is upending its $100 billion private education sector, wiping billions from the market cap of the industry’s most lucrative players. Meanwhile, the assault on Chinese internet giants continued. Tech stocks tumbled after Tencent suspended user registration, sparking fears over who will be the next target of Beijing’s wrath.

Incisive observers point out that the new wave of stringent regulations against China’s internet and education firms has long been on Beijing’s agenda and there’s nothing surprising. Indeed, the central government has been unabashed about its desires to boost manufacturing and contain the unchecked powers of its service industry, which can include everything from internet platforms, film studios to after-school centers.

A few weeks ago I had an informative conversation with a Chinese venture capitalist who has been investing in industrial robots for over a decade, so I’m including it in this issue as it provides useful context for what’s going on in the consumer tech industry this week.

Automate the factories

China is putting robots into factories at an aggressive pace. Huang He, a partner at Northern Light Venture Capital, sees three forces spurring the demand for industrial robots — particularly ones that are made in China.

Over the years, Beijing has advocated for “localization” in a broad range of technology sectors, from enterprise software to production line automation. One may start to see Chinese robots that can rival those of Schneider and Panasonic a few years down the road. CRP, an NLVC-backed industrial robot maker, is already selling across Southeast Asia, Russia and East Europe.

On top of tech localization, it’s also well acknowledged that China is facing a severe demographic crisis. The labor shortage in its manufacturing sector is further compounded by the reluctance of young people to do menial factory work. Factory robots could offer a hand.

“Youngsters these days would rather become food delivery riders than work in a factory. The work that robots replace is the low-skilled type, and those that still can’t be taken up by robots pay well and come with great benefits,” Huang observed.

Large corporations in China still lean toward imported robots due to the products’ proven stability. The problem is that imported robots are not only expensive but also selective about their users.

“Companies need to have deep technical capabilities to be able to operate these [Western] robots, but such companies are rare in China,” said Huang, adding that the overwhelming majority of Chinese enterprises are small and medium size.

With the exceptions of the automotive and semiconductor industries, which still largely rely on sophisticated, imported robots, affordable, easy-to-use Chinese robots can already meet most of the local demand for industrial automation, Huang said.

China currently uses nearly one million six-axis robots a year but only manufactures 20% of them itself. The gap, coupled with a national plan for localization, has led to a frenzy of investments in industrial robotics startups.

The rush isn’t necessarily a good thing, said Huang. “There’s this bizarre phenomenon in China, where the most funded and valuable industrial robotic firms are generating less than 30 million yuan in annual revenue and not really heard of by real users in the industry.”

“This isn’t an industry where giants can be created by burning through cash. It’s not the internet sector.”

Small-and-medium-size businesses are happily welcoming robots onto factory floors. Take welding for example. An average welder costs about 150,000 yuan ($23,200) a year. A typical welding robot, which is sold for 120,000 yuan, can replace up to three workers a year and “doesn’t complain at work,” said the investor. A quality robot can work continuously for six to eight years, so the financial incentive to automate is obvious.

Advanced manufacturing is not just helping local bosses. It will eventually increase foreign enterprises’ dependence on China for its efficiency, making it hard to cut off Chinese supply chains despite efforts to avoid the geopolitical risks of manufacturing in China.

“In electronics, for example, most of the supply chains are in China, so factories outside China end up spending more on logistics to move parts around. Much of the 3C manufacturing is already highly automated, which relies heavily on electricity, but in most emerging economies, the power supply is still quite unstable, which disrupts production,” said Huang.

War on internet titans

The shock of antitrust regulations against Alibaba from last year is still reverberating, but another wave of scrutiny has already begun. Shortly after Didi’s blockbuster IPO in New York, the ride-hailing giant was asked to cease user registration and work on protecting user information critical to national security.

On Tuesday, Tencent stocks fell the most in a decade after it halted user signups on its WeChat messenger as it “upgrades” its security technology to align with relevant laws and regulations. The gaming and social media giant is just the latest in a growing list of companies hit by Beijing’s tightening grip on the internet sector, which had been flourishing for two decades under laissez-faire policies.

Underlying the clampdowns is Beijing’s growing unease with the service industry’s unscrutinized accumulation of wealth and power. China is unequivocally determined to advance its tech sector, but the types of tech that Beijing wants are not so much the video games that bring myopia to children and algorithms that get adults hooked to their screens. China makes it clear in its five-year plan, a series of social and economic initiatives, that it will go all-in on “hard tech” like semiconductors, renewable energy, agritech, biotech and industrial automation like factory robotics.

China has also vowed to fight inequality in education and wealth. In the authorities’ eyes, expensive, for-profit after-schools dotting big cities are hindering education attainment for children from poorer areas, which eventually exacerbates the wealth gap. The new regulatory measures have restricted the hours, content, profits and financing of private tutoring institutions, tanking stocks of the industry’s top companies. Again, there have been clear indications from President Xi Jinping’s writings to bring off-campus tutoring “back on the educational track.” All China-focused investors and analysts are now poring over Xi’s thoughts and directives.

#asia, #beijing, #china, #china-roundup, #enterprise-software, #government, #hardware, #industrial-robot, #made-in-china, #manufacturing, #northern-light-venture-capital, #robot, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #southeast-asia, #tc, #tencent, #xi-jinping

Semiconductor wafer producer SK Siltron to invest $300M in US to boost EV supply chain

The United States has fallen behind China and Europe in the production and adoption of electric vehicles, especially from 2017 to 2020, according to a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. One important piece of the puzzle that the U.S. does have supremacy in, however, is the production of semiconductors, which are used in everything from smartphones to computers to electric vehicles. Now, it might be strengthening that hold.

SK Siltron CSS, a unit of South Korean semiconductor wafer manufacturer, SK Siltron, announced Wednesday plans to invest $300 million and create up to 150 high-paying, skilled jobs in Bay County, Michigan, which is about a couple hours north of Detroit, the country’s first automaking haven. The wafer manufacturer already has a presence in nearby Auburn, so the new factory will more than double its employee base. Over the next three years, SK Siltron says its investment will provide manufacturing and R&D capabilities of advanced materials for electric vehicles.

SK Siltron CSS Chief Executive Jianwei Dong told Reuters, which first reported the news, the $300 million investment would “help develop a domestic EV supply chain based in Michigan because we have our end customers in nearby communities.”

This new investment comes amid an ever-increasing lineup of new electric vehicles and investments in electrification from American automakers, including legacy companies General Motors and Ford as well as Tesla and upstarts such as Rivian.

It’s also joining the sticky pot of trade wars between China and the U.S.

China has owned EV production globally, producing 44% of all vehicles made from 2010 to 2020, but the U.S. has put a strangle hold on semiconductors, consistently blocking China from acquiring other chipmakers. Strong policies that both invest in EV production and spur demand have proven successful in both China and Europe, according to the ICCT report. The Biden administration’s call for $174 billion in funding to expand EV subsidies and charging networks could help the country catch up.

“As we build toward a more sustainable future, it is important that we create new, robust supply chains in the U.S. to support our corporations and the end consumer,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo in a statement. “The automotive industry has a tremendous opportunity with the rise of the electric vehicle, and we’re excited to see companies like SK Siltron CSS expanding to help support the transition to a green future.”

The SK Siltron CSS expansion still needs approval from state and local authorities, the company said, although it’s unlikely it will meet much resistance. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation said the state has been trying to attract EV-related jobs, spending nearly $9 billion in investments over the last two years and adding more than 10,000 jobs for the EV transition. SK Siltron said as it works with the state and local agencies to find employees, 70% will be skilled workers and the rest will be professional engineers.

Wafers 101

A wafer is a thin slice of semiconductor that’s used to make integrated circuits, which essentially help make semiconductor chips smaller and faster. The wafer serves as the base upon which the rest of the semiconductor is built, making it crucial ingredient to the whole process. EVs need semiconductors because they allow batteries to operate at higher voltages, drive the powertrain and support modern car features like touchscreen interactivity.

SK Siltron’s wafer is made of silicon carbide, which can handle higher powers and conduct heat better than normal silicon, the company says.

“When used in EV system components, this characteristic can allow a more efficient transfer of electricity from the battery to the motor, increasing the driving range of an EV by 5% to 10%,” the company said in a statement.

The wafers can also be used in 5G communications equipment, and Dong told Reuters that the company is also considering additional investments.

#automotive, #biden-administration, #chips, #electric-vehicles, #semiconductor, #semiconductor-wafers, #semiconductors, #sk-siltron-css, #south-korea, #tc, #transportation

Alibaba is making its cloud OS compatible with multiple chip architectures

Alibaba’s cloud computing unit is making its Apsara operating system compatible with processors based on Arm, x86, RISC-V, among other architectures, the company announced at a conference on Friday.

Alibaba Cloud is one of the fastest-growing businesses for the Chinese e-commerce giant and the world’s fourth-largest public cloud service in the second half of 2020, according to market research firm IDC.

The global chip market has mostly been dominated by Intel’s x86 in personal computing and Arm for mobile devices. But RISC-V, an open-source chip architecture competitive with Arm’s technologies, is gaining popularity around the world, especially with Chinese developers. Started by academics at the University of California, Berkeley, RISC-V is open to all to use without licensing or patent fees and is generally not subject to America’s export controls.

The Trump Administration’s bans on Huawei and its rival ZTE over national security concerns have effectively severed ties between the Chinese telecom titans and American tech companies, including major semiconductor suppliers.

Arm was forced to decide its relationships with Huawei and said it could continue licensing to the Chinese firm as it’s of U.K. origin. But Huawei still struggles to find fabs that are both capable and allowed to actually manufacture the chips designed using the architecture.

The U.S. sanctions led to a burst in activity around RISC-V in China’s tech industry as developers prepare for future tech restrictions by the U.S., with Alibaba at the forefront of the movement. Alibaba Cloud, Huawei and ZTE are among the 13 premier members of RISC-V International, which means they get a seat on its Board of Directors and Technical Steering Community.

In 2019, the e-commerce company’s semiconductor division T-Head launched its first core processor Xuantie 910, which is based on RISC-V and used for cloud edge and IoT applications. Having its operating system work with multiple chip systems instead of one mainstream architecture could prepare Alibaba Cloud well for a future of chip independence in China.

“The IT ecosystem was traditionally defined by chips, but cloud computing fundamentally changed that,” Zhang Jianfeng, president of Alibaba Cloud’s Intelligence group, said at the event. “A cloud operating system can standardize the computing power of server chips, special-purpose chips and other hardware, so whether the chip is based on x86, Arm, RISC-V or a hardware accelerator, the cloud computing offerings for customers are standardized and of high-quality.”

Meanwhile, some argue that Chinese companies moving towards alternatives like RISC-V means more polarization of technology and standards, which is not ideal for global collaboration unless RISC-V becomes widely adopted in the rest of the world.

