Toyota, Honda urge Congress to reject expanded tax incentive that would benefit Ford, GM, Stellantis

Toyota Motor and Honda are urging legislators to reject a bill that would expand tax incentives for union-made electric vehicles that are built in the United States.

The proposal – which Toyota blasted as “blatantly biased” and “exorbitant” in a letter to Congress – would expand the federal tax incentives from $7,500 to as much as $12,500 for union- and domestically manufactured cars. Vehicles with batteries manufactured in the U.S. would be eligible for an additional $500. If the legislation passes, vehicles from automakers like Toyota, Honda and Tesla would be excluded from the expanded credit, while the “Big Three” manufacturers in Detroit would all qualify.

“The current [bill] draft makes the objective of accelerating the deployment of electrified vehicles secondary by discriminating against American autoworkers based on their choice not to unionize,” Toyota said in a letter to lawmakers. “This is unfair, it is wrong, and we ask you to reject this blatantly biased proposal.”

The automaker further said that the bill favors the wealthy – people that may not need public funds to purchase an electric vehicle. There is a means testing provision in the bill, that would limit access to the credit to individuals making an adjusted income of up to $400,000, or households that make up to $800,000. Whether to set an income cap – and what that income cap should be – has been a major point of contention between Congressional Democrats and Republicans.

The bill also received criticism from Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who said on Twitter that it was “written by Ford/UAW lobbyists, as they make their electric car in Mexico. Not obvious how this serves American taxpayers.”

This would be the first such increase to the up to $7,500 tax credit for EVs since it was put into effect over a decade ago. The bill would also do away with a stipulation that exempts vehicles made by OEMs that have sold over 200,000 EVs from the credit, meaning that General Motor and Tesla cars would once again be eligible.

The bill did receive praise from GM, Ford Motor and Stellantis, three major automakers with workforces represented by the United Auto Workers union. The UAW also supports the proposal.

It’s being considered Tuesday by the House Ways and Means Committee. The expanded credit just one part of a massive $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that’s currently being debated by Congress and that includes a whole slew of socially progressive proposals meant to target education, healthcare, and climate change.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #general-motor, #gm, #policy, #tesla, #toyota, #transportation

After ignoring EVs for too long, Toyota will invest $13.6 billion in batteries

Toyota's first modern battery EV will be the bZ4x, due in 2022.

Enlarge / Toyota’s first modern battery EV will be the bZ4x, due in 2022. (credit: Toyota)

Toyota was an early pioneer in hybrid electric vehicles, and it has sold more than 18 million hybrids since the introduction of the first Prius in 1997. But it’s fair to say that the world’s largest automaker has been left behind in the shift toward battery EVs.

That situation looks like it’s set to change. On Tuesday, Toyota announced that it will spend $13.6 billion (¥1.5 trillion) on batteries between now and 2030. Of that money, $9 billion (¥1 trillion) will go toward battery production, with a planned output of 180 to 200 GWh/year by the end of the decade.

“What Toyota values the most is to develop batteries that its customers can use with peace of mind. Especially, we are focusing on safety, long service life, and high-level quality to produce good, low-cost, and high-performance batteries,” said Chief Technology Officer Masahiko Maeda.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#batteries, #cars, #electric-vehicles, #lithium-ion-battery, #solid-state-batteries, #toyota

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuro’s Nevada play

Nuro-Vegas

Image Credits: Nuro

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

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

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

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

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

Deal of the week

money the station

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other deals that got my attention this week …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

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

ADAS

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

Autonomous vehicles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Electric vehicles

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

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

Other bits

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drunk-driving provision could fuel demand for driver detection technology

Companies developing driver detection technology could get a boost from a provision tucked inside the 2,702-page $1 trillion infrastructure bill that would require automakers to build into new cars technology that can tell if drivers have had a few cold ones.

The provision in the bill, which is actually a piece of bipartisan legislation called the Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone Act that was introduced in April 2021, would direct the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish a technology safety standard for automakers within three years. Automakers would then have another two years to comply and implement tech that detects and prevents drunk driving. Reuters was the first to notice the language

While the provision doesn’t dictate what type of tech has to be in these vehicles, industry experts believe that companies developing camera-based driver monitoring systems (DMS) stand to benefit the most. DMS systems are already mature in the auto industry, representing a technological byproduct of autonomous driving developments. While the auto industry explores self-driving cars as a way to drastically reduce road deaths in the future, advocates and regulators say there’s room to use some of this tech to solve problems that exist now, like drunk or distracted driving. 

“What’s happening in the U.S. Senate this week potentially opens the door to a camera-based real-time solution, which will be the first time that the U.S. automakers will have the ability and the requirement to look at real-time physiological changes in your body that occur when you are inebriated,” Dr. Mike Lenné, chief science and innovation officer at Seeing Machines told TechCrunch. “There are distinct reliable changes to the way you scan the environment, to the way your eyes respond to stimuli, which is why the police use that ‘follow the finger’ test.”

The system would have to monitor the performance of a driver to detect impairment and prevent or limit vehicle operation if impairment is detected; detect whether BAC (blood alcohol concentration) is equal to or greater than the legal limit, potentially preventing operation of the vehicle at all; or a combination of both systems. 

Cameras aren’t the only solution that has been trotted out in recent years.

The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program, a technology that’s been developed in partnership between the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has advocated using a breath or touch-based approach to determine BAC levels. The touch-based approach involves measuring BAC through the skin’s surface by shining an infrared light through the driver’s fingertip. According to DADSS, the current timeline for bringing the breath-based approach to vehicles is by 2024, and the touch-based approach by 2025. 

Lenné argues that a camera-based approach would be far more successful than a breath or touch-based approach because BAC levels can rise within minutes. Someone could theoretically down a bunch of shots immediately before getting behind the wheel and it wouldn’t show up on a reading for several minutes. Or they could get wasted while driving. And BAC detection doesn’t help at all when it comes to drug-impaired driving. 

Europe versus U.S.

Moves are already being made in Europe to encourage automakers to include drunk driving detection technology, specifically through camera-based DMS approaches, whereas most of the discussion on this type of tech in the U.S. has been, until recently, focused on DMS for assisted driving and Level 2 autonomous driving and above. (According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, Level 2 autonomy means the vehicle has combined functions like steering and acceleration but requires the driver to remain engaged.)

The U.S. provision could propel an industry that has already seen growth in recent years as automakers like GM and Ford implement hands-free advanced driver assistance systems.

“From an integration viewpoint, it’s actually not a step change at all from what the OEMs are doing right now for distracted driving and drowsy driving with camera-based DMS. It’s just another feature to offer, another algorithm on the chip, if you like,” Lenné said. 

Near-term tech

“Billions of dollars have gone into developing the technology to make AVs a reality but they are really far off,” Stephanie Manning, chief government affairs officer at Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), told TechCrunch. “In the process, automakers have developed a lot of technology that can help us right now in terms of saving lives. If this passes, it’s going to be the biggest safety rulemaking that NHTSA has ever done in terms of lives saved, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. But the more we wait, the more we delay, the more people die.”

The technology is not at all far from market, said Lenné, and he would know. Seeing Machines provides the DMS that is used in Super Cruise, GM’s hands-free advanced driver assistance system. Super Cruise, once relegated to just one Cadillac model, has expanded in capability and GM’s portfolio and is now in the Cadillac CT6, CT4, CT5, Escalade and Chevrolet Bolt. Seeing Machine’s tech is also used in the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class and EQS sedans.

“Once it’s regulated, we can expect to see more entrants to the market because what this does is it creates a top-down demand,” said Lenné. “It takes it out of the consumers’ hands and tells vehicles they must have these safety features, so the market size will increase dramatically, and so will the market opportunity.”

The global DMS market is estimated to surpass $2.1 billion by 2026, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 9.8% from this year, according to IndustryARC. Top-down demand due to regulations like the infrastructure bill will certainly increase demand, but it won’t make the problem easier to solve.

“We’re trying to assess what’s going on in someone’s head, and that’s really different from having a forward-facing radar that’s trying to look at what’s 30 meters in front of you,” he said. “You’re trying to interpret whether or not this person is safe to drive. So it’s a really difficult technical problem to solve. Our company is 21 years old. Smart Eye has been around for over 10 years. Whilst the market size has increased dramatically, it’s a hard problem to solve as a new entrant.”

Newcomers will face competition from established and large Tier 1 suppliers like Seeing Machines and Smart Eye, a Swedish computer vision company that people familiar with the industry say works with Ford (Ford did not confirm or deny this). IndustryARC also names major players as Faurecia, Aptiv PLC, Bosch, Denso, Continental AG and others. But new players are finding their way into the scene, like Israel-based Cipia, formerly Eyesight Technology, and Sweden-based Tobii Tech.

Room for growth in the market

More entrants to market means more advancements to the technology. Smart Eye’s recent acquisition of emotion-detection startup Affectiva for $73.5 million hints at the potential future applications of DMS in passenger vehicles. Today it might be distracted, drowsy or drunk driving, but in a few years DMS could detect other types of drug impairment, cognitive impairments or even road rage.

Tobii, an eye-tracker technology company, just announced its entrance into the DMS market, a space it’s been exploring for the past few years as it has watched the legislative changes happening first in Europe and now in the U.S.

While a new entrant to the automotive space, Tobii has been in the eye tracking space since 2001, working in industries like marketing, scientific research, virtual reality, gaming and more. Anand Srivatsa, Tobii’s division CEO, told TechCrunch he thinks one of the biggest challenges will be scaling across different populations, given the different eye shapes of different ethnicities, which he says puts Tobii at an advantage, even with its limited automotive experience.

“Because of this long history, we have what it takes to deliver a full solution from a component level all the way to end software because we’ve done it in other parts of our business,” Srivatsa told TechCrunch. “Some of our automotive partners see that as a unique capability from Tobii where we can talk about the compute that is needed for eye tracking because we build our own asix, we’ve built our own sensor. We have end user software in some aspects of our business, so we understand the implications and the constraints of each of these parts of the stack, and we can work with them to create a more disruptive solution. And that’s something that I think is going to be quite important in this space. How do you reduce the total cost of the solution to allow it to scale efficiently across all cars?”

Srivatsa also said there’s room to extend into other spaces the biometrics or physiological signals that eye tracking yields, reconfiguring information based on outside road conditions or what else is going on in the car in a way that optimizes the tech to ensure drivers are spending the bulk of their time looking at the road.

“What I am hoping and dreaming for is technologies like forward collision warning, or blind spot warning or even the lane swerving warnings help me out when I need it most by understanding if I’m becoming complacent or tired, perhaps distracted, and then adjust how the systems perform, the warning timing and things like that, based on what I need in the moment,” Kelly Funkhouser, program manager of vehicle interface testing and head of connected and automated vehicles at Consumer Reports, told TechCrunch. “Counter to that is I would like it to not bother me and nag and annoy me when I am fully paying attention. I’m like ‘Yeah I know exactly what I’m doing, I am purposely driving over this line so that I don’t hit the mom and kids.’ ”

Lenné said there’s a potential for driver monitoring systems that capture what is really going on inside of a car to become more personalized in order to provide a better driving experience. 

“I think in all of this, writing a better driving experience is absolutely pivotal,” said Lenné. “If it doesn’t do that, it risks not being accepted by the consumers.”

Advancing existing ADAS tech

Automakers have been a part of the conversation regarding drunk driving technology for years. Back in 2007, Nissan revealed a drunk driving concept car that would use alcohol odor sensors, facial monitoring and vehicle operational behavior to detect driver impairment.

In the same year, Toyota announced a similar system that it said would be in cars by 2009. More recently, Volvo announced in 2019 that it would install cameras and sensors in cars to monitor drivers for signs of being drunk or distracted and then signal the vehicle to intervene, but that tech is designed for Volvo’s SPA2 architecture for hands-free driving, which hasn’t been released yet. The bottom line is without legislation mandating drunk driving prevention and detection, automakers haven’t really moved forward on implementing the tech, despite much of the building blocks being in place already. 

Manning thinks that’s because automakers want to be able to upcharge for safety features. 

“Automakers want to test their supercomputers on the open road, but they don’t want to put the money and time and energy into solving drunk driving, because they don’t feel it’s their responsibility, and they don’t want this rule-making,” she said. “We fully expect that they’re going to fight us tooth and nail throughout the rule-making process.”

Representatives from GM and Ford could not be reached for comment, but John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which worked with NHTSA on the DADSS program, told TechCrunch that the auto industry is committed to supporting public and private efforts to address this threat to road safety.  

“We appreciate the efforts of congressional leaders and other stakeholders to advance a legislative approach that provides NHTSA the ability to review all potential technologies as options for federal regulation and, consistent with the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, to make a well-informed decision as to whether any specific technologies meet the standard for consumer vehicles,” he said.

#automotive, #ford, #general-motors, #government, #nhtsa, #nissan, #policy, #toyota, #transportation, #volvo

Third Wave Automation raises $40M to bring its autonomous forklifts to warehouses

Fresh off a strategic partnership with Toyota Industries Corporation to build an autonomous forklift, Third Wave Automation has snagged another $40 million from investors.

The California-based startup, which was founded in 2018, has raised $40 million in a Series B round led by Norwest Venture Partners, including participation from prior investors Innovation Endeavors and Eclipse, along with Toyota Ventures, according to a Form D filed with regulators. Matt Howard, general partner at Norwest Venture Partners, will join Third Wave’s board of directors.

The injection of capital came after Howard learned of Third Wave’s partnership with Toyota Industries Corporation, which builds a third of the world’s forklifts, Third Wave CEO Arshan Poursohi told TechCrunch. Under that deal, which was announced in May, Third Wave and Toyota Industries (TICO) will develop an autonomous forklift together. The machine will be manufactured at a TICO factory and equipped with Third Wave’s sensors and compute stack. Third Wave will support the software side.

Third Wave’s three co-founders — including Mac Mason, who is chief roboticist, and James Davidson, who is no longer with the company — have long backgrounds in robotics, oftentimes working together at places like Google’s robotics program and Google Research and Toyota Research Institute.

“We’ve covered just about every kind of robot there is,” Poursohi said. “But all of these robots that we built ended up, you know, sitting in a closet somewhere because ultimately, Google or, in my case, Sun Microsystems, would decide it’s not worth scaling it out because it’s not the core business, or some other reason.”

The co-founders struck out to form their own company to focus on robots that would be used and would meet an immediate need.

“When we looked at forklifts, it’s this beautiful manipulation problem, so it’s a robot that actually touches the world on purpose,” Poursohi said. “And it’s a thing that we can actually build and ship on a time horizon that is not measured in decades.”

The forklifts they have developed operate under what is called shared autonomy. This means the forklift, which can lift pallets and move them around, will operate on its own 90% of the time. However, every robot can also be controlled remotely if the need arises. The robots are easy to operate, meaning the customer, not Third Wave, can have on-site employees to provide assistance remotely if the robot encounters something that prevents it from operating.

“There’s a big impact we can make on logistics and supply chain, just by moving pallets around, and that’s where we’ve been concentrated. The key to our technology is that it’s very fast to set up and it works in brownfield [environments],” Poursohi said.

Third Wave is still at an early stage in its development, but it’s making progress. The momentum from the funding and the recent completion of technical trials will allow the company to speed up its hiring effort and focus on commercialization, Poursohi said. He noted that Third Wave is in active conversations with 20 third-party logistics operators and retailers in the industry.

“We’ve tackled and have solid answers on all the technical fronts,” Poursohi said. “The next year and a half to two years is about is scaling out our operations team. And the market demand for this right now is massive.”

The target is to have 100 units in the field — meaning warehouses and other indoor locations — by the end of 2022 and scaling to 350 to 400 by the end of 2023.

#forklift, #funding, #norwest-venture-partners, #robotics, #tc, #toyota, #transportation

What is LMDh and why are we so excited about sports car racing in 2023?

A sketch of the Porsche LMDh race car

Enlarge / This sketch is all we’ve seen of Porsche’s forthcoming LMDh hybrid racer. But now we know that when it starts racing in 2023, it will be run by Team Penske. (credit: Porsche)

In 2021, there is a real buzz building in the world of sports car racing. After many years of running incompatible technical regulations, the three organizations that are in charge of endurance racing in the US, France, and the rest of the world have managed to find common ground. Soon, a car that’s able to compete for the overall win at Le Mans will also be eligible to do the same at Sebring or Daytona, and vice-versa.

This convergence was meant to stimulate interest and draw in new entries, and it’s doing just that: Acura, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Glickenhaus, Peugeot, and Toyota have all confirmed programs. Entries are also expected from Cadillac, Hyundai, and Lamborghini. That level of manufacturer involvement hasn’t been seen since the glory days of Group C, and it’s fair to say the increasing field of competitors has fans excited at the prospect.

But sports car racing—which often involves multiple classes of cars racing at the same time—is nothing if not overly complicated. The news is good, but bear with us as we explain what’s going on.

Read 28 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#aco, #acura, #audi, #bmw, #cadillac, #cars, #daytona, #dpi, #dpi-2-0, #endurance-racing, #features, #ferrari, #fia, #glickenhaus, #hybrid, #hypercar, #imsa, #le-mans, #le-mans-hypercar, #lmdh, #lmp1, #peugeot, #porsche, #racing, #sebring, #sportscar-racing, #toyota

They’re programmed to work hard and play hard

Industrial robotics are big and heavy — and in some cases, legitimately dangerous. They’re also extremely difficult to train — particularly if you plan to implement them for tasks outside of their purpose-built intentions.

There’s huge opportunity for the right AI/software company to come along and help make the bulky systems intended for things like auto manufacturing easier to program and more versatile. Honestly, there’s probably enough room to support multiple companies in the category as robots become an increasingly essential part of how we do business.

This week we saw a pair of big news stories from companies operating in that space. On Tuesday, Covariant announced an $80 million raise — a quick follow-up to the $40 million Series B it announced in May 2020.

Image Credits: Covariant

I spoke to president, chief scientist and co-founder (and recurring TC Sessions: Robotics guest) Pieter Abbeel for the piece, which you can check out here. I further picked the long-time UC Berkeley professor’s brain about some broader robotics trends.

We’ve seen a marked increase in investment activity around robotics and automation since the beginning of the pandemic. Do you anticipate that this interest will maintain?

It won’t just maintain. It’ll continue to accelerate on a dramatic scale. The demand isn’t new but the pandemic has certainly increased demand for resilient and robust robotics. COVID-19 accelerated a timeline that was already in motion. Other factors that contribute to the momentum include the rise of e-commerce replacing in-store purchases along with Amazon’s strive for efficiency. They’ve raised consumer expectations of fast delivery across the board and making good on that promise often starts with warehouse automation.

As someone with experience in both an educational setting and a startup, how have universities’ approach to incubating companies evolved. What more can and should be done to foster entrepreneurship?

With AI the transition from research to practice has been exceptionally fast. An idea could be published today, and many companies might be implementing it into their systems the next day. This trend has made AI researchers uniquely positioned to build new applications (compare this to, let’s say, Airbnb, Uber, food delivery companies, etc., which were not enabled by research advances, but by everyone having a smartphone, enabling a new model of doing business).

Structurally, one clear change at many universities is the introduction of artificial intelligence across many programs. A great example is “The Business of AI” course, which I co-teach in the Haas Business School at Berkeley, and which gives business students a solid understanding of the role of AI today, as well as trends and what the future might bring.

To foster more entrepreneurship in the U.S., leadership should consider how many international students are also the leading AI researchers. A faster visa/green card process for entrepreneurs would have a very high impact.

Do you foresee continuing to teach, as Covariant grown?

Yes. I see a very strong synergy between being at the forefront of academic AI research at Berkeley and being at the forefront of industrial R&D bringing AI Robotics into the real world as chief scientist at Covariant. The culture our CEO Peter Chen has fostered at Covariant also has great alignment with this; curiosity and lifelong learning are core values at Covariant.

How actively does your team consider biases in its AI work?

Bias in AI systems is of course a broader industry issue and is on the minds of our team members. As of today, bias in AI systems doesn’t directly play a role in our current robotic warehousing efforts. However, quality assurance more generally is core to everything we do, and quality assurance isn’t a one-axis thing, we have to consider quality and coverage of various data sources and performance across SKUs, warehouses, customers, etc. In that sense, there are actually many technical parallels.

It seems like most of the activity on the industrial robotics front is happening on the software/AI side. Are robotics manufacturers continuing to evolve their hardware as software improves?

Indeed, while we largely focus on the software/AI ourselves, we work with amazing partners to deliver fully functioning robotic systems. In doing so, we see continual improvement on the hardware as well. Most visible over a short time period are continual changes in end-of-arm tooling. In addition, we see interesting multiyear roadmap ideas in robotic arm form factors that take more R&D and design effort to bring to market.

Image Credits: Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich

The other big news of the week is the unveiling of Intrinsic, Alphabet’s most recent robotics play. Or, I guess I should say, most recently announced robotics play. The Alphabet X spinout has apparently been in the works for about five years now. It follows a fairly uneven robotics track record for Alphabet/Google that involved brief ownership of Boston Dynamics. But the company’s offering seems much more in-line with what Google excels at.

Here’s Intrinsic CEO, Wendy Tan-White, who most recently served as Alphabet’s VP of Moonshots:

Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications. Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation and force control.