#alibaba, #alibaba-cloud, #asia, #china, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #computers, #computing, #huawei, #operating-system, #risc-v, #semiconductor, #university-of-california, #university-of-california-berkeley, #x86

SoftBank leads $15M round for China’s industrial robot maker Youibot

SoftBank has picked its bet in China’s flourishing industrial robotics space. Youibot, a four-year-old startup that makes autonomous mobile robots for a range of scenarios, said it has notched close to 100 million yuan ($15.47 million) in its latest funding round led by SoftBank Ventures Asia, the Seoul-based early-stage arm of the global investment behemoth.

In December, SoftBank Ventures Asia led the financing round for another Chinese robotics startup called KeenOn, which focuses on delivery and service robots.

Youibot’s previous investors BlueRun Ventures and SIG also participated in the round. The startup, based in Shenzhen where it went through SOSV’s HAX hardware accelerator program, secured three financing rounds during 2020 as businesses and investors embrace industrial automation to minimize human contact. Youibot has raised over 200 million yuan to date.

Founded by a group of PhDs from China’s prestigious Xi’an Jiaotong University, Youibot develops solutions for factory automation, logistics management, as well as inspection and maintenance for various industries. For example, its robots can navigate around a yard of buses, inspect every tire of the vehicles and provide a detailed report for maintenance, a feature that helped it rack up Michelin’s contract.

Youibot’s “strongest suits” are in electronics manufacturing and electric power patrol, the company’s spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The startup is also seeing high growth in its semiconductor business, with customers coming from several prominent front-end wafer fabs, which use the firm’s robots for chip packaging, testing, and wafer production. Youibot declined to disclose their names due to confidentiality.

Chinese clients that it named include CRRC Zhuzhou, a state-owned locomotive manufacturer, Huaneng Group, a state-owned electricity generation giant, Huawei, and more. China currently comprises 80% of Youibot’s total revenues while overseas markets are rapidly catching up. The firm’s revenues tripled last year from 2020.

Youibot plans to spend the fresh proceeds on research and development in its mobile robots and propietary software, team building and market expansion.

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #bluerun-ventures, #china, #electronics, #hardware, #huawei, #industrial-robot, #robot, #robotics, #semiconductor, #seoul, #shenzhen, #softbank-group, #softbank-ventures-asia, #tc

Tesla supplier Delta Electronics invests $7M in AI chip startup Kneron

Despite a persistent semiconductor shortage that is disrupting the global automotive industry, investors remain bullish on the chips used to power next-generation vehicles.

Kneron, a startup that develops semiconductors to give devices artificial intelligence capabilities by using edge computing, just got funded by Delta Electronics, a Taiwanese supplier of power components for Apple and Tesla. The $7 million investment boosts the startup’s total financing to over $100 million to date.

As part of the deal, Kneron also agreed to buy Vatics, a part of Delta Electronics’ subsidiary Vivotek, for $10 million in cash. The new assets nicely complement Kneron’s business as the startup extends its footprint to the booming smart car industry.

Vatics, an image signal processing provider, has been selling system-on-a-chip (SoC) and intellectual property to manufacturers of surveillance, consumer, and automotive products for many years across the United States and China.

Headquartered in San Diego with a development force in Taipei, Kneron has emerged in recent years as a challenge to AI chip incumbents like Intel and Google. Its chips boast of low-power consumption and enable data processing directly on the chips using the startup’s proprietary software, a departure from solutions that require data to be computed through powerful cloud centers and sent back to devices.

The approach has won Kneron a list of heavyweight backers, including strategic investor Foxconn, Qualcomm, Sequoia Capital, Alibaba, and Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures.

Kneron has designed chips for scenarios ranging from manufacturing, smart homes, smartphones, robotics, surveillance and payments to autonomous driving. In the automotive field, it has struck partnerships with Foxconn and Otus, a supplier for Honda and Toyota.

Following the acquisition, Vatics executives will join Kneron to lead its surveillance and security camera division. The merged teams will jointly develop surveillance and automotive products for Kneron going forward. Image signal processors, coupled with neural processing units, are helpful in detecting objects and ensuring the safety of automated cars.

“This acquisition will allow us to offer full-stack AI solutions, along with our current class-leading NPUs [neural processing units], and will significantly speed up our go-to-market strategy,” said Kneron’s founder and CEO, Albert Liu.

#albert-liu, #alibaba, #apple, #apple-inc, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automotive, #china, #computing, #foxconn, #honda, #horizons-ventures, #intel, #kneron, #li-ka-shing, #manufacturing, #qualcomm, #san-diego, #semiconductor, #sequoia-capital, #system-on-a-chip, #taipei, #tesla, #toyota

UK gov’t triggers national security scrutiny of Nvidia-Arm deal

The UK government has intervened to trigger public interest scrutiny of chipmaker’s Nvidia’s planned to buy Arm Holdings.

The secretary of state for digital issues, Oliver Dowden, said today that the government wants to ensure that any national security implications of the semiconductor deal are explored.

Nvidia’s $40BN acquisition of UK-based Arm was announced last September but remains to be cleared by regulators.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) began to solicit views on the proposed deal in January.

Domestic opposition to Nvidia’s plan has been swift, with one of the original Arm co-founders kicking off a campaign to ‘save Arm’ last year. Hermann Hauser warned that Arm’s acquisition by a U.S. entity would end its position as a company independent of U.S. interests — risking the U.K.’s economic sovereignty by surrendering its most powerful trade weapon.

The intervention by Department of Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) — using statutory powers set out in the Enterprise Act 2002 — means the competition regulator has been instructed to begin a phase 1 investigation.

The CMA has a deadline of July 30 to submit its report to the secretary of state.

Commenting in a statement, Dowden said: “Following careful consideration of the proposed takeover of ARM, I have today issued an intervention notice on national security grounds. As a next step and to help me gather the relevant information, the UK’s independent competition authority will now prepare a report on the implications of the transaction, which will help inform any further decisions.”

“We want to support our thriving UK tech industry and welcome foreign investment but it is appropriate that we properly consider the national security implications of a transaction like this,” he added.

At the completion of the CMA’s phase 1 investigation Dowden will have an option to clear the deal, i.e. if no national security or competition concerns have been identified; or to clear it with remedies to address any identified concerns.

He could also refer the transaction for further scrutiny by instructing the CMA to carry out an in-depth phase 2 investigation.

After the phase 1 report has been submitted there is no set period when the secretary of state must make a decision on next steps — but DCMS notes that a decision should be made as soon as “reasonably practicable” to reduce uncertainty.

While Dowden’s intervention has been made on national security grounds, additional concerns have been raised about impact of an Nvidia take-over of Arm — specifically on U.K. jobs and on Arm’s open licensing model.

Nvidia sought to address those concerns last year, claiming it’s committed to Arm’s licensing model and pledging to expand the Cambridge, UK offices of Arm — saying it would create “a new global center of excellence in AI research” at the UK campus.

However it’s hard to see what commercial concessions could be offered to assuage concern over the ramifications of an Nvidia-owed Arm on the UK’s economic sovereignty. That’s because it’s a political risk, which would require a political solution to allay, such as at a treaty level — something which isn’t in Nvidia’s gift (alone) to give.

National security concerns are a rising operational risk for tech companies involved in the supply of cutting edge infrastructure, such as semiconductor design and next-gen networks — where a relative paucity of competitors not only limits market choice but amps up the political calculations.

Proposed mergers are one key flash point as market consolidation takes on an acute politico-economic dimension.

However tech companies’ operations are being more widely squeezed in the name of national security — such as, in recent years, the U.S. government’s attacks on China-based 5G infrastructure suppliers like Huawei, with former president Trump seeking to have the company barred from supplying next-gen networks not only within the U.S. but to national networks of Western allies.

Nor has (geo)political pressure been applied purely over key infrastructure companies in recent years; with Trump claiming a national security justification to try and shake down the Chinese-owned social networking company, TikTok — in another example that speaks to how tech tools are being coopted into wider geopolitical power-plays, fuelled by countries’ economic and political self-interest.

#arm-holdings, #artificial-intelligence, #cambridge, #cma, #competition-and-markets-authority, #computer-security, #europe, #huawei, #ma, #national-security, #nvidia, #oliver-dowden, #security, #semiconductor, #tiktok, #trump, #u-s-government, #uk-government, #united-kingdom, #united-states

General Motors leads $139 million investment into lithium-metal battery developer, SES

General Motors is joining the list of big automakers picking their horses in the race to develop better batteries for electric vehicles with its lead of a $139 million investment into the lithium-metal battery developer, SES.

Volkswagen has QuantumScape; Ford has invested in SolidPower (along with Hyundai and BMW); and now with SES’ big backing from General Motors most of the big American and European automakers have placed their bets.

“We are beyond R&D development,” said SES chief executive Hu Qichao in an interview with TechCrunch. “The main purposes of this funding is to, one, mprove the key material, this lithium metal electrolyte on the anode side and the cathode side, and, two, to improve the scale of the current cell from the iPhone battery size to the size that can be used in cars.”

There’s a third component to the financing as well, Hu said, which is to increase the company’s algorithmic capabilities to monitor and manage cell performance. “It’s something that we and our OEM partners care about,” said Hu.

The investment from GM s the culmination of nearly six years of work with the big automaker, said Hu. “We started working with them in 2015. For the next three years we will go through the standard automation approval processes. Going from ‘A’ sample to ‘B’ sample all the way through ‘D’ sample,” which is the final testing phase before commercial availability of SES’ batteries in cars.

While Tesla, the current leader in electric vehicle sales in America, is looking to improve the form factors of its batteries to make them more powerful and more efficient, Hu said that the chemistry isn’t that different. Solid state batteries represent a step change in battery technology that makes batteries more powerful, easier to recycle, and potentially more stable.

As Mark Harris wrote in TechCrunch earlier earlier this year:

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

What SES is doing has brought the company attention not just from General Motors, but from previous investors including the battery giant SK Innovation; the Singapore-based, government-backed investment firm, Temasek; the venture capital arm of semiconductor manufacturer, Applied Materials, Applied Ventures; the Chinese automaking giant, Shanghai Auto; and investment firm, Vertex.

“GM has been rapidly driving down battery cell costs and improving energy density, and our work with SES technology has incredible potential to deliver even better EV performance for customers who want more range at a lower cost,” said Matt Tsien, GM executive vice president and chief technology officer and president, GM Ventures. “This investment by GM and others will allow SES to accelerate their work and scale up their business.”

  

#america, #applied-materials, #applied-ventures, #battery-technology, #electricity, #energy, #ford, #general-motors, #gm-ventures, #hyundai, #iphone, #lithium, #lithium-ion-batteries, #ontology, #semiconductor, #ses, #solid-state-batteries, #tc, #temasek, #tesla, #volkswagen

China’s Xpeng in the race to automate EVs with lidar

Elon Musk famously said any company relying on lidar is “doomed.” Tesla instead believes automated driving functions are built on visual recognition and is even working to remove the radar. China’s Xpeng begs to differ.