Image Credits: Agility

Closing the week’s roundup with a pair of athletic ‘bots. First is the return of Cassie, Oregon State University’s bipedal robot. Cassie took a bit of a backseat to OSU spinoff Agility’s delivery robot, Digit, but the school is continuing to do interesting things with the platform. A team of research helped teach the robot to run, using a a deep reinforcement learning algorithm.

In fact, Cassie managed to run a 5K in 53 minutes. Not great by human standards, but extremely solid for a robot using a single battery, particularly when you factor in the 6.5 minutes of troubleshooting an overheated computer and a poorly maneuvered turn.

Outside Olympians and T-shirt vendors, Toyota may well have been the most disappointed about the initial decision to delay the summer Olympics. The automotive giant clearly envisioned the Tokyo games as an ideal opportunity to showcase its technology for the world.

Now that the games are on, the company’s basketball robot CUE is back in a big way. After debuting in 2018, CUE returned to sink three-pointers during half-time at the USA-France game.

#agility, #covariant, #intrinsic, #robotics, #robotics-roundup, #toyota

Indian automobile marketplace Droom valued at $1.2 billion in $200 million pre-IPO funding

An online marketplace for automobiles has become the latest Indian startup to attain the coveted unicorn status.

Gurgaon-headquartered Droom said on Wednesday it has raised $200 million in what it described as a pre-IPO growth funding round. The new investment valued the seven-year-old startup at $1.2 billion, up from about $500 million in October 2018.

57 Stars, Seven Train Ventures and several existing investors financed the new round, said the startup, which counts Toyota and Lightbox among its early backers and has raised about $342 million to date, according to records on insight platform Tracxn.

Droom operates a marketplace in India to help people buy and sell used multi-category vehicles such as cars and motorbikes. The startup provides verified listings for buyers along with tools to view, schedule, negotiate and communicate with the seller. Sellers are provided with tools to manage their listings and estimate prices and dispute issues.

“Droom’s current annual run-rate is $1.7 billion for GMV and $54 million for net revenue. The company remains on track to touch a GMV of $2 billion and a net Revenue of $65 million in CY2021,” it said in a brief statement.

Droom website

“With the current scale, technology-oriented business, and operational efficiency Droom is nearing profitability.”

The startup, which competes with other Indian unicorns including Spinny and Cars24, said it is working to file for an IPO and list on either Nasdaq or in India next year.

“Over the past 7 years, we have invested millions of dollars and thousands of human hours to build a full technology-based end-to-end transactional marketplace for buying and selling of automobiles online,” said Sandeep Aggarwal, founder and chief executive of Droom, in a statement.

“We have developed the complete technology-based machinery starting from first-mile services such as OBV, ECO, and History to mid-mile services like loan & insurance and last-mile services like doorstep delivery. Droom has been on a steady growth trajectory after Covid. While automobile is the largest retail category, it is the least penetrated online. In a post-pandemic world, we expect automobile buying and selling to shift online rapidly.”

Droom is the 17th Indian startup to become a unicorn as high-profile investors double down on their bets in the world’s second largest internet market.

#asia, #droom, #funding, #india, #lightbox, #toyota

Toyota bet wrong on EVs, so now it’s lobbying to slow the transition

A shiny new compact car under a massive Toyota logo.

Toyota introduced the Prius Prime in 2016, years after other manufacturers released electric-only models. (credit: Jonathan Gitlin)

Executives at Toyota had a moment of inspiration when the company first developed the Prius. That moment, apparently, has long since passed.

The Prius was the world’s first mass-produced hybrid car, years ahead of any competitors. The first model, a small sedan, was classic Toyota—a reliable vehicle tailor-made for commuting. After a major redesign in 2004, sales took off. The Prius’ Kammback profile was instantly recognizable, and the car’s combination of fuel economy and practicality was unparalleled. People snapped them up. Even celebrities looking to burnish their eco-friendly bona fides were smitten with the car. Leonardo DiCaprio appeared at the 2008 Oscars in one.

As the Prius’ hybrid technology was refined over the years, it started appearing in other models, from the small Prius c to the three-row Highlander. Even the company’s luxury brand, Lexus, hybridized several of its cars and SUVs.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#battery-electric-vehicles, #cars, #hydrogen-powered-cars, #lobbying, #toyota

Automakers have battery anxiety, so they’re taking control of the supply

Battery joint ventures have become the hot must-have deal for automakers that have set ambitious targets to deliver millions of electric vehicles in the next few years.

It’s no longer just about securing a supply of cells. The string of partnerships and joint ventures show that automakers are taking a more active role in the development and even production of battery cells, .

Automakers are taking a more active role in the development and even production of battery cells.

And the deals don’t appear to be slowing down. Just this week, Mercedes-Benz announced its $47 billion plan to become an electric-only automaker by 2030. Securing its battery supply chain by expanding existing partnerships or locking in new ones to jointly develop and produce battery cells and modules is a critical piece of its plan.

Mercedes, like other automakers, is also focused on developing and deploying advanced battery technology. In addition to setting up eight new battery plants to supply its future EVs, the German automaker said it was partnering with Sila Nano, the Silicon Valley battery chemistry startup that it has previously invested in, to increase energy density, which should in turn improve range and allow for shorter charging times.

“This follows a trend that we’ve seen of automakers realizing how critical the battery is and taking more control of the production of the cells in order to ensure their own supply,” Sila Nano CEO Gene Berdichevsky said in a recent interview. “Like if you’re VW, and you say, ‘We’re going to go 50% electric by whatever year,’ but then the batteries don’t show up, you’re bankrupt, you’re dead. Their scale is so big that even if their cell partners have promised them to deliver, automakers are scared that they won’t.”

Tesla, BMW and Volkswagen were early adopters of the battery joint-venture strategy. In 2014,Tesla and Panasonic signed an agreement to build a large battery manufacturing plant, or a gigafactory as everyone is now calling it, in the U.S. and have worked together since. BMW began working with Solid Power in 2017 to create solid-state batteries for high-performance EVs that could potentially lower costs by requiring less safety features than lithium-ion batteries.

In addition to its partnership with Northvolt, VW is also in talks with suppliers to secure more direct access to supplies like semiconductors and lithium so it can keep its existing plants running at full speed.

Now the rest of the industry is moving to work with battery companies, to share knowledge and resources and essentially become the manufacturer.

#automotive, #basf, #bmw, #ec-mobility-hardware, #electric-vehicle, #ford, #general-motors, #greentech, #hyundai, #lg-chem, #lithium-ion-battery, #panasonic, #porsche, #renault, #sk-innovation, #solidenergy-systems, #tc, #tesla, #toyota, #transportation, #volkswagen

Toyota’s Woven Planet acquires HD mapping startup Carmera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carmera Toyota

Image Credits: Carmera

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

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

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

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

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

What Woven Planet is weaving

woven city prototype

Image Credits: Woven Planet/Toyota

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

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

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

 

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

You’re a carmaker, drink-taker, automator

The other week at TC Sessions: Mobility, I spoke to a trio of executives at top automotive companies about why they’re all so bullish about robotics. There are the obvious implications, of course. Automakers have long employed robotics for manufacturing – they were really ahead of the curve on those concerns about automating job loss. And then there’s the fact that self-driving cars are effectively robots.

Beyond that, however, it’s clear that car companies see robotics as a key investment in their future. What really struck me about the conversation, is how differently the three companies – Hyundai, Ford and Toyota – are approaching the space. If nothing else, it’s a sign that there’s plenty of opportunity here.

We wrote quite a bit about Ford’s ambitions in the category several roundups ago, including an interview with Mario Santillo, who joined us for the recent panel. As evidenced by the company’s recent investment in University of Michigan, Ford’s approach is largely research-based. The company wants to be in on the ground floor both in terms of technology and talent. Though when I pressed Santillo about acquisitions, however, (specifically as it pertains to Digit-maker, Agility), he told me, “that’s always something we’re looking at.” So don’t rule it of, especially as other car companies begin to lockdown big names in the category.

atlas gymnastics boston dynamics

Hyundai, of course, made one of the biggest robotics acquisitions in recent memory, picking up Boston Dynamics after its short stint in the Softbank portfolio (the investment firm remains a shareholder). Of course, that post-Google time has been important for the company, seeing the commercialization of Spot and the upcoming sale of Stretch. Hyundai’s Ernestine Fu shed some more light for us on the deal, which officially closed this week,

With New Horizon Studios, the mandate is reimagining what you can do when you combine robotics with traditional wheeled locomotion, like walking robots and walking vehicles. Obviously the technology that [Boston Dynamics] has put together plays a key role in enabling those sorts of concepts to come to life.

Hyundai Tiger walking robot

Image Credits: Screenshot/Hyundai

As we discussed, the driving force in the Toyota Research Institute’s interest in the category Japan’s aging population. Eldercare forms the basis of much of what the company does in robotics, including some home robotics research that it showed off this week – specifically how its imaging can handle reflective and transparent surfaces. Both have traditionally been tricky for robotic systems.

As TRI’s Max Bajracharya told me,

[I]n Japan, in 20-30 years, the number of people who are over 65 will roughly be the same as the number of people who are under 65. That’s going to have a really interesting socioeconomic impact, in terms of the workforce. It’s probably going to be much older and we at Toyota are looking at how these people can keep doing their jobs, so they can get the fulfillment from doing their jobs or staying at home longer. We don’t want to just replace the people. We really think about how we stay human-centered and amplify people.

Image Credits: NVIDIA

We’ve been following NVIDIA’s Isaac software for a while now, and the robotic simulation software is available as an open beta. Built on top of Omniverse, the software is designed to test a wide range of different camera and sensor capabilities for robotics. It’s a fascinate project and potentially a big deal for early-stage robotics startups.

Quick follow up to some funding last week from a robots landscaping company, I asked iRobot what’s going on with their Terra mower, which was delayed amid pandemic-related cuts. The company tells me there’s still no clear timeline for the indefinitely delayed robot.

Image Credits:

Miso Robotics, meanwhile, continues to build out from Flippy, the hamburger-flipping robot with an automated beverage dispenser. The machine, created with beverage dispenser manufacturer Lancer, fully automates the process, right down to adding the cap on the cup. No clear timeline on the product yet, however, but it’s fun to see some of these companies branch out in a given sector.

Image Credits: Berkshire Grey

A pair of warehouse automation stories worth highlighting here. Berkshire Grey has unveiled a bunch of new fulfillment robots. Per the company,

This new generation of mobile robots offers increased fulfillment throughput at a lower cost point to enable shorter delivery times and support a larger number of SKUs. Unlike fixed conveyor belts and early generation mobile robots, Berkshire Grey’s intelligent fleets harness the power of AI to orchestrate tens to thousands of mobile robots to pick, organize, and deliver items for a wide variety of customer and store orders.