Founded in 2014, Xpeng is one of China’s most celebrated electric vehicle startups and went public when it was just six years old. Like Tesla, Xpeng sees automation as an integral part of its strategy; unlike the American giant, Xpeng uses a combination of radar, cameras, high-precision maps powered by Alibaba, localization systems developed in-house, and most recently, lidar to detect and predict road conditions.

“Lidar will provide the 3D drivable space and precise depth estimation to small moving obstacles even like kids and pets, and obviously, other pedestrians and the motorbikes which are a nightmare for anybody who’s working on driving,” Xinzhou Wu, who oversees Xpeng’s autonomous driving R&D center, said in an interview with TechCrunch.

“On top of that, we have the usual radar which gives you location and speed. Then you have the camera which has very rich, basic semantic information.”

Xpeng is adding lidar to its mass-produced EV model P5, which will begin delivering in the second half of this year. The car, a family sedan, will later be able to drive from point A to B based on a navigation route set by the driver on highways and certain urban roads in China that are covered by Alibaba’s maps. An older model without lidar already enables assisted driving on highways.

The system, called Navigation Guided Pilot, is benchmarked against Tesla’s Navigate On Autopilot, said Wu. It can, for example, automatically change lanes, enter or exit ramps, overtake other vehicles, and maneuver another car’s sudden cut-in, a common sight in China’s complex road conditions.

“The city is super hard compared to the highway but with lidar and precise perception capability, we will have essentially three layers of redundancy for sensing,” said Wu.

By definition, NGP is an advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) as drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and take control at any time (Chinese laws don’t allow drivers to be hands-off on the road). The carmaker’s ambition is to remove the driver, that is, reach Level 4 autonomy two to four years from now, but real-life implementation will hinge on regulations, said Wu.

“But I’m not worried about that too much. I understand the Chinese government is actually the most flexible in terms of technology regulation.”

The lidar camp

Musk’s disdain for lidar stems from the high costs of the remote sensing method that uses lasers. In the early days, a lidar unit spinning on top of a robotaxi could cost as much as $100,000, said Wu.

“Right now, [the cost] is at least two orders low,” said Wu. After 13 years with Qualcomm in the U.S., Wu joined Xpeng in late 2018 to work on automating the company’s electric cars. He currently leads a core autonomous driving R&D team of 500 staff and said the force will double in headcount by the end of this year.

“Our next vehicle is targeting the economy class. I would say it’s mid-range in terms of price,” he said, referring to the firm’s new lidar-powered sedan.

The lidar sensors powering Xpeng come from Livox, a firm touting more affordable lidar and an affiliate of DJI, the Shenzhen-based drone giant. Xpeng’s headquarters is in the adjacent city of Guangzhou about 1.5 hours’ drive away.

Xpeng isn’t the only one embracing lidar. Nio, a Chinese rival to Xpeng targeting a more premium market, unveiled a lidar-powered car in January but the model won’t start production until 2022. Arcfox, a new EV brand of Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC, recently said it would be launching an electric car equipped with Huawei’s lidar.

Musk recently hinted that Tesla may remove radar from production outright as it inches closer to pure vision based on camera and machine learning. The billionaire founder isn’t particularly a fan of Xpeng, which he alleged owned a copy of Tesla’s old source code.

In 2019, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Cao Guangzhi alleging that the former Tesla engineer stole trade secrets and brought them to Xpeng. XPeng has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Cao no longer works at Xpeng.

Supply challenges

While Livox claims to be an independent entity “incubated” by DJI, a source told TechCrunch previously that it is just a “team within DJI” positioned as a separate company. The intention to distance from DJI comes as no one’s surprise as the drone maker is on the U.S. government’s Entity List, which has cut key suppliers off from a multitude of Chinese tech firms including Huawei.

Other critical parts that Xpeng uses include NVIDIA’s Xavier system-on-the-chip computing platform and Bosch’s iBooster brake system. Globally, the ongoing semiconductor shortage is pushing auto executives to ponder over future scenarios where self-driving cars become even more dependent on chips.

Xpeng is well aware of supply chain risks. “Basically, safety is very important,” said Wu. “It’s more than the tension between countries around the world right now. Covid-19 is also creating a lot of issues for some of the suppliers, so having redundancy in the suppliers is some strategy we are looking very closely at.”

Taking on robotaxis

Xpeng could have easily tapped the flurry of autonomous driving solution providers in China, including Pony.ai and WeRide in its backyard Guangzhou. Instead, Xpeng becomes their competitor, working on automation in-house and pledges to outrival the artificial intelligence startups.

“The availability of massive computing for cars at affordable costs and the fast dropping price of lidar is making the two camps really the same,” Wu said of the dynamics between EV makers and robotaxi startups.

“[The robotaxi companies] have to work very hard to find a path to a mass-production vehicle. If they don’t do that, two years from now, they will find the technology is already available in mass production and their value become will become much less than today’s,” he added.

“We know how to mass-produce a technology up to the safety requirement and the quarantine required of the auto industry. This is a super high bar for anybody wanting to survive.”

Xpeng has no plans of going visual-only. Options of automotive technologies like lidar are becoming cheaper and more abundant, so “why do we have to bind our hands right now and say camera only?” Wu asked.

“We have a lot of respect for Elon and his company. We wish them all the best. But we will, as Xiaopeng [founder of Xpeng] said in one of his famous speeches, compete in China and hopefully in the rest of the world as well with different technologies.”

5G, coupled with cloud computing and cabin intelligence, will accelerate Xpeng’s path to achieve full automation, though Wu couldn’t share much detail on how 5G is used. When unmanned driving is viable, Xpeng will explore “a lot of exciting features” that go into a car when the driver’s hands are freed. Xpeng’s electric SUV is already available in Norway, and the company is looking to further expand globally.

#alibaba, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automation, #automotive, #baic, #bosch, #cars, #china, #cloud-computing, #driver, #electric-car, #elon-musk, #emerging-technologies, #engineer, #founder, #huawei, #lasers, #li-auto, #lidar, #livox, #machine-learning, #nio, #norway, #nvidia, #qualcomm, #robotaxi, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #semiconductor, #shenzhen, #tc, #tesla, #transport, #transportation, #u-s-government, #united-states, #wu, #xavier, #xiaopeng, #xpeng

GM idles more North American plants as chip shortage drags on

General Motors is idling more plants and extending shutdowns at other facilities in North America due to a continued shortage of semiconductor chips that are used to control myriad operations in vehicles, including the infotainment, power steering and brake systems.

In an update Thursday, GM indicated that eight assembly plants are affected by the temporary closures. CNBC was the first to report on the temporary plant closures. GM confirmed the shutdowns to TechCrunch and added that it plans to restart production next week at its Wentzville Assembly plant in Missouri.

“GM continues to leverage every available semiconductor to build and ship our most popular and in-demand products, including full-size trucks and SUVs for our customers,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. “Our intent is to make up as much production lost at these plants as possible.”

As global chip shortage has dragged on, automakers including GM and Ford have had to idle plants and shuffle resources to the production of higher margin vehicles like SUVs. GM told TechCrunch that it has not taken downtime or reduced shifts at any of its full-size truck or full-size SUV plants due to the shortage. It’s also prompted automakers to build vehicles without specific parts. For instance, GM said last month that certain pickup trucks would be produced without a fuel management module, a device that will prevent these vehicles from achieving top fuel economy performance.

Automakers have also issued guidance on how the shortage will affect financial results in 2021. Ford has said that if the semiconductor shortage scenario is extended through the first half of 2021, the shortage could lower its earnings between $1 billion and $2.5 billion, net of cost recoveries and some production make-up in the second half of the year.

GM said in February that the global shortage of semiconductors will have a short-term impact on its production, earnings and cash flow in 2021.

GM’s Spring Hill Assembly in Tennessee, which builds the Cadillac XT5, Cadillac XT6 and GMC Acadia, will shut down for two weeks beginning April 12. GM is temporarily halting production of the Chevrolet Blazer at the Ramos Assembly in Mexico and Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave at the Lansing Delta Township factory during the week of April 19.

GM also extended downtime at Lansing Grand River Assembly through the week of April 26. This plant, which builds the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave, has been down since March 15.

The automaker is extending the shutdown at its CAMI Assembly plant in Canada and the Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas, which is where the Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac XT4 are extended through May 10. Both CAMI and Fairfax have been down since the week of February 8, GM said.

GM’s Bupyeong 2 Assembly in Korea has been operating at half capacity since February 8, and its Gravataí plant in Brazil is taking downtime for the months of April and May.

#automotive, #ford, #general-motors, #gm, #semiconductor, #tc, #transportation

Startups have about $1 trillion worth of reasons to love the Biden infrastructure plan

The sweeping infrastructure package put forward today by President Joe Biden comes with a price tag of roughly $2 trillion (and hefty tax hikes) but gives startups and the broader tech industry about $1 trillion worth of reasons to support it.

Tech companies have spent the past decade or more developing innovations that can be applied to old-world industries like agriculture, construction, energy, education, manufacturing and transportation and logistics. These are industries where structural impediments to technology adoption have only recently been broken down by the advent of incredibly powerful mobile devices.

Now, these industries are at the heart of the President’s plan to build back better, and the hundreds of billions of dollars that are earmarked to make America great again will, either directly or indirectly, be a huge boost to a number of startups and large tech companies whose hardware and software services will enable much of the work the Biden administration wants done.

“The climate-oriented investment in Biden’s new plan would be roughly ten times what came through ARRA,” wrote Shayle Kann, a partner with the investment firm, Energy Impact Partners. “It would present a huge opportunity for a variety of climate tech sectors, ranging from clean electricity to carbon management to vehicle electrification.”

Much of this will look and feel like a Green New Deal, but sold under a package of infrastructure modernization and service upgrades that the country desperately needs.  Indeed, it’s hard to invest in infrastructure without supporting the kind of energy efficiency and renewable development plans that are at the core of the Green New Deal, since efficiency upgrades are just a part of the new way of building and making things.

Over $700 billion of the proposed budget will go to improving resiliency against natural disasters; upgrading critical water, power, and internet infrastructure; and rehabilitating and improving public housing, federal buildings, and aging commercial and residential real estate.

Additionally there’s another roughly $400 billion in spending earmarked for boosting domestic manufacturing of critical components like semiconductors; protecting against future pandemics; and creating regional innovation hubs to promote venture capital investment and startup development intended to “support the growth of entrepreneurship in communities of color and underserved communities.”

Climate resiliency 

Given the steady drumbeat of climate disasters that hit the U.S. over the course of 2020 (and their combined estimated price tag of nearly $100 billion), it’s not surprising that the Biden plan begins with a focus on resiliency.

The first big outlay of cash outlined in the Biden plan would call for $50 billion in financing to improve, protect and invest in underserved communities most at risk from climate disasters through programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and new initiatives from the Department of Transportation. Most relevant to startups is the push to fund initiatives and technologies that can help prevent or protect against extreme wildfires; rising sea levels and hurricanes; new agriculture resource management; and “climate-smart” technologies.

As with most of Biden’s big infrastructure initiatives, there are startups tackling these issues. Companies like Cornea, Emergency Reporting, Zonehaven are trying to solve different facets of the fire problem; while flood prediction and weather monitoring startups are floating up their services too. Big data analytics, monitoring and sensing tools, and robotics are also becoming fixtures on the farm. For the President’s water efficiency and recycling programs, companies like Epic CleanTec, which has developed wastewater recycling technologies for residential and commercial buildings.

Fables of the reconstruction

Energy efficiency and building upgrades represent by far the biggest chunk of the Biden infrastructure package — totaling a whopping $400 billion of the spending package and all devoted to upgrading homes, offices, schools, veteran’s hospitals and federal buildings.

It gives extra credence to the thesis behind new climate-focused funds from Greensoil Proptech Ventures and Fifth Wall Ventures, which is raising a $200 million investment vehicle to focus on energy efficiency and climate tech solutions.

As Fifth Wall’s newest partner Greg Smithies noted last year, there’s a massive opportunity in building retrofits and startup technologies to improve efficiency.

“What excites me about this space is that there’s so much low-hanging fruit. And there’s $260 trillion worth of buildings,” Smithies said last year. “The vast majority of those are nowhere up to modern codes. We’re going to have a much bigger opportunity by focusing on some not-so-sexy stuff.”

Decarbonizing real estate can also make a huge difference in the fight against global climate change in addition to the its ability to improve quality of life and happiness for residents. “Real estate consumes 40% of all energy. The global economy happens indoors,” said Fifth Wall co-founder Brendan Wallace, in a statement. “Real estate will be the biggest spender on climate tech for no other reason than its contribution to the carbon problem.”

The Biden plan calls on Congress to enact new grant programs that award flexible funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate barriers to produce affordable housing. Part of that will include $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of the public housing in America.

It’s a project that startups like BlocPower are already deeply involved in supporting.

“Get the superhero masks and capes out. The Biden Harris Climate announcement is literally a plan to save the American economy and save the planet. This is Avengers Endgame in real life. We can’t undo the last five years… but we can make smart, massive investments in the climate infrastructure of the future,” wrote Donnel Baird, the chief executive and founder of BlocPower. “Committing to electrify 2 million American buildings, moving them entirely off of fossil fuels is exactly that — an investment in America leading theway towards creating a new industry creating American jobs that cannot be outsourced, and beginning to reduce the 30% of greenhouse gas emissiosn that come from buildings.”

As part of the package that directly impacts startups, there’s a proposal for a $27 billion Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to mobilize private investment, according to the White House. The focus will be on distributed energy resources, retrofits of residential, commercial and municipal buildings; and clean transportation. A focus there will be on disadvantaged communities that haven’t had access to clean energy investments.

Financing the future startup nation

“From the invention of the semiconductor to the creation of the Internet, new engines of economic growth have emerged due to public investments that support research, commercialization, and strong supply chains,” the White House wrote. “President Biden is calling on Congress to make smart investments in research and development, manufacturing and regional economic development, and in workforce development to give our workers and companies the tools and training they need to compete on the global stage.”

To enable that, Biden is proposing another $480 billion in spending to boost research and development — including $50 billion for the National Science Foundation to focus on semiconductors and advanced communications technologies, energ technologies and biotechnology. Another $30 billion is designed to be targeted toward rural development; and finally the $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure.

There’s also an initiative to create ARPA-C, a climate focused Advanced Research Projects Agency modeled on the DARPA program that gave birth to the Internet. There’s $20 billion heading toward funding climate-focused research and demonstration projects for energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear and rare earth  element separations, floating off shore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, quantum computing and electric vehicles.

The bulk of Biden’s efforts to pour money into manufacturing represents another $300 billion in potential government funding. That’s $30 billion tickets for biopreparedness and pandemic preparedness; another $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and research; $46 billion for federal buying power for new advanced nuclear reactors and fuel, cars, ports, pumps and clean materials.

Included in all of this is an emphasis on developing economies fairly and equally across the country — that means $20 billion in regional innovation hubs and a Community Revitalization Fund, which is designed to support innovative, community-led redevelopment efforts and $52 billion in investing in domestic manufacturers — promoting rural manufacturing and clean energy.

Finally for startups there’s a $31 billion available for programs that give small businesses access to credit, venture capital, and R&D dollars. Specifically, the proposal calls for funding for community-based small business incubators and innovation hubs to support growth in communities of color and underserved communites.

Water and power infrastructure 

America’s C- grade infrastructure has problems extending across the length and breadth of the country. It encompasses everything from crumbling roads and bridges to a lack of clean drinking water, failing sewage systems, inadequate recycling facilities, and increasing demands on power generation, transmission and distribution assets that the nation’s electricity grid is unable to meet.

“Across the country, pipes and treatment plants are aging and polluted drinking water is endangering public health. An estimated six to ten million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines,” the White House wrote in a statement.

To address this issue, Biden’s calling for an infusion of $45 billion into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act grants. While that kind of rip and replace project may not directly impact startups, another $66 billion earmarked for upgrades to drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and monitoring and managing the presence of contaminants in water will be a huge boon for the vast array of water sensing and filtration startups that have flooded the market in the past decade or more (there’s even an entire incubator dedicated to just water technologies).

The sad fact is that water infrastructure in America has largely failed to keep up in large swaths of the country, necessitating this kind of massive capital infusion.

And what’s true for water is also true increasingly true for power. Outages cost the U.S. economy upwards of $70 billion per year, according to the White House. So when analysts compare those economic losses to a potential $100 billion outlay, the math should be clear. For startups that math equals dollar signs.

Calls to build a more resilient transmission system should be music to the ears of companies like Veir, which is developing a novel technology for improving capacity on transmission lines (a project that the Biden administration explicitly calls out in its plan).

The Biden plan also includes more than money, calling for the creation of a new Grid Deployment Authority within the Department of Energy to better leverage rights-of-way along roads and railways and will support financing tools to develop new high-voltage transmission lines, the White House said.

The administration doesn’t stop there. Energy storage and renewable technologies are going to get a boost through a clutch of tax credits designed to accelerate their deployment. That includes a ten-year extension and phase down of direct-pay investment tax credits and production tax credits. The plan aslo calls for clean energy block grants and calls for the government to purchase nothing but renewable energy all day for federal buildings.

Complimenting this push for clean power and storage will be a surge in funding for waste remediation and cleanup, which is getting a $21 billion boost under Biden.

Companies like Renewell Energy, or various non-profits that are trying to plug abandoned oil wells, can play a role here. There’s also the potential to recover other mineral deposits or reuse the wastewater that comes from these wells. And here, too, investors can find early stage businesses looking for an angle. Part of the money frm the Biden plan will aim to redevelop brownfields and turn them into more sustainable businesses.

That’s where some of the indoor agriculture companies, like Plenty, Bowery Farms, AppHarvest could find additional pots of money to turn unused factory and warehouse space into working farms. Idled factories could also be transformed into hubs for energy storage and community based power generation and distribution facilities, given their position on the grid.

“President Biden’s plan also will spur targeted sustainable, economic development efforts through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER grant program, Department of Energy retooling grants for idled factories (through the Section 132 program), and dedicated funding to support community-driven environmental justice efforts – such as capacity and project grants to address legacy pollution and the cumulative impacts experienced by frontline and fenceline communities,” the White House wrote.

Key to these redevelopment efforts will be the establishment of pioneer facilities that demonstrate carbon capture retrofits for large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities. But if the Biden Administration wanted to, its departments could go a step further to support lower emission manufacturing technologies like the kind companies including Heliogen, which is using solar power to generate energy for a massive mining operation, or Boston Metal, which is partnering with BMW on developing a lower emission manufacturing process for steel production.

Critical to ensuring that this money gets spent is a $25 billion commitment to finance pre-development activities, that could help smaller project developers, as Rob Day writes in Forbes.

“As I’ve written about elsewhere, local project developers are key to getting sustainability projects built where they will actually do the most good — in the communities hit hardest by both local pollution and climate change impacts. These smaller project developers have lots of expenses they must pay just to get to the point where private-sector infrastructure construction investments can come in,” Day wrote. “Everyone in sustainability policy talks about supporting entrepreneurs, but in reality much of the support is aimed at technology innovators and not these smaller project developers who would be the ones to actually roll out those technology innovations. Infrastructure investors are typically much more reticent to provide capital before projects are construction-ready.”

Building a better Internet

“Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected,” the White House wrote. “Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Americans in rural areas and on tribal lands particularly lack adequate access. And, in part because the United States has some of the highest broadband prices among OECD countries, millions of Americans can’t use broadband internet even if the infrastructure exists where they live.”

The $100 billion that the Biden Administration is earmarking for broadband infrastructure includes goals to meet 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage and prioritizes support for networks owned, operated, or faffiliated with local governments, non-profits and cooperatives.

Attendant with the new cash is a shift in regulatory policy that would open up opportunities for municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing with prive providers and requiring internet providers to be more transparent about their pricing. This increased competition is good for hardware vendors and ultimately could create new businesses for entrepreneurs who want to become ISPs of their own.

Wander is one-such service providing high speed wireless internet in Los Angeles.

“Americans pay too much for the internet – much more than people in many other countries – and the President is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money,” the White House wrote.

 

#agriculture, #america, #articles, #biden-administration, #biotechnology, #blocpower, #brendan-wallace, #broadband, #co-founder, #congress, #construction, #cornea, #department-of-transportation, #education, #electricity, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #fifth-wall-ventures, #forbes, #greg-smithies, #infrastructure, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #los-angeles, #manufacturing, #mobile-devices, #national-science-foundation, #oecd, #plenty, #president, #quantum-computing, #real-estate, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #steel, #supply-chains, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investment, #white-house

Ford to build some F-150 trucks without certain parts due to global chip shortage

Ford said Thursday that some some Ford F-150 pickup trucks and Edge crossover without certain electronic modules due to a twofold punch of a global semiconductor shortage and a lack of parts caused a winter storm.

Ford said it will build and hold the vehicles for a number of weeks, then ship the vehicles to dealers once the modules are available and comprehensive quality checks are complete. The automaker also said it is canceling shifts tonight and Friday at Louisville Assembly Plant due to the semiconductor-related part shortage. Ford said production of the Escape and Lincoln Corsair is expected to resume Monday on short shifts, with full production scheduled to resume Tuesday.

Ford isn’t alone in its decision to build vehicles without certain parts as the global chip shortage drags on. GM said earlier this week that certain pickup trucks would be produced without a fuel management module, a device that will prevent these vehicles from achieving top fuel economy performance.