The company will tell you the same thing as every robotics maker: it’s all about helping retailers compete with the behemoth that is Amazon. Fittingly, the ecommerce giant also showed off some new robots this week. Amazon says it’s utilized 350,000 mobile drive units since the company acquired Kiva Systems, which formed the foundation for its Amazon Robotics wing. The post has caused some to wonder whether, in spite of a head start and some massive funding, whether the company is beginning to fall behind a number of aggressive warehouse robotics startups.

Not a ton of funding news this week, but that should change soon. Hot bot summer is nearly upon us. I feel it in the air. Meantime,  please enjoy this submersible drone designed to track a wide range of creators in the mesopelagic “twilight” zone. Developed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Mesobot is designed to observe zooplankton, gelatinous animals and more, without disturbing their habitat. Here’s Senior Scientist Dana Yoerger,

We expect that Mesobot will emerge as a vital tool for observing midwater organisms for extended periods, as well as rapidly identifying species observed from vessel biosonars. Because Mesobot can survey, track, and record compelling imagery, we hope to reveal previously unknown behaviors, species interactions, morphological structures, and the use of bioluminescence.

#boston-dynamics, #ford, #hyundai, #miso-robotics, #robotics, #robotics-roundup, #tc, #toyota, #tri

Toyota Research Institute shows how its robotics work with difficult surfaces in the home

Following this morning’s announcement that Hyundai has closed its acquisition of Boston Dynamics, another automotive company has posted some robotics news. The Toyota Research Institute announcement is decidedly less earthshaking than that big deal — if anything, it’s more of a progress check on what the division has been working on.

Of course, incremental updates tend to be the name of the game when it comes to robotics of all sorts. This does, however, shed some interesting light on the work TRI has been doing in the home. Today the company announced some key advances to robotics it has designed to perform domestic tasks.

“TRI roboticists were able to train robots to understand and operate in complicated situations that confuse most other robots, including recognizing and responding to transparent and reflective surfaces in a variety of circumstances,” the Institute writes in a blog post.

Image Credits: Toyota Research Institute

With settings like kitchens, the robots come in contact with a variety of transparent and reflective surfaces — a hurdle for traditional vision systems. Specifically in the kitchen, things like a transparent glass or reflective appliance can create an issue.

“To overcome this, TRI roboticists developed a novel training method to perceive the 3D geometry of the scene while also detecting objects and surfaces,” TRI Robotics VP Max Bajracharya said in a post describing the research. “This combination enables researchers to use large amounts of synthetic data to train the system.” Using synthetic data also alleviates the need for time-consuming, expensive or impractical data collection and labeling.

With an aging population in its native Japan, Toyota has made eldercare a key focus in its ongoing robotics research. So it makes a lot of sense that sort of robotics tasks form a core of much of its research in the category, as well as those elements that bleed into the work it’s doing on Woven City. And certainly the company gets credit for putting in some work here, before the orchestrated appearances we’ve seen of robotics offerings from companies like Samsung.

Image Credits: Toyota Research Institute

“It’s not only about keeping people in their homes longer and living independently,” Bajracharya  recently told me in an interview. “That’s one aspect of it — but in Japan, in 20-30 years, the number of people who are over 65 will roughly be the same as the number of people who are under 65. That’s going to have a really interesting socioeconomic impact, in terms of the workforce. It’s probably going to be much older and we at Toyota are looking at how these people can keep doing their jobs, so they can get the fulfillment from doing their jobs or staying at home longer. We don’t want to just replace the people. We really think about how we stay human-centered and amplify people.”

#robotics, #toyota, #toyota-research-institute, #tri

Experts from Ford, Toyota and Hyundai outline why automakers are pouring money into robotics

Automakers’ interest in robotics is not a new phenomenon, of course: Robots and automation have long played a role in manufacturing and are both clearly central to their push into AVs. But recently, many companies are going even deeper into the field, with plans to be involved in the wide spectrum of categories that robotics touch.

At TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, we spoke to a trio of experts at three major automakers. Max Bajracharya of Toyota Research Institute, Mario Santillo of Ford and Ernestine Fu of Hyundai Motor Group joined us to discuss their companies’ unique approaches to robotics.

Why are automakers so interested in robotics?

Let’s get the simple question out of the way first, shall we? Moving beyond existing investments in manufacturing and autonomous vehicles, why do so many carmakers seem so bullish about companies like Boston Dynamics and Agility Robotics?

Bajracharya: I think all automakers are recognizing that there won’t be the automotive business in the future as it is today. A lot of automakers, Toyota included, are looking for what’s next. Automakers are very well positioned to leverage what they already know about robotics and manufacturing to take on the robotics market. (Timestamp: 1:01)

The role of concept vehicles

Concept cars are nothing new in the industry, but even still, Hyundai’s recently announced Ultimate Mobility Vehicle (UMV) was pretty wild, with large, extending legs that help it walk off-road.

#boston-dynamics, #ec-techcrunch-tc-mobility, #event-recap, #ford, #hyundai, #mobility-2021, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #toyota, #transportation, #tri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Micromobbin’

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

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

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

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

Tier gets some more money

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

Let’s talk about bikes

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

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

Best cities for biking

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

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

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

 — Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

 

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

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

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

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

Other deals that got my attention …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waymo: by the numbers

the station autonomous vehicles1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waymo one app data

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Hi folks, welcome back to Policy Corner.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

— Aria Alamalhodaei

A few more notes

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#apps, #aurora-innovation, #automotive, #cruise, #gm, #hyundai, #nuro, #reid-hoffman, #rimac-automobili, #starship-technologies, #toyota, #transportation, #venture-capital, #waymo

Rebranded Toyota Ventures invests $300 million in emerging tech and carbon neutrality 

Toyota AI Ventures, Toyota’s standalone venture capital fund, has dropped the “AI” and is reborn as, simply, Toyota Ventures. The fund is commemorating its new identity by investing an additional $300 million in emerging technologies and carbon neutrality via two early-stage funds: the Toyota Ventures Frontier Fund and the Toyota Ventures Climate Fund. 

The introduction of these two new funds, each worth $150 million, brings Toyota Ventures’ total assets under management to over $500 million. With the new capital infusion into the Frontier Fund comes an expansion of Toyota Ventures’ core thesis, which previously focused on AI, autonomy, mobility, robotics and the cloud, and now is adding smart cities, digital health, fintech and energy. So while Toyota Ventures’ investment approach isn’t changing, it’s broadening the scope of startups it will consider investing in. 

“AI is kind of shrinking as a proportion of everything,” Jim Adler, founding managing director of Toyota Ventures, told TechCrunch. “The first mission of the Frontier Fund has always been to discover what’s next for Toyota. Toyota pivoted to cars in the 1930s, and Toyota will grow to other businesses in the future. Startups are experiments in the marketplace, and this is a way for us to understand and get comfortable with where innovations are coming from.” 

Toyota as a global company has more than 370,000 employees that cover a range of business units in which the company at large stands to benefit from investing, such as financial technology. The Frontier Fund is a step outside of mobility. It not only seeks to bring emerging tech to market, but it also wants to bring new innovations onboard, whether as a customer or an acquisition, according to Adler. 

“I think the vision of the company really is that machines are here to stay, they amplify the human experience, and Toyota understands how machines amplify humans really well for the benefit of society, which sounds incredibly corny, but the company really believes that,” said Adler.

By that same token, the new Climate Fund seeks to invest in startups that can help Toyota accelerate its goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. The company has been investing in hydrogen for years, including a recent partnership with Japanese fuel company ENEOS, but it’s open to whatever technology will help achieve carbon neutrality, according to Adler.

“We think renewable energies will play a role,” said Adler. “Hydrogen production, storage distribution and utilization will play a role. We think carbon capture and storage will play a role. We’re not going to get dogmatic about hydrogen because we’ve been at it for decades and maybe things will change. Hydrogen hasn’t been crowdsourced across the startup community because there just wasn’t a market for it, but I think the market may be emerging.”

The fund is accepting online pitches on its website from entrepreneurs seeking early-stage funding. On Thursday, Toyota Ventures also announced it would be expanding its team and working with a new Advisor Network as a resource for founders looking for guidance on anything from product development to diversity and recruitment. 

“Toyota Ventures has been an invaluable partner for Boxbot since they invested in our seed round in 2018,” said Austin Oehlerking, co-founder and CEO of Boxbot, in a statement. “They have been instrumental in helping us to navigate complicated, existential challenges on our journey from concept to product/market fit. Jim and the team really understand how corporate venture capital should function in order to successfully partner with startups.” 

Adler says he and his team come from an entrepreneurial background, so they understand what it’s like on the other side of the table. Toyota Ventures’ focuses on early-stage startups because that’s where it believes some of the most interesting innovations come from. 

“I’m a big believer that early-stage venture capital is a telescope into the future,” said Adler. “I think we can actually find those incredibly valuable innovations that make this all worthwhile.”

#artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #cloud, #startups, #toyota, #toyota-ai-ventures, #toyota-ventures, #transportation, #venture-capital

Here’s why Toyota converted this Corolla to hydrogen and went racing

In late May, a special Toyota Corolla entered the track at Fuji Speedway in Japan to take part in a 24-hour race. Unlike the other cars in the race, this one was hydrogen-powered. But it didn’t use a fuel cell like the Mirai sedan; instead, this car’s three-cylinder engine was converted to burn the gas instead of burning gas(oline). The driver line-up for the car showed why. Among the racers listed was a “Morizo,” better known to the world as Akio Toyoda, Toyota Motor Company’s president.

No pressure, then.

“The reason for competing in a 24-hour endurance race is that simply lasting three or five hours is not enough. You have to have done the preparation to last for 24 hours,” Toyoda said in the weeks before the race. There’s no doubt about it—completing a 24-hour race is no easy thing, and the crucible of racing will often reveal problems that engineers don’t encounter on the test bench.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#akio-toyoda, #cars, #endurance-racing, #hydrogen, #hydrogen-car, #hydrogen-internal-combustion, #racing, #toyota, #toyota-corolla

Delivery, drones and DHL

Locus (not to be confused with this Locus) is one of those names that’s been popping up a lot in the news — and this roundup — over the past year. Last time we spoke to the Massachusetts company, it was around a sizable raise — $150 million to be nearly precise. That effectively valued the company as a unicorn.

Core to the company’s successes are its partnerships (as is the case with any robotics fulfillment company). DHL has been a big (or the biggest) name in the mix since 2017. Amid pandemic lockdowns, the logistic giant signed up for 1,000 robots last year and, as of yesterday, is doubling that number.

Image Credits: Locus Robotics

DHL is really committing to robotics here. At last count, it said it had deployed around 200,000 across the U.S. alone, which puts its right around the same number as Amazon (which admittedly, hasn’t updated that figure lately). Of course, the big difference there is that Amazon is primarily pulling from in-house systems — perhaps Locus is a prime acquisition target?