Both Ford and GM have previously issued guidance that the chip shortage will impact its financial results in 2021. Ford has said that if the semiconductor shortage scenario is extended through the first half of 2021, the shortage could lower its between $1 billion and $2.5 billion, net of cost recoveries and some production make-up in the second half of the year. GM said in February that the global shortage of semiconductors will have a short-term impact on its production, earnings and cash flow in 2021.

#automotive, #ford, #semiconductor, #tc

Rising to the Challenge of China

To counter Beijing’s growing economic and military might, the United States must get its own house in order.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #china, #economic-conditions-and-trends, #endless-frontiers-act, #international-trade-and-world-market, #semiconductor, #taiwan, #tariffs, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-economy, #united-states-international-relations

Taiwanese reassurances that water shortages won’t hit chipmaking show climate change’s direct threat to tech

A weekend statement from the Taiwanese government over its ability to provide water to the nation’s chip manufacturers in the face of an unprecedented drought make it clear that climate change is a direct threat to the foundations of the tech industry.

As reported by Bloomberg, Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen took to Facebook on Sunday to post about the nation’s capacity to provide water to its citizens and businesses in the face of the worst drought the nation has faced in 56 years.

The nation said that it would have sufficient water reserves to ensure manufacturing of semiconductors by companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing wouldn’t stop.

These chips sit at the foundation of the tech industry and any disruption in production could have disastrous consequences for the global economy. Already, supply constraints have caused stoppages at automakers like General Motors and Volkswagen, and chip manufacturing facilities are running close to capacity.

The Biden administration has emphasized the need for the U.S. to strengthen its semiconductor manufacturing supply when it issued an executive order last month to address ongoing chip shortages that have idled manufacturing plants around the country.

“Taiwan’s water shortage and its effect on semis is a wake up call for every technology investor, every founder and the entire venture ecosystem. It is complexity theory made manifest and only serves to show that scalable, data-driven solutions rapidly deployed across large industrial markets are our only hope in correcting the course,” wrote Vaughn Blake, a partner at the energy-focused investment firm Blue Bear Capital.

Taiwan’s water woes and their ability to severely impact the semiconductor industry aren’t new. They were even flagged in a 2016 Harvard Business School case study analysis. And TSMC is already working to address its water consumption.

By 2016, TSMC had already worked to improve its water purification and recycling efforts — necessary for an industry that consumes between 2-9 million gallons of water per day. (Intel alone used 9 billion gallons of water in 2015). At least some of TSMC’s fabrication facilities have managed to achieve recycling rates of 90% on industrial wastewater, according to the Harvard case study.

But as Moore’s Law drives down the size and increases the demand for even more precision and fewer impurities in the manufacturing process, water use at fabs is going up. Next generation chips may be consuming as much as 1.5 times more water, which means better recycling is needed to compensate.

For startups, we need to be looking at ways to lower the cost and improve the performance of wastewater recycling and desalination, both increasingly energy-intensive propositions.

Some companies are doing just that. These are businesses like Blue Boson out of the UK, which purports to have developed a quantum-based water treatment technology. Its claims sound more like science fiction, but its website touts some of the best research universities in the world. Fido, a leak detection company also out of the UK tracks potential spots where water is wasted, and both Pontic Technology and Micronic are American companies developing water and fluid sterilization systems.

Numix, another purification startup, seems designed to remove the heavy metals that are part and parcel of industrial manufacturing. And Divining Labs out of Los Angeles is using artificial intelligence to better predict and manage stormwater runoff to collect more resources for water use.

“Upton Sinclair said, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on him not understanding it,’” Blake of Blue Bear Capital wrote. “Well, to all the founders and investors out there, it looks like all tech is climate tech for the foreseeable future, lest there be no tech at all.”

#artificial-intelligence, #biden-administration, #energy, #executive, #fido, #general-motors, #harvard, #harvard-business-school, #intel, #los-angeles, #manufacturing, #president, #sanitation, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #taiwan, #tc, #tsai-ing-wen, #tsmc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #volkswagen, #water-treatment

Senti Bio raises $105 million for its new programmable biology platform and cancer therapies

Senti Biosciences, a company developing cancer therapies using a new programmable biology platform, said it has raised $105 million in a new round of financing led by the venture arm of life sciences giant, Bayer.

The company’s technology uses new computational biological techniques to manufacture cell and gene therapies that can more precisely target specific cells in the body.

Senti Bio’s chief executive, Tim Lu, compares his company’s new tech to the difference between basic programming and object oriented programming. “Instead of creating a program that just says ‘Hello world’, you can introduce ‘if’ statements and object oriented programming,” said Lu.

By building genetic material that can target multiple receptors, Senti Bio’s therapies can be more precise in the way they identify genetic material in the body and deliver the kinds of therapies directly to the pathogens. “”Instead of the cell expressing a single receptor… now we have two receptors,” he said.

The company is initially applying its gene circuit technology platform to develop therapies that use what are called chimeric antigen receptor natural killer (CAR-NK) cells that can target cancer cells in the body and eliminate them. Many existing cell and gene therapies use chimeric antigen receptor T-cells, which are white blood cells in the body that are critical to immune response and destroy cellular pathogens in the body.

However, T-cell-based therapies can be toxic to patients, stimulating immune responses that can be almost as dangerous as the pathogens themselves. Using CAR-NK cells produces similar results with fewer side effects.
That’s independent of the gene circuit,” said Lu. “The gene circuit gets you specificity… Right now when you use a CAR-T cell or a CAR-NK cell… you find a target and hope that it doesn’t affect normal cells. We can build logic in our gene circuits in the cell that means a CAR-NK cell can identify two targets rather than one.”

That increased targeting means lower risks of healthy cells being destroyed alongside mutations or pathogens that are in the body.

For Lu and his co-founders — fellow MIT professor Jim Collins, Boston University professor, Wilson Wong, and longtime synthetic biology operator, Phillip Lee — Senti Bio is the culmination of decades of work in the field.

“I compare it to the early days of semiconductor work,” Lu said of the journey to develop this gene circuit technology. “There were bits and pieces of technology being developed in research labs, but to realize the scale at which you need, this has to be done at the industrial level.”

So licensing work from MIT, Boston University and Stanford, Lu and his co-founders set out to take this work out of the labs to start a company.

When the company was started it was a bag of tools and the know-how on how to use them,” Lu said. But it wasn’t a fully developed platform. 

That’s what the company now has and with the new capital from Leaps by Bayer and its other investors, Senti is ready to start commercializing.

The first products will be therapies for acute myeloid leukemia, hepatocellular carcinoma, and other, undisclosed, solid tumor targets, the company said in a statement.

“Leaps by Bayer’s mission is to invest in breakthrough technologies that may transform the lives of millions of patients for the better,” said Juergen Eckhardt, MD, Head of Leaps by Bayer. “We believe that synthetic biology will become an important pillar in next-generation cell and gene therapy, and that Senti Bio’s leadership in designing and optimizing biological circuits fits precisely with our ambition to prevent and cure cancer and to regenerate lost tissue function.”

Lu and his co-founders also see their work as a platform for developing other cell therapies for other diseases and applications — and intend to partner with other pharmaceutical companies to bring those products to market.  

“Over the past two years, our team has designed, built and tested thousands of sophisticated gene circuits to drive a robust product pipeline, focused initially on allogeneic CAR-NK cell therapies for difficult-to-treat liquid and solid tumor indications,” Lu said in a statement. “I look forward to continued platform and pipeline advancements, including starting IND-enabling studies in 2021.”

The new financing round brings Senti’s total capital raised to just under $160 million and Lu said the new money will be used to ramp up manufacturing and accelerate its work partnering with other pharmaceutical companies.

The current timeframe is to get its investigational new drug permits filed by late 2022 and early 2023 and have initial clinical trials begun in 2023.

Developing gene circuits is new and expanding field with a number of players including Cell Design Labs, which was acquired by Gilead in 2017 for up to $567 million. Other companies working on similar therapies include CRISPR Therapeutics, Intellius, and Editas, Lu said.

#bayer, #biology, #biotechnology, #boston-university, #cancer, #crispr-therapeutics, #emerging-technologies, #gilead, #head, #jim-collins, #manufacturing, #mit, #pharmaceutical, #semiconductor, #stanford, #synthetic-biology, #tc

Edge computing startup Edgify secures $6.5M Seed from Octopus, Mangrove and semiconductor

Edgify, which builds AI for edge computing, has secured a $6.5m seed funding round backed by Octopus Ventures, Mangrove Capital Partners and an unnamed semiconductor giant. The name was not released but TechCrunch understands it nay be Intel Corp. or Qualcomm Inc.

Edgify’s technology allows ‘edge devices’ (devices at the edge of the internet) to interpret vast amounts of data, train an AI model locally, and then share that learning across its network of similar devices. This then trains all the other devices in anything from computer vision, NLP, voice recognition, or any other form of AI. 

The technology can be applied to anything from MRI machines, connected cars, checkout lanes, mobile devices and anything that has a CPU, GPU or NPU. Edgify’s technology is already being used in supermarkets, for instance.

Ofri Ben-Porat, CEO and co-founder of Edgify, commented in a statement: “Edgify allows companies, from any industry, to train complete deep learning and machine learning models, directly on their own edge devices. This mitigates the need for any data transfer to the Cloud and also grants them close to perfect accuracy every time, and without the need to retrain centrally.” 

Mangrove partner Hans-Jürgen Schmitz who will join Edgify’s Board comments: “We expect a surge in AI adoption across multiple industries with significant long-term potential for Edgify in medical and manufacturing, just to name a few.” 

Simon King, Partner and Deep Tech Investor at Octopus Ventures added: “As the interconnected world we live in produces more and more data, AI at the edge is becoming increasingly important to process large volumes of information.”

So-called ‘edge computing’ is seen as being one of the forefronts of deeptech right now.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #cloud-computing, #computing, #cybernetics, #deep-learning, #edge-computing, #emerging-technologies, #europe, #internet-of-things, #machine-learning, #mangrove-capital-partners, #manufacturing, #mobile-devices, #mri, #octopus-ventures, #science-and-technology, #semiconductor, #tc, #voice-recognition

Quantum photonics startup Nu Quantum raises £2.1M from Amadeus Capital Partners

For Quantum cryptography and simulation to become real, the technology requires high-performance light-emitting and light-detecting components that operate at the single-photon level and at ambient temperature. One of the few companies operating in this rarified arena is Nu Quantum, the quantum photonics company, is a spin-out from the University of Cambridge.

It’s now raised a £2.1 million in Seed funding in a round led by Amadeus Capital Partners . Ahren Innovation Capital, IQ Capital, Cambridge Enterprise and Martlet Capital also followed-on from the company’s pre-Seed investment round last September, with Seraphim Capital joining as a new investor. Last year it raised a £650,000 pre-seed investment round, also led by Amadeus.