The robotics company’s CEO shot down that suggestion when I spoke to him earlier this year, stating, “We have no interest in being acquired. We think we can build the most and greatest value by operating independently. There are investors that want to invest in helping everyone that’s not named ‘Amazon’ compete.”

When it comes to companies with deep pockets, though, I never say never.

Also out this morning, is a good size round from Realtime Robotics. The Boston-based company is one of a number of startups looking to streamline the process of installing and deploying industrial robotics. The $31.4 million Series A includes participation from (deep breath)  HAHN Automation, SAIC Capital Management, Soundproof Ventures , Heroic Ventures, SPARX Asset Management, Omron Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Scrum Ventures and Duke Angels.

Image Credits: E-Nano

There’s no such thing as a small raise, only a small…I’m not sure. Honestly, I didn’t really thing this one all the way through before I started typing. Anyway, here’s an early-stage, pre-seed from a London based startup called E-Nano. The company has developed a modular robotics system for monitoring sports turf.

Per a press release on the £100,000 ($141,000) raise, “These robots will eventually be able to assess agricultural land and contribute to landowners growing more sustainably. The team aims to implement 5G connectivity into their robots and platform, using this raise to deliver more immediate, real-time data with high throughput.”

 

Some good news for DJI comes courtesy of The Hill, which reports that the Pentagon has effectively cleared the drone giant in an audit. DJI was one of the names caught up in all of the flagging of Chinese companies that’s occurred over the past couple of years (read: during the Trump administration), which has severely kneecapped brands like Huawei and ZTE. DJI was never banned for sale outright in the States, but this is still a pretty massive relief for its ability to operate in such a large market.

The filing notes that it found “no malicious code or intent” from the company, going so far as “recommend[ing] use by government entities and forces working with US services.” Government use is a nice bonus there.

The company took a victory lap in a comment provided to TechCrunch, noting, “This U.S. government report is the strongest confirmation to date of what we, and independent security validations, have been saying for years – DJI drones are safe and secure for government and enterprise operations.”

Starship delivery robots

Starship delivery robots at UCLA campus on January 15th, 2021. Image Credits: Starship/Copyright Don Liebig/ASUCLA

Starship Technologies, meanwhile, snagged a high-profile name to lead the delivery robotics firm. Former Alphabet Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth will be taking the same title at his new company.

Incidentally, Starship is one of a trio of companies I’ll be speaking with during my delivery robotics panel (also Nuro and Gatik) at the upcoming TC Sessions: Mobility. We also just announced my second panel, which will be exploring a pretty vibrant category in automotive.

Image Credits: Ford/Agility Robotics

Max Bajracharya of TRI (Toyota), Mario Santillo of Ford and Ernestine Fu of Hyundai Motor Group will be discussing their respective employers’ approach to robotics beyond manufacturing and autonomy. They’re all doing really interesting stuff, and Hyundai, of course, is getting ready to close its acquisition of Boston Dynamics.

Should be fun. Register here.

#dhl, #dji, #ford, #hyundai, #locus, #robotics, #robotics-roundup, #starship-technologies, #tc-sessions-mobility, #toyota

Experts from Toyota, Ford and Hyundai will discuss automotive robotics at TC Sessions: Mobility

The events of the past year have only served to accelerate interest in all things robotics and automation. It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen across a broad range of categories, and automotive is certainly no different.

Of course, carmakers are no strangers to the world of robotics. Automation has long played a key role in manufacturing, and more recently, robotics have played another central role in the form of self-driving vehicles. For this panel, however, we’re going to look past those much-discussed categories. Of late, carmakers have been investing heavily to further fuel innovation in the category.

It’s a fascinating space – and one that covers a broad range of cross-sections, from TRI’s (Toyota) Woven City project to Ford’s recent creation of a research facility at U of M to Hyundai’s concept cars and acquisition of Boston Dynamics. At TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9, we will be joined by a trio of experts from those companies for what’s sure to be a lively discussion on the topic.

Max Bajracharya is Vice President of Robotics at Toyota Research Institute. Previously serving as its Director of Robotics, he leads TRI’s work in robotics. He previously served at Alphabet’s X, as part of the Google Robotics team.

Mario Santillo is a Technical Expert at Ford. Previously serving as a Research Engineer for the company, he’s charged with helping lead the company’s efforts at a recently announced $75 million research facility at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The work includes both Ford’s own robotics work, as well as partnerships with startups like Agility.

Ernestine Fu is a director at Hyundai Motor Group. She heads development at the newly announced New Horizons Studio, a group tasked with creating Ultimate Mobility Vehicles (UMVs). She also serves as an adjunct professor at Stanford University, where she received a BS, MS, MBA and PhD.

Get ready to talk robots at TC Sessions: Mobility. Grab your passes right now for $125 and hear from today’s biggest mobility leaders before our prices go up at the door.

 

#alphabet, #boston-dynamics, #companies, #director, #engines, #ernestine-fu, #google, #hyundai-motor-group, #manufacturing, #max-bajracharya, #michigan, #new-horizons, #robot, #stanford-university, #tc, #toyota, #toyota-research-institute, #university-of-michigan

The Station: London scooter winners and Ford’s most important EV

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

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

I want to point to two Extra Crunch articles before jumping into the rest of the news and analysis. Yes, Extra Crunch requires a subscription. We’re ramping up the transportation analysis and features in EC and I hope you find it worthwhile.

We’re ramping up our founder Q&A series. The first one was an interview with Revel founder and CEO Frank Reig. This time, it is Arrival founder Denis Sverdlov, who founded his first company at 22 selling IT consulting software to enterprise customers. Since then, he has built and exited multiple companies, most notably telecommunications operator Yota Group. He also founded Roborace.

We have two more interviews coming up with Veo co-founder and CEO Candice Xie and Refraction AI co-founder Matthew Johnson-Roberson.

Finally, we published a piece that examines voice recognition in vehicles, a marketplace that has tech giants like Google and Amazon competing for space with a few up and comers and established suppliers like Cerence.

A friendly reminder that my email inbox is always open — and yes, I do read your messages. Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

Dott, Lime and TIER have won the long-awaited, much-coveted bid to operate e-scooter shares in London. The pilot, which will run for up to 12 months, will begin June 7 in some of London’s boroughs, including Canary Wharf and the City of London. More neighborhoods are expected to join as the year progresses, according to TfL. Lambeth and Southwark are also seeking participation. Between 60 to 150 scooters will be available initially in each borough.

This announcement is significant not only because London is one of the biggest targets for micromobility shares, but also because Transport for London is very keen on collecting data from the scooter companies that will help determine how e-scooters could be integrated into a sustainable transport pandemic recovery plan.

Can micromobility address the racial wealth gap?

The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation released a report entitled Cementing an Equity Framework for Micro Mobility that talks about next steps for its NYC Better Bike Share Partnership and outlines goals for fostering equity and opportunity for communities of color through public transportation.

“Creating a truly equitable bikeshare system is about more than just placement of stations and the price of fares. It requires deep partnerships with the community and empowering the voices of those who have been traditionally underserved,” said Laura Fox, General Manager of Citi Bike. “We are grateful to the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation for their leadership and ongoing efforts to create a culture of cycling, particularly by addressing street safety. As this progress report highlights, we have many accomplishments to be proud of and we look forward to continued partnership to build on these successes.”
Accessible mobility is one of the major drivers of wealth, and I’m a big proponent of the potential for active forms of mobility, from e-scooters to push bikes and everything in between, to both help cities cut emissions and help residents stay healthy.

From a startup’s perspective, can you even contribute to this equitable goal and also make money? I’ll be discussing this in a few weeks at our TC Mobility Event on June 9 with advocate and consultant Tamika Butler, CEO and co-founder at Remix, Tiffany Chu, and CEO and co-founder of Revel, Frank Reig.

Spinning tales of SPACs…

The aftereffects of Bird going SPAC last week is that now we’re all wondering which micromobility company is going to go SPAC next. Will it be Lime? TIER? Or maybe Spin? Bloomberg reported Ford is considering divesting Spin, according to “people familiar with the matter.”

Currently, we have a lot of whisperings and speculation and not a lot of facts. Rumors circulating involve Spin spinning off from Ford or merging with a special purpose acquisition company. Spin did not want to comment, and I think that’s fair given the nebulous shape of this “news.”

While we’re on the subject of Bird…

Bird is working with IT Asset Partners (ITAP) to give its batteries a second life. So, when a scooter reaches the end of its life, it’s broken down for parts, with batteries shipped over to ITAP. Then ITAP breaks down each battery module to the cellular level to get as many reusable battery bits as possible.

This is not only an eco-friendly way to do business, but it’s also increasingly necessary in a world that’s going electric faster than supply can keep up with.

“The circular economy is where the world is going, and it will help determine how global businesses function over the next 10 years,” said Robert Mullaney, Director of Business Development at ITAP, in a Bird blog post announcing the partnership. “As battery technology has improved year over year, their second life potential has increased as well, allowing them to be used in broader and more advanced applications. This includes things like computers and computer chargers.”

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Is it me or am I seeing more activity in the aviation/eVTOL sector these days? We’ve had three SPACs — Lillium, Archer and Joby — plus a smattering of other funding news in the past four months.

And now, there’s one more to add to the list. Electric aviation startup Beta Technologies closed a $368 million Series A funding round with investments from Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund. The new capital is the second round of funding announced by the company this year, after the company raised $143 million in private capital in March. Beta’s valuation is now at $1.4 billion, putting it in a small circle of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) unicorns.

The funding round was led by Fidelity Management & Research Company, with undisclosed additions from Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, a $2 billion fund established in September 2019 to advance the development of sustainable technologies. The Climate Pledge fund has also made contributions toward electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian, battery recycler Redwood Materials and ZeroAvia, a hydrogen fuel cell aviation company.

Beta is a bit different from other high valuation eVTOL startups. The Vermont-based company isn’t primarily focused on air taxis. Instead, it’s been targeting defense applications, cargo delivery and medical logistics, as well as building out its network of rapid-charging systems in the northeast U.S. Its debut aircraft, the ALIA-250c, was built to serve these various solutions by being capable of carrying six people or a pilot and 1,500 pounds.

Other deals that got my attention …

Mile Auto, insurance tech startup, raised $10.3 million in a seed funding round that includes investment from Ulu Ventures, Emergent Ventures, Thornton Capital, and Sure Ventures. The company said it will use the funding to expand availability of its insurance offering to half of the U.S. auto insurance market by the end of 2021, as well as hiring, adding new distribution channels, onboarding of white-label partners and expanding its automaker network. Mile Auto has also partnered with Ford Motor to offer auto insurance to owners. Mile Auto launched a similar program with Porsche Financial Services in 2019.