The funding will go towards a state-of-the-art photonics lab in Cambridge and a major recruitment drive for scientists, product team members and business functions as the company approaches the launch of its first commercial technology demonstration.

Nu Quantum brings together a portfolio of intellectual property combining quantum optics, semiconductor photonics, and information theory, spun out of the University of Cambridge after eight years of research at the Cavendish Laboratory. Nu Quantum is one of a handful of companies in the world developing this photonics technology.

The company’s first commercial deliverable will use quantum photonic technology and proprietary algorithms to generate random numbers extracted from quantum-level effects, giving the highest confidence in the quality of these numbers which are ubiquitously used as cryptographic keys to secure data. Nu Quantum is a partner in the consortium led by the National Physical Laboratory, developing the UK standard for quantum random number generation, a project which was awarded £2.8m from the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. 

Dr Carmen Palacios-Berraquero, CEO, Nu Quantum, said in a statement: “Our aim is to enable the potential of quantum mechanics using quantum photonics hardware. This funding will allow us to do just that – a world-class multidisciplinary team and our new laboratories will give Nu Quantum the ability to deliver meaningful demonstrations of our technology into the hands of customers and partners for the first time.”

Alex van Someren, Managing Partner, Amadeus Capital Partners, said: 
“Quantum photonics has the potential to transform cybersecurity through digital cryptography. We’re making another investment in Nu Quantum because we believe in the team and its ability to take its solutions to market. Cambridge is leading the world on developing and commercializing quantum computing hardware and applications, and Amadeus is excited to be backing great entrepreneurs here.”

Nu Quantum is a partner in the consortium led by the National Physical Laboratory, developing the UK standard for quantum random number generation, a project which was awarded £2.8m from the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

#amadeus-capital-partners, #cambridge, #cambridge-enterprise, #ceo, #cryptography, #emerging-technologies, #europe, #managing-partner, #partner, #photon, #physics, #quantum-computing, #quantum-cryptography, #quantum-mechanics, #semiconductor, #seraphim-capital, #simulation, #tc, #uk-government, #united-kingdom, #university-of-cambridge

Silverlake adds a $2 billion “longterm” hedge fund backed by Abu Dhabi to its tech finance toolkit

Silver Lake Partners, the multi-billion dollar tech-focused investment firm, is adding a longterm hedge fund backed by Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala, to its array of investment vehicles to finance technology companies.

The move into multi-strategy investing represents the diversification of financing vehicles that companies have at their disposal and gives the private equity firm the tools it needs to compete in a world awash with capital and new ways for companies to access public market financing.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the public-private, long-only, investment structure is happening as more tech companies are eschewing later stage financing to find cash on public markets through things like special purpose acquisition companies (SPACS).

According to a statement from the firm, the new strategy has a 25-year deployment life cycle and can be invested across structures, geographies and industries. The agreement makes the two financial entities a couple that will really span time together.

In addition to the new strategy, Silver Lake’s partnership has a new minority shareholder in the Abu Dhabi-backed sovereign wealth fund. Mubadala took a minority stake in the firm by buying up half of the 10% chunk of the firm that Silver Lake’s partners sold to Dyal Capital Partners, a subsidiary of Neuberger Berman.

“Silver Lake is a top performer for Dyal, having innovated, evolved and expanded to prudently grow its assets under management from $23 billion when we first acquired our stake to more than $60 billion today,” said Michael Rees, Managing Director and Head of Dyal Capital Partners, in a statement. “This transaction with Mubadala and their commitment to Silver Lake’s new long-term capital vehicle is a strong endorsement of Silver Lake’s differentiated, global capabilities and underscores our conviction in the ability to generate compelling returns by owning stakes in the world’s leading private investment firms.”

It’s not the first time that the two firms have hooked up. Mubadala is a co-investor alongside Silver Lake in the talent agency and entertainment giant, Endeavor; the autonomous vehicle technology developer, Waymo; and the India-based Jio Platforms.

The firm’s co-chief executives Egon Durban and Greg Mondre said in a joint statement that the new deal would allow the firm to capitalize on a wide range of investment opportunities, including ones outside of the mandates of existing funds.

“As an institution that has long seen the potential of investing in the technology sector, we are excited to partner with Silver Lake, one of the world’s most respected technology investors, to capitalize on major opportunities within and beyond the industry,” said Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Mubadala, in a statement.  “Technology is the bedrock of the global economy, and fundamental to all other sectors that are being significantly digitalized.  Our goal is to be well positioned to take advantage of this accelerated digital transformation and its potential, and we believe Silver Lake is the right partner and that this is an optimal structure for us.”

Mubadala’s tech portfolio investments kicked off in 2007 with an investment in the chip manufacturer AMD and then through the creation of the semiconductor manufacturing company GlobalFoundries. It’s also backed the medtech company PCI Pharma Services, and a number of ridesharing and e-commerce companies in Abu Dhabi and Silicon Valley, the company said.

The deal with Silver Lake could also be seen as a slap in the face for Softbank — a long time partner for Mubadala, which was an investor in the Japanese investment firm’s $100 billion Vision Fund and a $400 million European-focused investment vehicle which launched in February of last year.

#abu-dhabi, #amd, #finance, #investment, #jio-platforms, #money, #mubadala, #mubadala-investment-company, #neuberger-berman, #private-equity, #semiconductor, #silver-lake, #silver-lake-partners, #softbank, #softbank-group, #tc, #vision-fund, #waymo

IBM publishes its quantum roadmap, says it will have a 1,000-qubit machine in 2023

IBM today, for the first time, published its road map for the future of its quantum computing hardware. There is a lot to digest here, but the most important news in the short term is that the company believes it is on its way to building a quantum processor with more than 1,000 qubits — and somewhere between 10 and 50 logical qubits — by the end of 2023.

Currently, the company’s quantum processors top out at 65 qubits. It plans to launch a 127-qubit processor next year and a 433-qubit machine in 2022. To get to this point, IBM is also building a completely new dilution refrigerator to house these larger chips, as well as the technology to connect multiple of these units to build a system akin to today’s multi-core architectures in classical chips.

Image Credits: IBM

IBM’s Dario Gil tells me that the company made a deliberate choice in announcing this road map and he likened it to the birth of the semiconductor industry.

“If you look at the difference of what it takes to build an industry as opposed to doing a project or doing scientific experiments and moving a field forward, we have had a philosophy that what we needed to do is to build a team that did three things well, in terms of cultures that have to come together. And that was a culture of science, a culture of the road map, and a culture of agile,” Gil said.

He argues that to reach the ultimate goal of the quantum industry, that is, to build a large-scale, fault-tolerant quantum computer, the company could’ve taken two different paths. The first would be more like the Apollo program, where everybody comes together, works on a problem for a decade and then all the different pieces come together for this one breakthrough moment.

“A different philosophy is to say, ‘what can you do today’ and put the capability out,” he said. “And then have user-driven feedback, which is a culture of agile, as a mechanism to continue to deliver to a community and build a community that way, and you got to lay out a road map of progress. We are firm believers in this latter model. And that in parallel, you got to do the science, the road map and the feedback and putting things out.”

But he also argues that we’ve now reached a new moment in the quantum industry. “We’ve gotten to the point where there is enough aggregate investment going on, that is really important to start having coordination mechanisms and signaling mechanisms so that we’re not grossly misallocating resources and we allow everybody to do their piece.”

He likens it to the early days of the semiconductor industry, where everybody was doing everything, but over time, an ecosystem of third-party vendors sprung up. Today, when companies introduce new technologies like UV lithography, the kind of road maps that IBM believes it is laying out for the quantum industry today help every coordinate their efforts.

He also argues that the industry has gotten to the point where the degree of complexity has increased so much that individual players can’t do everything themselves anymore. In turn, that means various players in the ecosystem can now focus on specializing and figuring out what they are best at.

“You’re gonna do that, you need materials? The position technology? Then in that, you need the device expertise. How do you do the coupling? How do you do the packaging? How do you do the wiring? How do you do the amplifiers, the cryogenics, room temperature electronics, then the entire software stack from bottom to top? And on and on and on. So you can take the approach of saying, ‘well, you know, we’re going to do it all.’ Okay, fine, at the beginning, you need to do all to integrate, but over time, it’s like, should we be in the business of doing coaxial cabling?”

We’re already seeing some of that today, with the recent collaboration between Q-CTRL and Quantum Machines, for example.

Gil believes that 2023 will be an inflection point in the industry, with the road to the 1,121-qubit machine driving improvements across the stack. The most important — and ambitious — of these performance improvements that IBM is trying to execute on is bringing down the error rate from about 1% today to something closer to 0.0001%. But looking at the trajectory of where its machines were just a few years ago, that’s the number the line is pointing toward.

But that’s only part of the problem. As Gil noted, “as you get richer and more sophisticated with this technology, every layer of the stack of innovation ends up becoming almost like an infinite field.” That’s true for the semiconductor industry and maybe even more so for quantum. And as these chips become more sophisticated, they also become larger — and that means that even the 10-foot fridge IBM is building right now won’t be able to hold more than maybe a million qubits. At that point, you have to build the interconnects between these chambers (because when cooling one chamber alone takes almost 14 days, you can’t really experiment and iterate at any appreciable speed). Building that kind of “quantum intranet,” as Gil calls it, is anything but trivial, but will be key to building larger, interconnected machines. And that’s just one of the many areas where inventions are still required — and it may still take a decade before these systems are working as expected.

“We are pursuing all of these fronts in parallel,” Gil said. “We’re doing investments with horizons where the device and the capability is going to come a decade from now […], because when you have this problem and you only start then, you’ll never get there.”

While the company — and its competitors — work to build the hardware, there are also plenty of efforts in building the software stack for quantum computing. One thing Gil stressed here is that now is the time to start thinking about quantum algorithms and quantum circuits, even if today, they still perform worse on quantum computers than classical machines. Indeed, Gil wants developers to think less about qubits than circuits.

“When [developers] call a function and now it goes to the cloud, what is going to happen behind the scenes? There are going to be libraries of quantum circuits and there’s going to be a tremendous amount of innovation and creativity and intellectual property on these circuits,” explained Gil. And then, those circuits have to be mapped to the right quantum hardware and indeed, it looks like IBM’s vision here isn’t for a single kind of quantum processor but ones that have different layouts and topologies.

“We are already, ourselves, running over a billion quantum circuits a day from the external world — over a billion a day,” Gil said. “The future is going to be where trillions of quantum circuits are being executed every day on quantum hardware behind the scenes through these cloud-enabled services embedded in software applications. ”

#dario-gil, #emerging-technologies, #ibm, #quantum, #quantum-computing, #qubit, #semiconductor, #tc

China Roundup: Huawei targets cars, ByteDance enters Tencent’s backyard

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. This week, we have several heavy-hitting rumors swirling around, from Huawei’s chips for cars to Tencent’s potential buyout of its video rival iQiyi.

China tech at home

Huawei’s foray into autos

Huawei might be bringing the technology behind its Kirin smartphone processor into cars. According to Chinese tech publication 36Kr, Huawei has signed a strategic deal with domestic electric car giant BYD, which would be using the Kirin chips to digitize the “cockpits” (generally refer to the drivers’ cabins) in its cars.

The Kirin chips are developed by Huawei’s semiconductor subsidiary HiSilicon to hedge against U.S. sanctions and become self-sufficient in core smartphone technologies. What’s noticeable is that BYD, backed by Warren Buffet, had previously announced to adopt Qualcomm’s Snapdragon automotive chips in its electric vehicles, a partnership that was set to begin in 2019. Could the potential collaboration with Huawei be part of BYD’s move to decrease reliance on imported technologies?

BYD said it “does not have information to disclose at the moment,” while Huawei declines to comment on the rumor.

The potential alliance would not be all that surprising given the duo has already been working together closely. In March 2019, the companies, both Shenzhen-based, unveiled a strategic partnership to apply Huawei’s AI and 5G technologies in BYD’s alternative energy vehicles and monorails.

Automotive independence

More big moves from BYD — the automaker is rushing to become self-sufficient in the production of electric vehicles. After raising a 1.9 billion yuan ($270 million) Series A in late May, its chipmaking subsidiary BYD Semiconductor completed another 800 million yuan ($113 million) Series A+ round this week, apparently due to investors’ immense interest in getting involved in the only Chinese company capable of making the core chip part of electric cars called insulated gate bipolar transistors, or IGBTs.

ByteDance encroaches on Tencent’s turf

ByteDance just paid 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million) for a big plot of land to build offices in the heart of Shenzhen’s Nanshan district, according to public information disclosed by the government. Shenzhen is home to multiple Chinese tech heavyweights, including Tencent, Huawei and DJI. It also houses the China offices of foreign retail giants such as Lazada and Shopify, given the city’s rich manufacturing and logistics resources.

That gives ByteDance, the parent of TikTok, a significant presence in Tencent’s backyard. ByteDance is known to have aggressively lured talents from the entrenched tech trio of Baidu, Alibaba and Baidu by offering lucrative packages. Being in Shenzhen will no doubt give the company more access to Tencent’s talent pool.

This may help it in its push into video gaming, an area that has long been dominated by Tencent, the world’s biggest games publisher. Meanwhile, the world’s second-largest games company — NetEase — is right next door in Guangzhou, an hour’s drive away from central Shenzhen.

Shakeup in video streaming

Reuters reported this week that Tencent has approached Baidu to become the biggest shareholder in iQiyi, the video streaming giant controlled by Baidu. Tencent’s video platform competes neck to neck with iQiyi to churn out variety shows and dramas that will convince Chinese audiences to pay for online content.

Both companies are bleeding money on video production. IQiyi, which shed from Baidu to list on Nasdaq, widened its net loss to 2.9 billion yuan ($406.0 million) in Q1 this year, up from 1.8 billion yuan the year before. Selling iQiyi to deep-pocketed Tencent may further ease the financial burden on Baidu, which is busy coping with ByteDance’s threat to its core advertising business. Both Tencent and iQiyi declined to comment on the report.

Robotics startup Geek+ raises $200 million 

Geek+, a startup that specializes in making logistics robots that are analogous to those of Amazon’s Kiva machines, just closed a substantial Series C round. The company is one to watch as retail companies in China and North America are increasingly looking to automate their warehouses.

China tech abroad

China’s gay dating app Blued goes public on Nasdaq

Despite limited support for LGBTQ communities in China, Blued, a Chinese app used by millions of gay individuals, has been quietly blossoming over the past few years and is eyeing to raise $50 million from a U.S. initial public offering.

JD.com goes public in Hong Kong

JD’s long-awaited secondary listing is here. The online retailer’s shares rose 5.7% to HK$239 ($30.8) on its first day of trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Several U.S.-listed Chinese companies have filed to list in Hong Kong because of a new bill that will impose more scrutiny on Chinese firms trading on the U.S. stock markets.

#asia, #baidu, #byd-semiconductor, #bytedance, #china, #china-roundup, #electric-car, #hong-kong-stock-exchange, #huawei, #iqiyi, #jd-com, #qualcomm, #semiconductor, #snapdragon, #tc, #tencent

China’s BYD nabs $113M to produce IGBTs, the ‘CPU of electric cars’

BYD Co., the Chinese auto giant backed by Warren Buffett, is rushing to make China self-sufficient in the production of electric vehicles. On Monday, the firm said in a filing it has secured 800 million yuan ($113 million) in a Series A+ round for its chipmaking arm, BYD Semiconductor.

At stake is the race to make so-called insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBT), an integral silicon component in EVs’ power management system that’s at the core of BYD Semiconductor. The electronic switch is dubbed by industry experts the “CPU of an EV” for it reduces power loss and improves reliability. It’s the second-most expensive part of an EV after batteries, accounting for around 7-10% of the total cost according to market research.

BYD is fighting a fierce competition against Germany’s semiconductor giant Infineon Technologies AG, which produced 58% of the IGBTs used in China’s electric cars in 2019. BYD finished with an 18% share that year, noted a report from Citic Securities.

The prospects of IGBT production are bright, as the technology not only powers a booming EV industry worldwide but is also used in other high-energy applications such as air conditioners, refrigerators, and high-speed trains. The global market for IGBTs is estimated to near 10 billion yuan ($1.41 billion) in 2020 and quadruple to almost 40 billion yuan by 2025, according to the Citic report.

The outsize funding arrived just two months after Shenzhen-traded BYD hived its chip unit off into an independent company ahead of a separate public listing. Due to oversubscription from investors, the subsidiary raised the new round on the heel of its 1.9 billion yuan ($270 million) Series A closed in late May.

Parent company BYD holds a 72.3% stake in the chip arm following the two funding rounds, which have lifted the valuation of the subsidiary to 10.2 billion yuan ($1.44 billion).

As the only Chinese company that can produce IGBTs independently, the semiconductor maker has drawn heavyweight backers across the board. Its investors range from Sequoia China and state-backed CICC Capital from the Series A round, to Korean conglomerate SK Group, smartphone maker Xiaomi, Lenovo Group, ARM, China’s largest semiconductor foundry SMIC, and investment affiliates of Chinese carmakers SAIC and BAIC in the latest A+ round.

BYD started out as a manufacturer of electronics components in 1995 and has since expanded into automobiles and renewable energy. Headquartered in Shenzhen, it powers all of the city’s electric buses and taxis. It’s also ramped up expansion into overseas markets as China scales back state subsidies on electric cars.

#asia, #automotive, #baic, #berkshire-hathaway, #byd, #cars, #china, #electric-vehicles, #saic, #semiconductor, #sequoia-china, #shenzhen, #warren-buffet, #xiaomi

China Roundup: Alibaba to add 5,000 staff to cloud unit

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. This week, we have updates from Alibaba’s rapidly growing cloud computing unit, Apple’s controversial decision to remove two podcast apps from its Chinese App Store, and more.

China tech abroad

TikTok’s besieged rival

Zynn, a TikTok rival that had rocketed to the top of the download charts a few weeks since its launch in May, was removed from Google Play this week over plagiarism. Developed by Kuaishou, the nemesis of TikTok’s Chinese sister Douyin, Zynn is another made-in-China app that has recently taken the international market by storm.

In a statement (in Chinese) this week, Kuaishou said the removal was triggered by one complaint about a user-generated video that had stolen content from another platform. As venture capitalist Turner Novak observed, much of Zynn’s early content seemed to be ripped from TikTok.

The main driver of the app’s rise, however, is its reward system; it essentially pays users to use and promote its app, a strategy that has proven popular among China’s rural and small-town populations. Nasdaq-listed content aggregator Qutoutiao has used the same tactic to grow.

Whether this pay-to-use strategy is sustainable is yet to be seen. Zynn is apparently making efforts to retain users through other means, claiming it’s in talks with “celebrity-level” creators to enrich its content.

Alibaba hunts for global influencers to sell more

Influencers are in high demand these days. After proving the strategy of driving e-commerce sales through influencer live promotion, Alibaba decided it wanted to bring the model to overseas markets. As such, it put out a notice to recruit as many as 100,000 content creators who would help the Chinese giant promote products sold on its international marketplace, AliExpress.

Data center in Tibet to connect China to South Asia

Many may know that China has turned one of its poorest provinces Guizhou into a pivotal tech hub that’s home to many cloud services, including that of Apple China. Now China is morphing Tibet into another cloud computing center. One main project is a 645,000-square-meter data facility that will facilitate data exchange between China and South Asia.

China tech at home

Dingtalk as an OS

At its annual summit this week, Alibaba Cloud reiterated its latest strategy to “integrate cloud into Dingtalk (in Chinese),” its work collaboration app that’s analogous to Slack.

The slogan suggests the strategic role Alibaba wants Dingtalk to play: an operating system built on Alibaba Cloud, the world’s third-largest infrastructure as a service behind Amazon and Microsoft. It’s a relationship that echoes the one between Microsoft 365 and Azure, as president of Alibaba Cloud Zhang Jianfeng previously suggested in an interview (in Chinese).

Dingtalk, built initially for enterprise communication, has blossomed into an all-in-one platform with a myriad of third-party applications tailored to work, education and government services. For instance, the Ministry of Education can easily survey students and parents through Dingtalk. The app is now serving 15 million organizations and 300 million individual users.

On top of Dingtalk integration, Alibaba Cloud said it will hire up to 5,000 engineers this financial year to fuel growth in areas including network, databases and artificial intelligence. The recruitment came after Alibaba committed in April to spend 200 billion yuan ($28 billion) over the next three years to build more data infrastructure amid increased demand for services like video conferencing and live streaming as businesses adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apple bans podcast apps

Just as podcasts are gaining ground in China, two foreign podcast apps that appeal to independent content creators were banned from the Apple App Store. The move echoed Apple’s crackdown on Chinese-language podcasts on its own podcast platform last year this time.

Investor’s favorite app is back

Speaking of app removal, this week, many venture capitalists and product managers in China are celebrating the return of Jike (即刻). The social media app, which has a loyal following within the Chinese tech circle, was removed nearly a year ago from app stores for unspecified reasons, but many speculated it was due to censorship.

The app is a kind of a hybrid of Reddit and Twitter, allowing users to discover content and connect based on interests and topics. Many VCs and internet firm employees use it to trade gossip and share hot takes. Its death and life are a reminder of the immense regulatory uncertainty facing tech companies operating in China.

Sought-after Hong Kong listings

Two of the largest U.S.-traded Chinese companies are floating their shares in Hong Kong for secondary listings amid fraying ties between Beijing and Washington. NetEase, the second-biggest gaming company in the world after Tencent, jumped 6% from its offer price to HK$130 on the first day of trading this week. JD.com, the Alibaba archrival, has reportedly priced its offering at HK$226 a share.