Portside, an aviation startup that is building a platform for managing the backend of a corporate flight department, charter operation, government fleet and fractional ownership operation, today announced that it has raised a $17 million funding round led by Tiger Global Management, with participation from existing investors I2BF Global Ventures and SOMA Capital.

Twaice, the German battery analytics software company, raised $26 million in Series B funding led by Chicago-based Energize Ventures. The company, which primarily works in the mobility and energy storage industries, now has a total financing of $45 million.

Virtuo, a Paris-based startup that lets people rent a car for a few days, or up to a few months, has raised $96 million. The funding money will be using to invest in its tech and to expand to more markets beyond France, U.K. and Spain.

Waybridge, a company that has created a supply chain platform for raw materials, raised $30 million in a Series B funding round co-led by Rucker Park Capital and Craft Ventures, with participation from Venrock. The company has developed a digital platform that lets customers track inventory and shipments. Waybridge’s pitch is that its product can help companies navigate disruptive events like the Suez Canal traffic jam and COVID-19.

WeaveGrid raises $15 million Series A round to enable widescale adoption of EVs on the electric grid. Coatue and Breakthrough Energy Ventures will join existing investors to drive software innovation at intersection of utility and automotive sectors.

Wejo, the British automotive-data startup backed by General Motors, is in talks to go public through a merger with Virtuoso Acquisition Corp., Bloomberg reported.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Welcome back to Policy Corner! A decision from a little-known but very powerful California regulator caught my eye this week. The California Air Resources Board, which regulates air quality in the state, adopted new rules on Thursday that will require 90% of ride-share trips to be completed by electric vehicles by 2030.

It’s important to remember that ride-sharing giants Uber and Lyft have both vowed to go 100% electric fleets by that year, but this is the first time that a state has adopted EV requirements for ride-share companies. In written comments submitted ahead of the hearing, both Uber and Lyft urged the Board to create EV rebates that are specifically targeted at high-mileage drivers and fleets, and to install EV chargers in “urban and traditionally underserved areas.”

“California’s EV incentive programs and EV infrastructure investments over the past decade have served an exclusive population―wealthy, white, homeowners―that does not reflect Lyft’s driver population,” Paul Augustine, Lyft’s senior manager of sustainability, said in submitted comments.

Back over in Washington, there was a hearing at the House Committee on Energy and Commerce about the ways in which new automotive technologies (like autonomous driving) might enhance vehicle safety and help cut down on the many thousands of automotive deaths that occur on U.S. roads each year.

AV proponents like the Self Driving Coalition point to the many possible safety benefits of AVs. Electrical engineer Ragunathan Rajkumar, who testified at the meeting, urged lawmakers to advance a policy framework to support innovation to ensure America stays competitive against foreign rivals in AV technology.

However, the committee also heard testimony from people who urged a careful and pragmatic approach to AVs. Greg Regan, in testimony representing the AFL-CIO, argued that transportation workers should have a place at the table in conversations about AV deployment. He also said that the government should enact policy to ensure that the AV manufacturing industry yields secure jobs for American workers. Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, argued that other safety and design upgrades, as well as improved vehicle performance standards, could do much to save lives in the near-term.

“The idea that tens of thousands of unproven and unregulated AVs deployed quickly and without oversight, or a significant upgrade in highway and road infrastructure, will automatically be safer than what we have now may make for a good talking point in a quarterly earnings report — but is not good transportation policy,” he said in his testimony.

The issue of forced arbitration also came up during the hearing. Below is an exchange between Congressman Rush and Jason Levine, who is the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

RUSH: As you know, even pedestrians may lose their right to seek justice in the courts if there is a continued proliferation of forced arbitration clauses. These clauses are often buried in terms of service agreements that waive a consumer’s right to sue in court, participate in a class action, or appeal the arbitrator’s decision. Do forced arbitration clauses related to AVs pose a danger to pedestrians? If so, why?

LEVINE: They pose a real threat. The threat is this, as we discussed earlier, the ability to make sure you’re holding any manufacturer, AV or otherwise, responsible for something defective, a defective vehicle, is critical to safety, it is a backstop to our entire system. And so, if you are a pedestrian who has entered into an agreement unknowingly, when you downloaded an app to order a pizza maybe, and you get hit by a pizza delivery vehicle, and you said, “well I’m going to do everything from a legal standpoint through binding arbitration,” you have now lost your ability to go to court. That sounds outlandish, but it’s not actually that far from where we are in terms of binding arbitration removing our ability to hold manufacturers accountable. So that’s something that we do not want to see in an AV context.

Station readers: what do you think?

 — Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

Lots to get to this week.

Autonomous vehicles

May Mobility announced it is launching a new autonomous shuttle service in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The free shuttle service called A2GO will be available to the public starting Oct. 11, 2021. May Mobility said it will operate a fleet of five autonomous, shared, on-demand vehicles as part of the A2GO deployment. Four hybrid-electric Lexus RX 450h vehicles, which can carry three passengers, and one Polaris GEM fully electric vehicle that has capacity for one wheelchair passenger will operate in a service area that connects Kerrytown, the University of Michigan campus and the State Street corridor.

Chinese robotaxi startup Pony.ai has been given permission by California regulators to pilot its autonomous vehicles without a human safety driver behind the wheel in three cities. While dozens of companies — 55 in all — have active permits to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver, it’s far less common to receive permission for driverless vehicles. Pony is the eighth company to be issued a driverless testing permit in the state, a list that includes Chinese companies AutoX, Baidu and WeRide as well as U.S. businesses Cruise, Nuro, Waymo and Zoox. Only Nuro has been granted a so-called deployment permit, which allows it to operate commercially.

Electric vehicles

It was a big week for EVs, and not just because of the Ford F-150 Lightning reveal. Although that was certainly the biggest EV reveal.

Ars Technica had a fun and brief look at electric vehicles in the beginning of the automotive age.

Canoo gave a few more details of its electric microbus-slash-van, which will be available to buy in 2022 at a base price of $34,750 before tax incentives or add-ons. The Los Angeles-based company, which debuted on the Nasdaq public exchange earlier this year, now taking preorders in the United States for the “lifestyle” vehicle, as well as for its round-top pickup truck and multi-purpose delivery van. While Canoo did not release pricing for the other two vehicles, it said that deliveries for the pickup and production for the delivery van are slated to start as early as 2023. Customers can reserve a model by placing a $100 deposit per vehicle with the company.

The company also disclosed in a regulatory filing that it is being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, just months after its merger with special purpose acquisition company Hennessy Capital Acquisition Corp. The investigation is broad, covering the Hennessy’s initial public offering and merger with Canoo, the company’s operations, business model, revenues, revenue strategy, customer agreements, earnings and other related topics, along with the recent departures of certain of the company’s officers, according to its first quarter earnings report. Canoo learned of the investigation on April 29. Canoo noted in the regulatory filing. The company added that it does not consider the investigation or other lawsuits it is facing to be material to its business.

ElectReon, an inductive in-road charging technology for commercial and passenger electric vehicles, is joining the “Arena of the Future” project in Brescia, Italy where it will integrate its wireless technology to charge two Stellantis vehicles, and an IVECO bus while driving. The project aims to demonstrate contactless charging for a range of EVs as they drive on highways and toll roads as a potential pathway to decarbonizing our transportation systems along motorway transport corridors.

Ford had a a few EV news items coinciding with the F-150 Lightning reveal. First, there was the truck’s debut, which is arguably its most important new product in years and a critical piece of the company’s $22 billion investment into electrification. This is a challenging vehicle for Ford. As I noted in my coverage, the truck will need everything that has made its gas-powered counterpart the best-selling vehicle in North America as well as new benefits that come from going electric. That means torque, performance, towing capability and the general layout has to meet the needs of its customers, many of whom use it for commercial purposes. The vehicle specs suggest that Ford has delivered on the torque and power, while keeping the same cab and bed dimensions as its gas counterpart.

We ran a poll the night of the reveal asking folks “which electric truck is for you?” The choices and results were 37% picked the Ford F-150 Lightning, 19.6% choose Rivian R1T and 43.4% said they’ll hodl the Tesla Cybertruck.

Ford is offering one item that some customers might find appealing. Ford said its new F-150 Lightning truck, which will come to market in spring 2022, can provide energy to a customer’s home in the event of an outage.

Meanwhile, Ford also announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with SK Innovation to establish a joint venture to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles in the United States. The new venture, dubbed BlueOvalSK, will produce around 60 GWh annually starting mid-decade. The MOU is the latest sign that Ford intends to vertically develop its battery capabilities.

Finally, the Verge interviewed Ford CEO Jim Farley.

UPDATE: Ford revealed Monday morning the 2022 F-150 Lightning Pro, a version of the truck designed with commercial customers in mind.

Kia, which held its U.S. reveal of the the Kia EV6, an all-electric crossover that is supposed to kick off the automaker’s Plan S strategy to shift away from internal combustion engines and toward EVs. The EV6, one of 11 electric vehicles that Kia plans to deliver globally by 2026. will come to the U.S. early next year. It’s also the first dedicated battery-electric vehicle to be built on its new Electric-Global Modular Platform, which is shared with Hyundai and Genesis as part of the Hyundai Motor Group.

Lamborghini announced it is going to eventually electrify its portfolio, although it is taking a slow road to get there. The will first pay homage to combustion engines with the introduction of two new V12 luxury sports cars this year before it makes a push into electrification. The aim is to switch its full lineup of vehicles to hybrids by the end of 2024 and launch of an all-electric Lamborghini in the second half of the decade. The company said it plans to invest 1.5 billion euros ($1.82 billion) over four years to make the transition to hybrid vehicles, the largest allocation in its history.

Flight

Volocopter revealed a new electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft targeting the suburban-to-city commuter. The four-seater VoloConnect, which is designed to have a range of 62 miles, is a significant departure from short urban trip aircraft called VoloCity. The two-seat VoloCity, which has to be certified, has a 22-mile range.

VoloConnect’s longer range indicates that the company has its sights set on markets outside of major city centers, and that it is looking to more directly compete with rival eVTOL startups. VoloConnect’s aircraft specs are in line with that of competitors Archer Aviation and Wisk Aero, which each have eVTOL designs with an anticipated range of around 60 miles.

Speaking of Wisk Aero, the startup filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in its ongoing lawsuit with rival electric air travel startup Archer Aviation. The injunction could put a wrench in Archer’s operations should the courts approve it. Wisk has asked the court to immediately prohibit Archer from using 52 trade secrets that it alleges were stolen by former employees who were later hired by Archer. The trade secrets “span the gamut of systems within the aircraft and processes for development,” a Wisk spokesperson told TechCrunch.

In-car tech

The Google I/O developer conference contained a few vehicle related announcements, including that it is extending its Android for Cars App Library, which is available as part of Jetpack, to support the Android Automotive operating system. This is good news for developers who can now create an app that is compatible with two different, but sometimes overlapping platforms: Android OS and Android Auto. It also means developers can create one app that should work seamlessly between various makes and models of vehicles. The company is already working with so-called Early Access Partners, which includes Parkwhiz, Plugshare, Sygic, ChargePoint, Flitsmeister, SpotHero and others to bring apps in these categories to cars powered by Android Automotive OS.

Google also announced it is working with BMW and other automakers to develop a digital key that will let car owners lock, unlock and start a vehicle from their Android smartphone. The digital car keys will become available on select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones later this year. Google didn’t name the other automakers that it is working with, but the folks there tell me it will be available in some 2021 models and a number of 2022 model vehicles. My educated guess, based on the companies it is already working with, is that Volvo and GM brands will get the digital key.

HERE Technologies, the location data and technology platform, will power the in-vehicle Human-Machine Interface (HMI) navigation solution in Arrival’s upcoming electric vehicles.

Holoride, the Audi spinoff that’s creating an in-vehicle XR passenger entertainment experience, is deploying blockchain technology and NFTs as the next stage in its preparation for a 2022 market launch. The company said it is integrating Elrond blockchain into its tech stack to bring transparency to its ecosystem of car manufacturers and content creators. The aim is to use NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, to incentivize developers into creating more content on holoride’s platform for the promise of more money earned off token purchases, and to attract passengers who want to personalize their in-car experience.

Stellantis and Foxconn have formed a joint venture called Mobile Drive to supply in-car and connected-car technologies. The non-binding agreement is meant to speed up the time it takes to develop and deploy in-vehicle user experiences enabled by advanced consumer electronics, HMI interfaces and services, according to the companies.

#automotive, #dott, #electric-vehicles, #ev6, #ford, #gm, #hyundai, #kia, #lime, #scooters, #tier-mobility, #toyota

The Station: Exits at Waymo and Bird’s SPAC reveals its scooter-nomics

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

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

Here’s a crypto-meets-transportation story for you before we move onto the rest of the news.

Just weeks after Tesla CEO Elon Musk and CFO Zach Kirkhorn said they believe in the longevity of bitcoin, the company has changed its stance. Musk, who has dubbed himself Technoking, tweeted that Tesla has suspended purchases of its electric vehicles with the cryptocurrency because of its concern about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal.

The tweet from Musk sent the price of bitcoin down. Ah, but wait, the crazy hijinks were just getting started. Musk’s tweet was clear that while bitcoin was out, other cryptocurrencies were in. “We are also looking at other cryptocurrencies that use <1% of Bitcoin’s energy/transaction,” the tweet said. Anyone who has followed Musk’s cheerleading of Dogecoin could have predicted what would come next. On May 13, Musk tweeted “Working with Doge devs to improve system transaction efficiency. Potentially promising.”

So there you have it. Perhaps, Dogecoin — which Musk jokingly called a hustle on SNL — will soon be Tesla’s crypto of choice.

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

Micromobbin’

The big micromobility news of the past week is that Bird, the shared electric scooter startup that’s scootin’ around in over 200 cities across three continents, is going public via a SPAC. Bird is merging with blank-check company Switchback II in an attempt to get cash fast and achieve profitability by 2023, confirming earlier reports from dot.LA after the website had gotten its hands on Bird’s investor pitch deck.

Fidelity Management & Research Company will lead the deal’s $160 million in private investment in public equity, with Apollo Investment Corp. and MidCap Financial Trust chucking in another $40 million in asset financing.

The SPAC deck reveals that Bird lost $387.5 million in 2019 and $208.2 million in 2020, even as it laid off 400 people in 2020. As a company with a huge cost structure and unprofitable revenue, which was made more unprofitable as the pandemic took its toll, Bird really needs this deal to work. Shifting business models may be just the thing. Buying up scooter fleets and deploying them around the world is simply too costly to work. Its move to go “franchise” and get other smaller companies to build fleets under its brand name during the pandemic generated 94% of its “sharing” revenue in the second half of 2020. So maybe there’s hope for the company after all. It’ll certainly need it if it intends to sustain its expansion into Europe in the coming years.

Speaking of expansion …

Singapore’s Neuron Mobility, the e-scooter sharing company that’s taken off in Australia and New Zealand, has announced plans to expand its reach deeper into the Commonwealth. Neuron recently won a contract to operate in Ottawa, so it’ll be heading to Canada in the coming month, with more cities in the country to come, according to the company. The company will give out free monthly passes to eligible Public Health and Emergency Service workers in the Canadian capital.

Meanwhile in Africa

Uganda-based, two-wheel ride-hailing platform SafeBoda announced that it had completed 1 million rides in the Nigerian city of Ibadan. For reference, boda-bodas in Uganda, or okadas in Nigeria, are local motorcycle taxis, so SafeBoda is disrupting this offline market while also leading ahead of the big guns like uberBODA and Bolt boda. Given the money and reputation behind Uber and Bolt, it’s somewhat surprising, and heartening, to see SafeBoda outstripping its competition. The company completes about 80,000 rides a day in Uganda, and Uber and Bolt only complete about 10,000 rides in the country.

New product roundup

Stromer’s new e-bike, the ST2 S-Pedelec comes at a steep price of $5,699, but it’s got some serious power behind it. With a 750-watt rear-wheel CYRO motor and a 618kWh battery, it can go up to 28 mph and up to 75 miles in range. If someone steals the bike, 3G and Bluetooth connection has got you covered with GPS localization and Smartlock. Comes in sport or comfort frames in royal blue or dark grey.

Razor scooter, those iconic early 2000s silver fold-up legends, has unveiled its new RipStik Rush, the electric RipStik 2.0. Sportier riders who like to flex their moves will love this scooter because the back end of the board allows you to fishtail, carve and drift like you would with a snowboard or wakeboard, according to the company. Razor will also be bringing their C25 e-scooter, which is more geared towards the daily commuter, to retail this summer.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Last year, we saw nearly two dozen transportation startups go public via a merger with special purpose acquisition companies. Most of those were electric vehicle and lidar companies. This year, we are starting to see other transportation-related companies, including autonomous trucking startup TuSimple and now Plus AI.

Plus announced this week plans to merge with Hennessy Capital Investment Corp. V in a transaction with a post-combination valuation of $3.3 billion. Plus is expected to trade on the NYSE under the ticker symbol “PLAV.” The transaction is supported by $150 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from funds and accounts managed by BlackRock and the D. E. Shaw Group.

The company said the capital provided by the public market will help it begin mass production of its so-called PlusDrive autonomous vehicle platform in 2021 with heavy-truck manufacturer FAW. Plus is also working with IVECO to jointly develop autonomous trucks that will be deployed across China, Europe and other geographies, the company said.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Clarios, the Wisconsin-based battery maker that was acquired by Brookfield Asset Management in 2019, filed confidentially for an IPO, Bloomberg reported. Brookfield is reportedly is seeking to have the portfolio company valued at more than $20 billion in an IPO.

ForU Worldwide, the Chinese freight-as-a-service transportation platform, filed for a $100 million IPO.

Innovusion, a five-year-old lidar company and a supplier to Chinese electric car upstart Nio, just landed a Series B funding round of $64 million. The new proceeds boost its total investment to more than $100 million. As TechCrunch’s Rita Liao notes, this is not a small amount, but the startup is in a race crowded with much bigger players that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, like Velodyne and Luminar. Temasek, the Singaporean government’s sovereign wealth fund, led Innovusion’s latest financing round. Other investors included Bertelsmann Asia Investment Fund, Joy Capital, Nio Capital, Eight Roads Ventures, and F-Prime Capital.

Telkomsel, a unit of Indonesia’s largest telecom operator Telkom, invested an additional $300 million in ride-hailing and payments firm Gojek. The investment comes just months after the network provider wrote a $150 million check to the Southeast Asian firm. The announcement comes amid Gojek working to seal a proposed merger with e-commerce platform Tokopedia. The $18 billion deal would result in a new entity called GoTo, according to media reports. Telkomsel’s investment today likely makes it one of GoTo’s top eight investors.

WeRide, the Chinese autonomous driving company, said it has achieved its Series C funding round that brings its post-money valuation to $3 billion. The round, which WeRide declined to provide details on beyond saying that it is in “the hundreds of millions,” comes  four months after securing Series B fundraising of $310 million. WeRide intends to use this funding round to invest in R&D and commercialization as it works toward the next-generation of Level 4 driving, a term that means a vehicle can drive without human intervention in some environments and conditions. The company is also using the funds to prepare to commercialize its technology.

Waymo: Executive exits and construction cones

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Waymo’s PR team most certainly had a busy week.

First up, is an article from me on the departure of Waymo’s chief financial officer Ger Dwyer and its head of automotive partnerships and corporate development Adam Frost — two longtime executives at the autonomous vehicle company.

The exits come amid some executive shuffling following CEO John Krafcik’s exit earlier this year. Krafcik announced in April that he was stepping down as CEO. Chief Safety Officer Deborah Hersman left in December and Tim Willis, who was head of manufacturing and global supply and general manager of Waymo’s Laser Bear lidar business, departed in February. Sherry House, who had been at Waymo since 2017 and was most recently treasurer and head of investor relations, left the company in April. She is now CFO at Lucid Motors.

As I noted in my article, some of the critical leaders, and the people directly below them, have remained. Tekedra Mawakana, who was COO, and Dmitri Dolgov, the CTO, are now co-CEOs of Waymo. Department heads directly below Mawakana and Dolgov are still at Waymo with a few exceptions, according to LinkedIn profiles. In March, both David Twohig, who was director of Future Automotive at Waymo, and Qi Hommes, who was once head of system safety, left. Hommes is now director of system safety engineering and analysis at Zoox, according to LinkedIn.

Changes at the top oftentimes cause a ripple effect of shuffling positions and even exits. Expect more in the weeks and months to come.

Meanwhile, a video was released by a regular user of the company’s Waymo One ride-hailing service, which uses a mix of driverless vehicles and those with a safety operator behind the wheel. This individual captured the entire trip, which devolved into a suboptimal situation when the vehicle entered into a work zone with construction cones. The vehicle became confused and essentially paralyzed. Waymo then stepped in remotely to send path planning instructions, but then sent incorrect guidance, which compounded the problem. Eventually, a roadside assistance team physically arrived and completed the trip.

The incident is a reminder of how much work still needs to be done in autonomous vehicles. It also illustrates just how many humans it takes to support one driverless vehicle on the road. Expect more incidents like this across the industry. On a side note, rival Cruise tweeted out a video showing its vehicle navigating a construction zone. I’m sure the timing was completely coincidental.

Policy cornerthe-station-delivery

I’m back with more policy news. This week, let’s kick things off with the U.S. Postal Service.