Chip company Eswin raised $283 million

Eswin, a semiconductor company founded by the boss of Chinese display technology giant BOE Technology, has completed a sizable funding round as the Chinese government encourages domestic chip production.

#alibaba, #alibaba-cloud, #alibaba-group, #apple-app-store, #asia, #beijing, #china, #china-roundup, #cloud-services, #content-creators, #display-technology, #jd-com, #kuaishou, #netease, #semiconductor, #tc, #tibet, #tiktok, #turner-novak

UK government reverses course on Huawei’s involvement in 5G networks

Conservative members of the United Kingdom’s government have pushed Prime Minister Boris Johnson to draw up plans to remove telecom equipment made by the Chinese manufacturer Huawei from the nation’s 5G networks by 2023, according to multiple reports.

The decision by Johnson, who wanted Huawei’s market share in the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure capped at 35 percent, brings the UK back into alignment with the position Australia and the United States have taken on Huawei’s involvement in national communications networks, according to both The Guardian and The Telegraph.

The debate over Huawei’s role in international networking stems from the company’s close ties to the Chinese government and the attendant fears that relying on Huawei telecom equipment could expose the allied nations to potential cybersecurity threats and weaken national security.

Originally, the UK had intended to allow Huawei to maintain a foothold in the nation’s telecom infrastructure in a plan that had received the approval of Britain’s intelligence agencies in January.

“This is very good news and I hope and believe it will be the start of a complete and thorough review of our dangerous dependency on China,” conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told The Guardian when informed of the Prime Minister’s reversal.

As TechCrunch had previously reported, the Australian government and the U.S. both have significant concerns about Huawei’s ability to act independently of the interests of the Chinese national government.

“The fundamental issue is one of trust between nations in cyberspace,” wrote Simeon Gilding, until recently the head of the Australian Signals Directorate’s signals intelligence and offensive cyber missions. “It’s simply not reasonable to expect that Huawei would refuse a direction from the Chinese Communist Party.”

Given the current tensions between the U.S. and China, allies like the UK and Australia would be better served not exposing themselves to any risks from having the foreign telecommunications company’s technology in their networks, some security policy analysts have warned.

“It’s not hard to imagine a time when the U.S. and China end up in some sort of conflict,” Tom Uren of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) told TechCrunch. “If there was a shooting war, it is almost inevitable that the U.S. would ask Australia for assistance and then we’d be in this uncomfortable situation if we had Huawei in our networks that our critical telecommunications networks would literally be run by an adversary we were at war with.”

U.S. officials are bound to be delighted with the decision. They’ve been putting pressure on European countries for months to limit Huawei’s presence in their telecom networks.

“If countries choose to go the Huawei route it could well jeopardize all the information sharing and intelligence sharing we have been talking about, and that could undermine the alliance, or at least our relationship with that country,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, according to a report in The New York Times.

In recent months the U.S. government has stepped up its assault against the technology giant on multiple fronts. Earlier in May, the U.S. issued new restrictions on the use of American software and hardware in certain strategic semiconductor processes. The rules would affect all foundries using U.S. technologies, including those located abroad, some of which are Huawei’s key suppliers.

At a conference earlier this week, Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping admitted that while the firm is able to design some semiconductor parts such as integrated circuits (IC), it remains “incapable of doing a lot of other things.”

“Survival is the keyword for us at present,” he said.

Huawei has challenged the ban, saying that it would damage the international technology ecosystem that has developed to manufacture the hardware that powers the entire industry.

“In the long run, [the U.S. ban] will damage the trust and collaboration within the global semiconductor industry which many industries depend on, increasing conflict and loss within these industries.”

#5g, #australia, #boris-johnson, #chairman, #china, #chinese-communist-party, #companies, #head, #huawei, #integrated-circuits, #semiconductor, #tc, #techcrunch, #telecommunications, #the-guardian, #the-new-york-times, #the-telegraph, #u-s-government, #united-kingdom, #united-states

Huawei admits uncertainty following new US chip curbs

Following the U.S. government’s announcement that would further thwart Huawei’s chip-making capability, the Chinese telecoms equipment giant condemned the new ruling for being “arbitrary and pernicious.”

“Huawei categorically opposes the amendments made by the U.S. Department of Commerce to its foreign direct product rule that target Huawei specifically,” said Huawei Monday at its annual analyst summit in Shenzhen.

The new curbs, which dropped on Friday, would ban Huawei from using U.S. software and hardware in certain strategic semiconductor processes. This will affect all foundries using U.S. technologies, including those located abroad, some of which are Huawei’s key suppliers.

Earlier on Monday, the Nikkei Asian Review reported citing sources that Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract semiconductor that powers many of Huawei’s high-end phones, has stopped taking new orders from Huawei, one of its largest clients. Huawei declined to comment while TSMC said the report was “purely market rumor”.

Decisions from TSMC point to its attempt to strengthen bonds with the U.S. though, as it’s planning a new $12 billion advanced chip factory in Arizona with support from the state and the U.S. federal government.

At the Monday conference, Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping admitted that while the firm is able to design some semiconductor parts such as integrated circuits (IC), it remains “incapable of doing a lot of other things.”

“Survival is the keyword for us at present,” he said.

Huawei stated the latest U.S. ban would not only affect its own business in over 170 countries, where it has spent “hundreds of billions of dollars,” but also the wider ecosystem around the world.

“In the long run, [the U.S. ban] will damage the trust and collaboration within the global semiconductor industry which many industries depend on, increasing conflict and loss within these industries.”

Huawei has announced a raft of contingency measures ever since the Trump administration began slapping technology sanctions on it, including one that had cut it off certain Android services from Google.

Huawei said at the summit that it had doubled down on investment in overseas developers in an effort to lure them to its operating system. Some 1.4 million developers have signed up for Huawei Mobile Services or HMS, a 150% jump from 2019. For comparison, iOS in 2018 counted 20 million registered developers, who collectively made about $100 billion in revenues. The question for Huawei is how much money app makers can generate from its ecosystem.

In its search to identify alternatives to Google’s app suite in Europe, it has partnered up with navigation services TomTom and Here, search engine Qwant and news app News UK. 

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Intel has invested $132M in 11 startups this year, on track for $300M-$500M in total

When it comes to corporate venture capital, semiconductor giant Intel has shaped up to be one of the most prolific and prescient investors in the tech world, with investments in 1,582 companies worldwide, and a tally of some 692 portfolio companies going public or otherwise exiting in the wake of Intel’s backing.

Today, the company announced its latest tranche of deals: $132 million invested in 11 startups. The deals speak to some of the company’s most strategic priorities currently and in the future, covering artificial intelligence, autonomous computing, and chip design.

Many corporate VCs have been clear in drawing a separation between their activities and that of their parents, and the same has held for Intel, but at the same time, the company has made a number of key moves that point to how it uses its VC muscle to expand its strategic relationships and also ultimately expand through M&A. Just earlier this month, it acquired Moovit, an Intel Capital portfolio company, for $900 million (a deal that was knocked down to $840 million when accounting for its previous investment).

Intel Capital identifies and invests in disruptive startups that are working to improve the way we work and live. Each of our recent investments is pushing the boundaries in areas such as AI, data analytics, autonomous systems and semiconductor innovation. Intel Capital is excited to work with these companies as we jointly navigate the current world challenges and as we together drive sustainable, long-term growth,” said Wendell Brooks, Intel senior vice president and president of Intel Capital, in a statement.

The tranche of deals come at a critical time in the worlds of startups and venture investing. Many are worried that the slowdown in the economy, precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, will mean a subsequent slowdown in tech finance. Intel says that it plans to invest between $300 million and $500 million in total this year, so this would go some way to refuting that idea, along with some of the other monster deals and big funds that we’ve written out in the last couple of months.

The list announced today doesn’t include specific investment numbers, but in some cases the startups have also announced the fundings themselves and given more detail on round sizes. These still, however, do not reveal Intel’s specific financial stakes.

Here’s the full list:

• Anodot uses machine learning for to monitor business operations autonomously, covering areas like app performance, customer incidents, and more. The idea is that using the platform to monitor for these incidents means detection and response time can be faster. The full $35 million round was announced back in April.

• Astera Labs is a fabless semiconductor startup focused on connectivity solutions for data-centric systems to remove performance bottlenecks in compute-intensive workloads in areas like AI. It announced its Series B of an undisclosed amount two weeks ago, and prior to this it had raised just over $6 million according to PitchBook.

• Axonne develops next generation high-speed automotive Ethernet network connectivity solutions for connected cars: addressing the issue of merging legacy or proprietary systems with the demands of advanced next-generation applications. Intel invested as part of a $9 million round that actually closed in March.

• Hypersonix uses big-data analytics to determine and predict customer demand for e-commerce, retail and hospitality customers. One of its customers is Amazon — which uses Hypersonix’s platform in its supply chain division. That may come as a surprise, but according to Hypersonix’s CEO the e-commerce giant does not have dedicated analytics teams to serve every division in the company, so sometimes they do buy from third parties. The round was actually announced at the beginning of this month: an $11.5 million deal.

• KFBIO out of China is one of Intel’s biotechnology bets. The company has designed and built a digital pathology scanner, which aims to replace microscopes with its big data, cloud-based, and AI-powered insights. The obvious connection and interest here for Intel is on the processor side, but potentially brings Intel into a sphere where it can flex its muscle around a range of AI and cloud computing applications as well. The deal was closed at the beginning of April and totals around $14.2 million.

• Lilt has built an AI-powered language translation platform, not to compete with the likes of Google Translate for consumers, but to help those with international-facing websites and apps localise their services more efficiently. The company actually announced its round today: a $25 million Series B led by Intel.

• MemVerge focuses on “in-memory” computing, an architecture that makes it easier to deploy heavy, data-centric applications. It closed its round of $24.5 million at the beginning of April, and while it’s always worked with Intel processors, Intel’s investment was not public until today.

• ProPlus Electronics, also out of China, is an electronic design automation (“EDA”) startup that speeds up chip design and fabrication for semiconductor companies manufacturing a variety of chips at scale. It closed its round also at the beginning of April. The exact amount was undisclosed except to note that it was in the “hundreds of millions of Chinese Yuan” (or tens of millions of US dollars).

Retrace is an under-the-radar dental data startup that uses AI to improve “dental decision making,” but according to its site seems also to focus on other healthcare areas. It’s not clear how big the round is or when it closed.

• Spectrum Materials out of China is another stealthy company that supplies gas and other materials to semiconductor makers.

• Xsight Labs based in Israel is building chipset designs to accelerate data-intensive workloads that you typically get with AI and analytical applications. Israel has a huge R&D centre in Israel focused on autonomous driving, one of the applications that’s going to demand a lot in processing power, so this looks like a clearly strategic bet. The company raised $25 million in February, but Intel was not disclosed in that round previously.

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