You might remember that in February, the U.S. Postal Service awarded a multi-billion dollar contract to OshKosh Corp. to replace between 50,000 to 165,000 aging trucks with a mix of diesel and electric powertrain delivery vehicles over the next 10 years. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy later specified to Congress that only around 10% of those new delivery trucks would be electric, a number that many in Washington and beyond argued was not high enough.

“The lack of commitment from the USPS to electrify its fleet directly contradicts the Biden administration’s goals and executive order to clean up pollution from the US government’s vehicles,” said Gina Coplon-Newfield, the director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign.

Now, House lawmakers are advancing a bill that would, in part, authorize an additional $8 billion for the U.S. Postal Service to switch to electric vehicles. The language adding the funds was tacked onto a bill to improve mailed ballot tracking. Given that President Joe Biden said back in January that he is committed to replacing the federal government’s fleet of around 650,000 vehicles with electric models, it was definitely more than a little odd that USPS picked a mixed diesel-electric bid less than one month later.

Meanwhile, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee vetoed a section of a bill that would have phased out the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles starting from model year 2030. This would have been the first time a state mandated all-electric auto sales via legislation, instead of executive order. Of states that have ICE phase outs in place — California and Massachusetts — both were established via orders signed by their respective governors and start in 2035.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

the station autonomous vehicles1

Autonomous vehicles

Volkswagen Group and Argo AI, which is supplying the company with a self-driving system that will allow it to commercially transport people and goods by 2025, provided an update this past week. Much of the briefing covered old ground. But there were a few new details, notably that testing will begin on European roads later this year, which builds on initial work completed at a test track that was established next to the Munich airport.

In-car tech

Ford Motor is beefing up its in-vehicle software offerings with built-in Alexa voice assistant and a wireless software update ecosystem. Ford’s over-the-air software updates, which it has branded Power-Up, will have the capability of updating “virtually all” of the computer modules in new Ford vehicles, not just the ones that focus on infotainment, the company said in a statement Thursday. Ford estimates that Power-Up will be able to update more than 80 computer modules on higher-end models. The automaker aims to manufacture 33 million vehicles equipped with this service and Alexa by 2028.

Delivery

The Information’s Paris Martineau spent five months investigating Amazon and the more than 50 serious crashes involving its semi-trucks used over the last three years.

Electric vehicles

Arrival, Canoo, Fisker, Lordstown Motors and Nikola Corp were flying high when they went public through mergers with special purpose acquisition companies. A Bloomberg report found these five companies were worth $60 billion when they first went public. But the last few months have delivered some harsh lessons. Three of the companies plunged to new lows this week as short-seller attacks, management turmoil and execution issues led investors to reconsider their prospects. They’ve lost more than $40 billion of market capitalization combined from their respective peaks.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom debuted a new proposal that earmarks $3.2 billion to boost EV infrastructure and adoption in the state. Under the proposal, over half of the $3.2 billion budget would go toward replacing 1,150 trucks, 1,000 transit buses and 1,000 school buses with electric models. Another $800 million would be put toward the state’s Clean Cars 4 All program, which aims to help lower-income drivers upgrade to a zero- or near-zero car, as well as further rebates or clean vehicles. The proposal earmarks $500 million toward infrastructure and $250 million would go toward manufacturing grants. Newsom did not specify what type of infrastructure programs would qualify; it’s likely those funds would go toward charging.

Fisker signed an agreement with Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that assembles iPhones, to co-develop and manufacture a new electric vehicle. Production on the car, which will be sold under the Fisker brand name in North America, Europe, China and India, will begin in the U.S. by the end of 2023.

Ford and BMW have each appointed members to the board of Solid Power, the solid state battery company that recently raised $130 million in a Series B round. Ford picked Ted Miller, manager of electrification subsystems and power supply research, and BMW chose Rainer Feurer, a senior vice president of corporate investments.

Ford also confirmed this week that its all-electric pickup truck will be named the F-150 Lightning, resurrecting a name that once donned the SVT F-150 in the 1990s. The company hasn’t said much about the powertrain, range or other specs. However, Ford President and CEO Jim Farley provided new details about the electric pickup that is coming to market next year. Most notably, it seems that the battery on the Ford F-150 Lightning will have the ability to power a home during an outage. Ford has touted the capability of its Hybrid F-150 to power a job site or tools, but this is the first time the company has said one of its vehicles could act as a backup generator to a home.

Harley-Davidson has spun out its LiveWire electric motorcycle as a standalone brand, complete with a new logo and brand identity. The company first unveiled the LiveWire electric motorcycle in 2018 with a listing price of $29,799, placing it on the higher end for motorcycles. It went into production the following year, with some bumps, including a brief halt to production due to a charging-related problem on one of the motorcycles. The “first LiveWire-branded motorcycle” will launch on July 8. Its public debut will come a day later at the International Motorcycle Show.

Hyundai Motor Group said it will invest $7.4 billion in the U.S. by 2025 — money that will be used to produce future electric vehicles, improve production facilities and develop what the automaker describes as smart mobility solutions. The company is also going to invest in improving electrification and hydrogen energy.

Subaru announced new details about its first-ever EV, which is set to hit the market in 2022. Subaru will call its first EV the Solterra, a fitting name for a brand synonymous with outdoor adventures and you know, the sun and the Earth. Subaru’s first full-fledged EV will be an SUV that ships with the manufacturer’s well-regarded all-wheel-drive capabilities. The Solterra is built on a new platform the company is developing in partnership with Toyota, which the latter company will use for its bZ4X crossover.

Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Chem, has executed an agreement with Canadian company Li-Cycle to recycle critical materials from the scrap produced from Ultium’s manufacturing processes from its Lordstown plant, starting later in 2021. The materials from the Lordstown location will be sent to Li-Cycle’s recycling location in Rochester, New York, to be processed and returned to the battery supply chain.

Hydrogen

Toyota tapped Japanese company ENEOS to help develop the hydrogen fuel cell system that will power its futuristic prototype city Woven City. The vision for the 175-acre city, where people will live and work amongst all of Toyota’s projects, including its autonomous e-Palette shuttles and robots, is to build a fully connected ecosystem powered by hydrogen fuel cells. ENEOS, a Japanese petroleum company that’s investing heavily into hydrogen, will help make Toyota’s “human-centered” city of the future. This new partnership not only signifies Toyota’s backing of hydrogen over electric, but it also could help Japan achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Studies

Global consulting firm AlixPartners forecasts that the ongoing semiconductor shortage will cost automakers globally $110 billion in lost revenues this year, up from the firm’s estimate in late January of $61 billion. In total, the firm is now forecasting that production of 3.9 million vehicles in total will be lost in 2021. The pandemic-induced shortage has been compounded by a fire in a key chip-making fabrication plant, severe weather in Texas and a drought in Taiwan, according to Mark Wakefield, global co-leader of the automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners.

This problem isn’t going away either. There are up to 1,400 chips in a typical vehicle today. The rise in consumer electronics, which the majority of the chip supply goes towards, continues to put pressure on the automotive industry. There has always been a need for supply chain resiliency. But now, there is a broader push from the industry and governments to shore up the supply chain for the long term.

Nexar, a company that makes an AI-based dashcam app to monitor road safety, put 36 vehicles on the streets of Milan in February. While driving around, the company collected images from dash cams and AI to map on-street parking spots and documented 262,163 free street parking spots in a month. This interesting nugget of information is part of a wider study conducted by Nexar to better understand how curbsides are used.

Nexar said the free parking spot identification along with the creation of a crowd-sourced map of such data was accomplished using vision (and specifically car camera vision). One of the goals, the company said, was to demonstrate that vision data can replicate the human understanding of what a parking spot is.

Events and opportunities

There are a number of events coming up — and not just TC Sessions: Mobility 2021.

Ford Motor will hosts its Capital Markets Day on May 26. A webcast will open at 9:15 a.m. EDT and the event will start promptly at 9:30 a.m. EDT. After the presentation, CEO Jim Farley and CFO John Lawler along with other Ford executives host a question-and-answer session with the analyst community. You can check it out here.

The Petersen Automotive Museum is launching a new three-month incubator program that is focused on women-led businesses in the automotive sector. Each year, the museum will choose one California-based startup with five or fewer employees and provide them with hands-on mentorship, access to the Petersen network of sponsors and partners, and a $25,000 to $30,000 investment. Applications are reviewed by the program’s selection committee. Once accepted, the startup will work alongside the Petersen’s mentorship team to develop a custom program that addresses its business goals. Applications are being accepted now through July 31, 2021. Click here to apply.

Self Racing Cars is scheduled for October 16 to 17 2021 at Thunderhill Raceway. If you’re not familiar, the event is organized each year by Joshua Schachter. The event is an autonomous racing series that has a hobbyist-maker vibe. It’s as much about tinkering and troubleshooting as it is about going around the track.

While there are different teams, it is a decidedly collaborative environment. I’ll never forget the first year that Schachter hosted the event. It was here that I first met and befriended AlexRoy, now one of my co-hosts on the Autonocast podcast. It’s where George Hotz of Comma.ai finally got his vehicle around the track (Alex and I in the backseat) and won the competition. And it was where I was introduced to a young and then unknown guy named Austin Russell who was working in stealth on what we would all eventually learn was a lidar company called Luminar.

Check the website for more information and to sign up to participate. Right now, it looks like Nvidia is signed up and that list will likely grow in the coming months. And I hope to see you all there in the fall.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021! The June 9 event is right around the corner and I hope you’ll all be there. The agenda is packed for this one-day virtual event. You can check out the agenda here.

A few highlights:

We’ll have a panel on self-driving deliveries with Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO and CTO Ahti Heinla, Amy Jones Satrom, who heads operations at Nuro and Gatik co-founder and CTO Apeksha Kumavat. We’ll have one-on-one interviews with Pam Fletcher, who is leading innovation efforts at GM as well as Rimac Automobili founder and CEO Mate Rimac, Scale AI co-founder and CEO Alex Wang and Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

We’ll have investors, of course, including one panel with Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital. Then there’s investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose SPAC merged with Joby Aviation. Hoffman and Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt will come together to talk about what lies ahead. We also plan to bring together community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig to talk about equity, accessibility and shared mobility in cities.

One other panel we haven’t promoted yet will focus on China and robotaxis. The panel is bringing together Jennifer Li, vice president of finance at WeRide, Jewel Li who is COO of AutoX, and Huan Sun, who heads up Momenta Europe. These executives, from three leading Chinese robotaxi companies (that also have operations in Europe or the U.S.) will join us to provide insight into the unique challenges of developing and deploying the technology in China and how it compares to other countries.

And there is more. Have a question for any of these folks? Email me; I want to hear from you! And remember some of the panels will have a live question-and-answer period.

#alixpartners, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #autox, #bird, #electric-vehicles, #elon-musk, #harley-davidson, #hyundai, #scooter, #toyota, #transportation, #waymo, #weride